Archive for the 'Grad School' Category

NCAA Physics Tournament

It’s been a long time since the last NRC rankings of physics departments were published, and it seems like the new rankings have been “two months away” ever since I started looking at graduate schools.  Maybe the NRC should use the NCAA Basketball Tournament to help settle some discrepancies in rankings.

With this in mind, I filled out a bracket based on the rankings of their physics departments.  You should be able to see my full bracket here.  (In the case of schools where I didn’t know about either department, I took the higher seed.)

Things to look for:

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I’m Not That Kind of Nerd

The other day, while chatting with some of my fellow grad students, the conversation, so I thought, turned to football.  After a couple of my comments were met with no response, I realized that they were actually talking about the professional computer gaming league that they follow online.  Somewhat embarrassed, I turned my attention back to my pizza and waited for the topic of conversation to turn back to physics.

Later, I laughed at the irony of this situation.  You would think someone obsessed with Starcraft would be awkwardly left out of the football conversation, not the other way around.  But it was just another thing that made me realize that I’m not like these nerds.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a HUGE nerd.  I’m a physics graduate student, and I write a blog about it.  That’s enough for most of the population to put me stamp me with the NERD label.  And I’m fine with that.  I embrace my physics nerdiness.

But it’s the other interests that are generally assumed to go along with the math and science nerd stereotype where I fail to fit in.  I only like the most mainstream of science fiction and fantasy (Star Wars and Harry Potter).  Other than my Mario Kart skills and a brief obsession with Halo on my roommate’s XBox in college, I never really got into computer or video games.  I never read comic books.  I’m not all that interested in becoming technically adept in all the minutiae of computers.  Yet these are all the interests of your classic nerd.

(These are not just stereotypes, by the way.  I’m sure that you’ll find a statistically significant number of math/physics/computer science types like these things much more than I do.)

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New Blog in the Blogrolls

I’d like to draw attention to a new blog in my links section.  The authors are three fellow grad students studying high energy physics, covering the range of experiment, phenomenology, and theory.  Combining their diverse intellects, they have come up with the name High Energy PhDs.

From their introductory post back in November ’08, here is a description of what you will find on their blog:

  • Short reviews of topics in high energy physics. Our main goal is to generate an online discussion where we can jot down summaries of interesting ideas.
  • Accessible summaries. We are also interested in writing posts that will bridge the divides between hep-th/hep-ph/hep-ex communities. While these may not be “public outreach” level, they should be accessible to other graduate students in physics.
  • News. Some discussion of recent events in high energy physics, e.g. LHC commissioning.
  • Grad student resources. We will also have posts dedicated to grad student resources for items such as post-doc hunting, publishing, finding review articles, adviser management, etc.
  • I look forward to making use of their list of Resources for Learning New Topics.  Their discussion of Renormalization looks good too, which will hopefully help me make sense of that tricky topic as I try to teach myself some field theory.  You can also find some reviews of technical papers, and discussions of experiments like MiniBooNE.

    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.

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    Academic Forms of Address

    Chad at Uncertain Principles has a post addressing the topic of forms of address in academia.  Specifically, he asks how academics refer to their students in recommendation letters.

    I thought I’d flip the script on this one, and talk about how students address their professors.  In my undergrad experience, I almost always referred to my professors as “Dr. LastName.”  This applied even to my advisors, whom I worked with pretty closely over the course of a few years.  I was never quite sure if and when I could make the transition to address these professors by their first names.  Although they signed their emails by their first names and had other students address them on this basis, I was always wary of assuming this level of familiarity.

    Now at Minnesota, I’ve noticed that everyone refers to and addresses the professors as Professor LastName, or even simply “Professor.”  I’m not sure if this is a standard protocol (after all, Professor is a more exclusive club than Doctor), or if it’s just one of those things that varies from place to place.

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    Disbanding the University of Minnesota Graduate School

    Unexpected news this week: the Graduate School at the University of Minnesota is no more.  Instead, there will be an Office of Graduate Studies under the Provost’s Office.

    So this is supposed to be big news.  There have been front-page articles in the Minnesota Daily, several mass emails, an emergency meeting, and even an article in Inside Higher Ed.

    But to a first-order approximation, I see this having NO effect on my life as a graduate student.  Sure, some forms and bureaucracy might change, but I don’t think the changes in my day-to-day life as a student merits all this hand-wringing.

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    New Semester’s Resolution

    Did you miss the opportunity to make New Year’s resolutions?  Well, it might be a good idea to make a New Semester’s Resolution instead.  Here’s one I’m making:

    The old chestnut about physics classes is that their goal is to transfer the notes from the professor’s notebook to the student’s notebooks without entering the brains of either. I think we all fall into this trap too easily – thinking that you can just get the notes down and understand it later, when it comes time to do the homework.

    In some ways, the tactic of “write now, think later” is an essential survival skill, because it’s very hard to simultaneously write everything down, listen to the professor, and think critically about what it all means. In the competition between these three components, the writing is the one that usually wins out.

    This strategy generally worked for me in my undergrad classes. Most of the time, I could at least write and listen, and even spend the downtime thinking about the material during class. But last semester started out differently, and I found myself blindly copying from the chalkboard a little too often. This inevitably led to late nights of using the textbook to try to decipher my notes, all while trying to solve my homework problems.

    This got old, so I decided upon a new strategy, which I will embrace more fully this semester: One Class, One Question.

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