Archive for October, 2011

Misaligned

So, I had a nice weekend, celebrating my birthday with friends and with DH. Of course, all the celebrating wore me out! I had to come back to work to rest up it seems. 😉

As I’ve mentioned before, my focus now is trying to get some measurements done. I tried to expound upon that today, but any measurements were derailed by the fact that the beam coming out of the laser was completely misaligned through all the other optics, including going into the optical fiber that I use for measurements. I have no idea how that happened, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t do it this morning, and the last person to touch it before that was my office mate, who is our resident Ti:Sapphire expert. My boss and I spent this afternoon trying to realign everything, but we’re only halfway there. Tomorrow we’ll try again to see if we can fix it; if not, my office mate will be back on Wednesday to get it to behave. It’ll get there eventually, between the three of us. I can possibly move to another laser in the meantime if I need to, but we’ll see.

It’s Halloween, so I’m going to head home now and hand out yummy treats to trick-or-treaters with DH. I hope they take it all…I can’t afford to be tempted by Butterfingers and Skittles if they don’t!

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First snow

We got our first snow of the season today; that’s about seven inches on top of our patio table this morning. There’s probably a bit more by now because it’s been snowing most of the day. You can also see how bent down our trees are due to the wet, heavy snow on the branches. DH and I had to go out with long poles this morning and knock some snow off so that we wouldn’t get any broken branches, though many trees along the Front Range fared much worse. I think there were even power outages due to fallen branches in a few places, but I’m thankful that didn’t affect us.

While it would have been nice to have the day off and be snowed in, that wasn’t the case this time. Ah well. We had delayed arrival at least, and I still hope to leave early on Friday in honor of my birthday, so I don’t feel too deprived. Even the roads weren’t bad, though I did ride the bus instead. There’s no reason to put myself at risk when I have the nice option of relaxing and knitting during my commute and letting someone else fight with traffic. Seriously, sometimes people in Colorado think that just because they drive a Subaru they can defy the laws of physics. No matter how good your car is in the snow and ice and slush, four wheel drive has nothing to do with stopping in a near frictionless environment!

Obviously this is a pet peeve of mine. 😉 But I’m over it. Now, it’s time to hike to the bus stop and make my way home for the day, where I plan to stay until tomorrow!

 

The week leading up to an exciting finale!

This morning, the laser locked immediately, so I’ve been doing measurements most of the day today. It’s gone pretty well, and I should be wrap up these two simple measurements tomorrow. I might be able to get the analysis done tomorrow, too, but it’s likely to bleed over a few days, as it requires starting Matlab up again and wading through some code first. It’s still pretty straightforward, so there shouldn’t be huge roadblocks in completing it.

Also on the agenda for this week are two meetings–one informal one with my nearest work colleagues, the other a teleconference to discuss the work we did since our guest researcher went home and left some things for us to use. We will be planning next steps in this experiment, and I may also be putting together a paper on the results eventually (since I’ll already have it all written out in my thesis anyway, it’s a small step to get that ready for publication). But that will be down the line a little ways, not immediate.

In between my measurements/analysis and meetings, I will continue to slog through the introductory section in my thesis. I got a fair amount of progress done on it last week, and I will just continue with it in my down time.

Once these measurements are over, I will need to set up my second, more complicated experiment. I need to use my momentum in the lab to push through and get to it now. The sooner I get that major piece done, the better, I’d say! But that probably won’t happen before next week.

The final, most important task for the week is to celebrate my birthday! I can’t believe it’s already here; October has blown by way too fast (as have the previous two months). I’m having a small party on Friday, so the week leading up to it will be getting things ready ahead of time so I don’t spend my whole day cooking snacks. I’d rather just enjoy it! And depending on when our teleconference will be, I might get to leave a little early to prepare, too. 🙂

That’s the outlook for the week. I’m already feeling great about measurements being halfway done today, and even if I am a bit distracted by an exciting finale, I still think this week will be plenty productive while being fun as well.

What I want to be when I grow up

With the beginning of my thesis writing and the anticipated finale of this significant chapter of my life, I inevitably must now ask the question, what the heck do I do next? Eight years is a fairly long time to get adjusted to a certain lifestyle, and, while I do wish some things were different, I am very comfortable with my daily routine. However, I’m now in the middle of a big reality check that at some point soon this ends and something else begins.

Even if I defend in February or March, I should still technically be a student through May when I graduate. That gives me a little bit of time to coast in my current job, but after that, if I want to stay at my current lab either short or long term, I technically will have to get a post doc position. If I don’t do that, then, well….I just don’t quite know yet.

Initially, I thought that my options were few and simple. I could research, I could teach, or I could do both at a university. However, in the past months I’ve begun to put a new filter on the things I see in passing, and I’ve been surprised to discover that there are way more options than I anticipated. I guess that’s a good thing, but it’s also overwhelming. It’s not like I would be forced to make the decision for the rest of my life; if I don’t like something, I can always choose something else. If I want to try it out, I only commit to short-term. But honing down the options for what to try first can seem a little intimidating.

If I have this many things to pick from, it seems like the first thing to ask myself is, what do I really want to do? Do I love research and want to continue exactly what I’m doing? Do I love research but am tired of my current topic and want to challenge myself in a different field? What if I feel like I actually don’t love research and want to try something else? What if I don’t love it because I’m just tired of the pressure of getting a PhD and want to try it as a post doc where the only thing required of you is maybe a journal paper along the way?

Or, even more frightening–what if I don’t love science enough to keep doing it for the rest of my life? Even though it sort of feels like a waste of eight of the best years of my life, is it okay to just move on to something else entirely?

Equally important appears to be asking myself, where do I really want to live? This was some of the best advice I got when picking a graduate school in the first place–apply to a good school, but also make sure it’s somewhere you want to live, because you will be there for a while. Colorado has turned out to be an amazing choice for somewhere to live, but we have to put a lot of thought into whether it’s somewhere to live long-term. Could I get a career job where I am now? Am I willing to find another job here if I can’t, just to stay here? Would we be able to have our preferred lifestyle (i.e. owning a bit of land, not living in a suburban neighborhood) in the Front Range? Do we want to move back home, or closer to home, to be near family, and are there satisfying career choices there where research opportunities are less? What if I wanted to do a post doc somewhere totally different for a few years and then find another place to settle? And what if God calls us to somewhere completely different to do something completely different?

Moreover, this next step is not just about me; DH and I will be taking it together. I felt it incredibly important to ask him what he wants to do next. If he might like to go back to school now that I’m done, then his choice of research institution might dictate a physical move. If he stays with his current job for which he telecommutes, we could literally move anywhere that has an internet connection. Maybe he gets an amazing opportunity one day; will I be flexible with my career to accommodate his calling?

Furthermore, all of this might not be just about DH and me, either. What if we want to start a family sometime? Are we going to make career decisions based upon our desired location and lifestyle of raising a family? Or are we going to pick something now and make it adjust to fit if that ever comes around? I refuse to be someone who waits and waits and waits for the perfect time in life to start a family, only to realize one day that I’ve waited too long. It seemed reasonable to wait through graduate school, but after that’s over, I don’t want intimidation by a career to make that kind of decision for me.

Last week, DH and I had a lengthy discussion about all of this. It was great to hear one another’s perspectives and desires, and while I didn’t figure out the answer to where I should start my career, I think we came to a couple of realizations that will affect other actions and decisions in the short- and long-term. Those couple of decisions and realizations have actually felt quite freeing and encouraging.

So, while I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, I at least find myself developing the right attitude at the right time for trying to figure it out. I also assume that I won’t feel comfortable making a bunch of career and life decisions right in the middle of the defense whirlwind, but I may find that it’s not so stressful to do both at the same time. Even if I don’t, I do have a few months until my regular tenure is over to at least find some stop gap, if not a final solution. Regardless, I can’t just shove my head into my thesis and ignore it all, but thankfully the glimmer of a light at the end of this fiber is motivating and exhilarating!

Joint custody

Well, I tried making friends with the laser Monday and Tuesday, but it evidently didn’t want to play well with others. Even my advisor couldn’t get it to work. Today our resident laser expert is back, and hopefully she will coax it into working again. However, as I mentioned last time, I have to share custody of the laser, she has visitation rights through the rest of the week. That means I won’t be getting my measurements done for this week. However, if she gets it to be in a better mood, laser and I might be on better speaking terms for a measurement next week.

For the rest of the week I plan to work on some of the introductory sections of my thesis. That is, if I can manage to keep myself from being distracted by the dozens of things rolling through my head at any given moment (does anyone else have this problem??). I just always seem to have three or four projects on the brain, none of which involve lasers and photodiodes. I have a hard time pushing those aside for another time and getting in the zone at my desk. Any suggestions for staying mentally on task would be helpful.

Well, in the interest of not being distracted by other topics, I’ll probably wrap up the blog for today and get working on Chapter 2. 😉

Making friends with the laser

It’s a little chilly and cloudy today…nothing we wouldn’t expect for October, of course, but it’s just a reminder that the nice 70-degree days like we had over the weekend are rapidly decreasing in frequency. The wonderful thing about Colorado is that it might snow two feet, but the sun will be out in a few days and melt it all away. I’m not really looking forward to snow and freezing temps, but I can at least be mentally prepared and thankful that there’s always literally a light, well, at the end of the fiber. 😉

This week I hope to complete a couple of simple measurements, just some diode characterization, which is something I’ve done many times and am comfortable with. It isn’t without the possibility of hiccups, of course, particularly because I will be using a different laser this time. It’s the same kind of laser I used for a couple of years, but we aren’t yet friends, and it hasn’t warmed up to me yet (that’s a Ti:sapphire laser joke, just in case you caught it ;)). That means I need a little outside help getting the laser working the first few times until I get a feel for its particular personality. Also, since I am sharing said laser with other experiments, I pretty much have Monday and Tuesday to work with it this week. We’ll see how far I get; I may have to do part one this week and part two next week.

Once the laser is on, though, it should be a relatively easy measurement. I’m not trying to make a new system work or (hopefully not) deciphering anomalous results. That makes it easier to get motivated. I do have one tricky measurement left that will probably be the culmination of my remaining lab work for my thesis. While there may be other measurements to do besides that one, I won’t be doing them alone, and they are just icing on the cake. This one is pretty much the signature measurement I have done for my thesis work, but it’s really complicated to set up and quite finicky. While I dread doing it, I know it’s necessary, and I have been mentally preparing for this eventuality. Moreover, I got a lead from my good friend on a much easier way to set up the experiment. That is very good news! Once I finish up this current job, I may roll up my sleeves and go for it, but probably not a goal for the current week.

If I have some down time during the week, I will continue to work on a section of my thesis that I started last week. While completing lab work is my immediate priority for the next six weeks or so, it would behoove me to keep throwing words on the page in between experiments.

 

Two thousand years from now

Today I wrapped up two of the little fires I had burning this week. I went up to campus with the group to eat lunch with our new postdoc who just came in today (if you read Wednesday’s post, you see that I made a great sacrifice for the team here!). From there, I dropped off my extension petition letter and then headed to the Engineering, Math, and Physics library to find the paper I was looking for. Fortunately, it was easy to locate.

I am still marveling that even in 2011 I still had to search out a library book to find information. Most papers I ever need to read are available online, so I am a little bit spoiled. I at least am not so spoiled that I can’t even find a library book if I need to, at least. I did scan, though. How twenty-first century of me.

I was marveling just yesterday about our world 2,000 years from today. If society changed drastically, nobody would know anything about us because we have practically zero physical copies of information that would last. Yes, we do still have books and newspapers, but most of them are kind of flimsy and volatile. How long would they take to decay? If there is no way in 2,000 years to retrieve digital information, nobody would know anything about our culture today. If you think about it, ancient cultures with stone tablets could theoretically be the best preserved civilizations due to the longevity of their writing media. I realize there are a multitude of other considerations to preserving civilization as well, but that was my particularly interesting thought yesterday. I do have some occasionally.

All the walking to and about campus, paired with a bunched-up sock and shoes that I don’t often wear, subsequently lead to a blister on my right heel. I seem ridiculously prone to blisters for some reason, so I couldn’t even muster some shock and offense. I just limped back to the bus stop, got off back at work, and unscrupulously took my shoes off as I walked up the sidewalk and back into my office. My officemate was very kind to get a bandaid for me out of the machine shop (I didn’t care to walk in there on my own, sock-footed with all the aluminum chads and shavings); she’s the best! Maybe I will show my appreciation on Monday with some home-grown squash, as we can’t possibly eat all of it ourselves and she really appreciates fresh produce. 🙂

So, the short week was productive in that I got my fires put out and made preparations for some measurements I could do on Monday and Tuesday. It was less productive in that the down-time between little fires was not as efficiently spent. I can’t afford too many of those days, so hopefully I can overcome the distraction to which I am quite prone and keep making progress. And hopefully on Monday and Tuesday I’ll overcome my inertia of sitting at my desk and get back into the lab, which is by far shaping up to be the most challenging part of my thesis.