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Archive for January, 2009

 

Look, it is science!

Look, it is science!

I have spent all day slightly sick writing my lab report for the above pictured lab. Twenty hours of lab work for seven data points. Not a particularly good return but I did learn something. I really dislike writing up lab reports in Microsoft Word. It is not only a pain but an agonizing experience that can only be likened to something involving bamboo shoots and toe nails.

Suffice to say that I spent the time writing my report downloading TeX for Mac so I can write my next lab report in LaTeX. I heard that it is better and it just looks more professional and science like. I mean why can’t Word support normal MathML so I could just write my equations in Mathematica and paste them in. I suppose I could learn the office special math language but for that effort I think I will just learn LaTeX as it will actually be useful in the future.

Back to the lab report, I enjoy (mostly) doing the labs but writing the report is sort of painful. I mean it is hard to write well about steps taken from a lab manual to get a desired result. 

At least I have the rough draft finished.

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So many choices.

So many choices.

I just received an e-mail from the Univiersity of Wisconsin Madison, I have been accepted to the Physics department. No official details yet as it seems that the graduate school determines all of those while the department selects the students.

No word yet from the Engineering Physics department.

For the application to the Physics department I did not actually contact any professors ahead of time. I e-mailed a few in the Engineering Physics department but never actually got around to contacting those in physics. On the application there was even a space that asked me to list those I had contacted and I left it blank. Furthermore I just sort of resent the personal statement I wrote for the Engineering Physics over to Physics, though to be fair a majority of it is the same.

Goes to show that contacting professors may not have a positive effect, or that those I did contact are in both departments.

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Nothing to Say

White flower on a rainy day.

White flower on a rainy day.

I soldered my finger today, the advantage of this is that solder wounds don’t bleed. They cauterize right away.

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The temperature dropped to the year low of 32 F during the night, I am glad winter is over.

The temperature dropped to the year low of 32 F during the night, I am glad winter is over.

I received an e-mail from the University of New Hampshire physics department this morning: I have been accepted to the PhD program.

That puts me at two for two, or a one hundred percent acceptance rate so far. With more then one acceptance I really need to start figuring out a good way to evenly compare the programs and locales to help decide on the graduate school that fits me best. While I think that there are some basics that can be compared like pay, location, health benefits and all of that, what will probably decide it for me will be the trip out to the schools.

The science and the pay are important things to consider, however I will be living at this location for at least five years so the location will become a heavy consideration. Same with experiencing the airports, the local public transit and photographic potential within walking distance. Weather too might factor into it.

Luckily both schools so far are willing to fly me out for either open days or visiting. Unlike studying abroad it is not so easy to decide on a location without ever being there. Visiting in February/March will also give me a taste of Winter, something that I have only partially experienced once.

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GRE Search Services

 

Timing is always important.

Timing is always important.

I must say this is a very poorly organized service.

I signed up for the GRE Search Services expressing in interest in physics graduate school when I took the general GRE the summer before my senior year. I did not really think much of it at the time. I went on with finishing my applications on time making sure I had everything complete ahead of time.

Now that my applications are all in am I starting to receive e-mails and brochures from graduate schools encouraging me to apply. I expected to receive this material during late summer or early fall while there was still plenty of time to fill out applications.

Now it all just seems to be too late.

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Just a Small Tip

 

Just a warning to prevent getting shocked.

Just a warning to prevent getting shocked.

Just a tip, try not to misspell www.facebook.com

It appears that a transposition of two of the initial four letters redirects  to a site that might not be appropriate for many situations. I suppose the site would in fact be appropriate for only a very limited set of situations none of which are likely to occur in a public place.

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Reimu, made by my suite-mate and a star of the Touhou Project games.

Reimu, made by my suite-mate and a star of the Touhou Project games.

Cruising around on the internet I came across a brief article on how to make a macro studio for dirt cheap. This was almost as exciting as finding instructions on how to make a cheap panoramic tripod head out of plywood (if I only had access to the needed tools I would make it).

With nothing better to do, or more accurately no desire to do anything else I made a shoddy little macro studio. One set of instructions suggested a large piece of white paper, butcher paper would have been ideal, an off camera flash would also help greatly and don’t mention the needed macro lens. Since I was making a cheap paper box I correspondingly did not have any of these, not even the paper.

What I did have was printer paper, two desk lights, two LED flashlights and my trusty 50mm f/1.8 lens. I read the instructions, tried them and failed at the folding since I really was not reading it, however I did come up with an almost passable little set up. Here is a shot of what my desk looked like after this macro studio venture:

My desk after being inspired to build a macro studio.

My desk after being inspired to build a macro studio.

At first I calibrated my white balance, exposure and camera angle using my trusty desk knife. One of my limitations is that I did not have long enough paper so that I only had a small level area to work with, if I went farther out I encountered the seam between the pieces of paper. One advantage I did have was I had a willing subject. My suite-mate is big on origami and making paper creations and they happen to be about the right size for my studio.

While he was not looking I abducted Reimu from his desk to star in my little experiment in macro photography. I felt that it went well, I realized afterwards that my white balance was off but a little editing solved that problem. Two other issues arose: I could have really used some black paper as a backdrop and I now need a true macro lens. An off camera flash might also be beneficial, or maybe a more useful 4100 lumen flashlight.

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Congratulations to the JPL team for five years on Mars with Opportunity today.

Congratulations to the JPL team for five years on Mars with Opportunity today.

After finishing it all it may be wise to consider options if there are no acceptance letters waiting. 

Here is a list of ideas that I have gathered from what my friends (physics majors) are considering or what I have considered as an alternative:

Teach for America

I applied for Teach for America and got in, but when I received my first acceptance I weighed the options and my dedication to each one and withdrew my Teach for America application. I was excited to do it but I feel that graduate school is a better choice for me right now.

Teach Abroad (I wanted to do Japan)

I wanted to teach in Japan. Actual any excuse that would allow me to live in Japan for a year would have been awesome.

Travel for a year

Taking a year off to travel as a gap year seems like another viable option. It would be a definite breather before plunging into graduate school.

Get a non-academic job

I did not want to get an actual job, several of my friends (in physics) however want to make this thing called “money”. Some of the things I have heard being considered:

  • Engineering job
  • Weapons research
  • Nuclear Technician for the Navy
  • Pilot in the Air Force
  • Product testing for a Telecom company

The best thing to do for this is to go to a Science and Technology Career fair, especially since these jobs will be geared towards jobs in the local area. Unless of course you don’t want to stay in the area. For the jobs as engineers it depends on what type of background you have in physics, for me I have had a good course in Electronics and have also learned how to do accurate machining in a machine shop. I would probably apply to be an electrical engineer if was to choose. 

After any one of these there is always the option to re-apply to graduate school or defer acceptance to follow a particular dream (like living in Japan). Of course there are innumerable options out there.

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\Now to wait for the machinations of graduate committees.

Now to wait for the machinations of graduate committees.

With the online application complete, letters of recommendation secure and the personal statements done there is not much left to do. With the online application submitted a period of worry can start over whether documents like GRE test scores, official transcripts and letters of recommendation actually made it to the universities.

So far the universities with an online letter of recommendation system are not able to process letters mailed in and check them off on the online application. For one they said that the application was complete even though the listed a letter as missing. When in doubt you can e-mail the department but keep in mind that they have mountains of paperwork and sorting to do what with all of the stuff coming in.

To keep myself sane (an important thing to do) I made another list. If you cannot tell I am a fan of lists, especially in this process. I altered my previous school list with just the non-applications tasks I had remaining such as registering and uploading secondary information to asking about transcripts.

Just make sure everything arrives by the due date, my challenge was in the letters of recommendation. When everything was in relax there is nothing else you can do. At this point it might be wise to make sure that you are scheduled to graduate on time.

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Personal statements are the only thing fully in our control.

Personal statements are the only thing fully in our control.

Personal statements are hard. Hard to start, hard to write and hard to finish.

They feel like the most important part of an application and at the point of writing they are. Though not because they can influence an application completely, rather it is because it is the last and only thing wholly in our control in the later stages of an application.

GPA is set, letters are written and test scores are in. The only major aspect that can be changed is the personal statement. And so it feels so vital to the process.

I did a lot of pre-writing for my statement. I did several rounds of brainstorming, a couple outlines at least two false starts. Eventually I just gave in, sat down and wrote until I could think of no more. I wrote stream of consciousness with notes interjected into the writing and bracketed phrases that needed to be changed depending on the school. Once finished with this free write I went back and color coded comments according to if they are for editing, adding more in or just venting.

It sat on my desktop for a day before I went at it again. I kept every version I made just so I did not lose anything and so I could see how it evolved if I ever looked back at it. With a decent draft done I sent it off to two people who I trusted to edit it (both recently attained masters degrees in English related subjects) and give general advice.

My first draft was written on November 16th and the final version for all of the schools were finished December 9th. I have written previously about my experience writing the personal statement, mostly while I was in the depths of it.

One thing I found lacking on the internet was a personal statement for physics graduate school, so I am posting the general template I used for each school. I do this as a reference and I ask that no one copy it or plagiarize it in any way. Keep in mind that those reading these are not staff members but physics professors, who I would say are fairly smart people. And if someone can find this to copy so can they. For this draft I left blocks of text blank with [University] or [Professor], I filled these in with what I learned by talking to the professors, not just off the websites.

It is the intellectual challenge that drew me into science, the challenge of walking to the edge of the known and searching for the next step. I found this pursuit before my years at university through books such as Michio Kaku’s Hyperspace and Stephen Hawking’s The Universe in a Nutshell. These authors gave me an idea of how to think about the world as a physicist and what it could mean. When I read their words I did not know about the mathematical formalism behind the theories or even the idea such formalism existed. However, I did know that I wanted to study physics and enhance the knowledge of humanity. This aspiration has led me to apply to the [Department] at [University].

While many of my peers were beginning research positions with professors, I spent my junior year at Edinburgh University studying Astrophysics.

At Edinburgh my particle physics professor encouraged me to go to CERN’s last public open day. At CERN I found the work and challenges of the Compact Linear Collider completely fascinating. The guide gave a brief rundown of their current challenge involving the large electric field of the beam breaking down the walls of the waveguides. While she explained, I experienced a direct connection between classroom theory and a real problem faced by an experimental scientist. 

It was the combination of my trip to CERN and my year of astrophysics courses that led me to the fields of space and solar physics. I enjoyed learning about stellar structure and evolution in my courses and the experimental aspect of plasma and high-energy physics at CERN demonstrated to me what can be done in a research setting. Most of my exposure to these fields has come from reading professors’ research and attending various colloquia at my university.

While I work on my research doctorate in space physics I am interested in pursuing research similar to [research] by [Professor]. My goal is to work on space related instruments and technology as well as focus on research that will aid in furthering the exploration and achievements outside of our own world. Research in space and solar science can help me pursue my goals.

I feel the most important class I took to prepare me for advanced research was my second year physics honor’s lab taught by [Professor]. This was a yearlong class designed to introduce how to conduct research. In the first quarter I was given a seemingly simple experiment, such as finding a relation between the size of a capillary and its rate of flow. There were no lab manuals or instructions, and while I was given help by the professor, every step had to be my own. The second quarter of the course was dedicated to two skills: learning LabView in order to regulate the temperature of a copper bar and learning how to fabricate parts in the department’s machine shop. In the final quarter the class collaborated on building a piece of equipment for another professor. For this I learned basic drafting, CAD software, realistic design and how to work with a group on a project.

During my time abroad I applied for several summer REU programs so I could do some real research. Unfortunately, most of the programs were too impacted and I was unable to research over the summer. At the start of this year I contacted and joined [Professor] in his Experimental Cosmology group here at UCSB. I am currently working on two projects, the first is a cryogenic heat pipe and the second is using a micron bolometer for atmospheric modeling. The goal of the heat pipe project is to create an efficient cooling system for the next balloon borne instrument, the COsmic Foreground Explorer (COFE) that the lab will launch sometime next year. For the micron bolometer, I am currently designing and building an enclosure for long term outdoor use. The goal is to predict cloud formation to facilitate several of the telescopes operated by the group in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. 

I realize I have only begun what will become a lifetime of research and discovery, and to that end I am applying to the [University]. I feel that my skills and curiosity will be a match for the program at your university. I am looked forward to participating in the research opportunities offered by the [University] specifically in [research topics]. Along with the research being done by [Professor], I am also interested in the research on [research topic 2] being done by [Professor]. My background in astrophysics and my work with [Professor] has readied me for this kind of research and participation. I consider acceptance to the graduate program at the [University] one of the best opportunities I will have to pursue my research interests will lead to an even better understanding of how the world works. 

Since this is a personal statement most of this will only apply to me but I hope that the general structure and topics will help others writing their own personal statement.

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