You’re Like School in the Summer…

No class!

Or at least that’s how the corny old Fat Albert joke goes.  Of course, there’s always summer school… In high school, these were remedial classes that you wanted to avoid.  In college, maybe you’re trying to improve a grade, or maybe stay on track to graduate in four years.  But in grad school, summer schools are something entirely different.

Summertime is a time to focus on your research, without the distractions of tests, homeworks, and (hopefully) teaching duties.  But many grad students, at least in physics, take the summer as an opportunity to attend summer schools, which are short, intense sessions aimed at advanced grad students that are held at various institutions around the country and the world.  These schools bring in lecturers to present short courses on different topics within a certain subfield, often focused on a particular theme for that year.  The purpose is primarily to broaden the students’ exposure to the field, getting them out of the narrow focus that dissertation research requires.

Not everyone has the resources or the ability to attend one of these schools, but, thanks to modern technology, you can still participate by watching the lectures online.  In particular, the Theoretical Advanced Study Institute in Elementary Particle Physics (TASI) is going on now, in Boulder, CO.  You can find the links to lecture videos and notes here.  So far, it looks like they are getting the videos posted the day after the lectures occur, so you can make time to take a course or two that looks interesting (the upcoming lineup of talks is also found on the same site).  I have started the course on Supersymmetry and the MSSM, but I am particularly looking forward to the lectures on the AdS/CFT duality, as that pertains to my summer research project.

The level of the lectures looks like it might be a little bit beyond what I’m fully prepared to understand, but I have been told that it is good to get in a little over your head from time to time.  And watching the lectures online offers benefits to the novice: you can pause and rewind, so you can listen to that tricky point again, or look up a reference that you didn’t know beforehand.  You also don’t have to worry about being rude and trying to sneak out of a lecture when it gets boring or you get completely lost.  Just stop the video and move on to something else!

I believe that the SLAC Summer Institute is aimed at less-advanced students, so I will definitely be checking that one out in early August.

You can also find archives of past summer school lectures.  Here’s a list compiled around this time last year.  Browse through them for your viewing pleasure, and please make recommendations for good talks in the comments section.


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