Posts from the ‘In the lab’ Category


Yesterday was my last day at work, and thus my entire graduate career has come full circle and ended.

When I drove into work yesterday, I had all sorts of emotions simmering softly inside me. I didn’t quite know what to expect the day to be like, if it would feel monumental every moment, if every thing I did for the last time would seem significant. I suppose that, in the end, I knew everything was the last time, but it wasn’t so overwhelming, sort of like I had already accepted the situation mentally and spiritually and was ready to say goodbye and move on to the next step.

It was a little more difficult to say goodbye to people. Most of the folks I work with were valued colleagues but not super close friends. I’ll miss them, but I’ll likely see some of them again in passing if we stay in the same field. However, since we didn’t “hang out” as friends outside of work, those relationships are a little bit easier to surrender. It’s the people with whom I have become close friends with that are hard to leave behind, especially when I might be moving away and can’t even hang out with them outside of work, either. This isn’t anything new in life, though; these days, our culture almost guarantees that life move us or the other people around. Few people stay in one place with the same people all their lives anymore. I’ve said goodbye to friends in high school, college, and throughout grad school. It’s a fact I have somewhat come to accept now, though it is still hard.

My boss always gives departing members a consolation prize–I mean–a parting gift. This gift is almost always the same, and it comes from the same store–the one under the stairs in the lobby of the building. So at least I was sent off in style with a little science swag. You can’t tell in the picture, but that mug is ridiculously huge, by the way.

Having moved fairly often as a kid (always the same town, just to new houses since my parents were contractors on the side), I’m quite familiar with the feeling of vacating a space. I like to walk around a house or apartment or building that I won’t enter into again to soak it up one last time before I leave. NIST is a big, sprawling building, not including the new building that was just completed a few months ago. I didn’t go everywhere all the time, but after seven years I had tasks that took me to nearly every part of the building at least once. In my rounds to say goodbye to everyone, I traversed these hallways one last time. I also said goodbye to my office–dirty, industrial cinder block walls, windows that don’t close, watermarks down the wall from leaks, scuffed floors, dusty blinds, dangling cables and frayed cords. My officemates will soon be moving to new digs in the new building, too, so I don’t even know who will reside in that old office anymore. Hopefully they won’t have to suffer there too long. ūüėČ

I said my goodbyes, got my affairs in order, and left. That morning I came to work expecting to maybe never come back again. What I was not expecting on my last day was to have an email forwarded to my inbox by my boss–a job announcement for a post doc opening in the very same division doing something very interesting. To not have to move, to continue working at a place I love…that’s quite big. When I came to work yesterday I did not expect to be doing what amounted to be an interview with an acquaintance about a possible job. Obviously, this is still very new, and I also have my current prospects to attend to first, but when I came to work yesterday I entered with a sense of finality and left with somewhat of a quandary. I was prepared to make a clean break, but now I still have a lingering possibility of going back. That makes it a little more complicated emotionally. Like I said, this is all very fresh, and it’s possible it won’t even come to fruition, but now there is some cord still binding me there which doesn’t allow me to sever ties completely yet. But, for all intents and purposes regarding my job, it is finished.

So, NIST, this is goodbye. For now. Farewell, and thanks for seven great years.




It’s my last Monday, at least for this job. If you’re read my blog at all you know that sometimes Mondays and I didn’t get along very well. However, we’ve managed to make it through the last seven years here, and I’m sure I’ll have plenty more Mondays at another job or jobs, God willing.

Of course, while today hasn’t been all that bad in principle, it is a typical Monday in that there is a bit of an unexpected, annoying hiccup at work today. Evidently, the air conditioning in our wing went out early Sunday morning. When I walked in the building this morning, I didn’t notice anything amiss until I went into our lab, which was a balmy 33 degrees Celsius (around 91 degrees F) according to our lab temp monitoring equipment. With the doors closed for 24 hours, all that electronics equipment made a nice little oven in there. Somebody had opened the doors, and we began turning off as much unnecessary equipment as possible to keep from heating it up any more. Also, since most of our optics and lasers are quite sensitive to temperature, it goes without saying that nobody will be getting much done in the lab today. That’s a little bit unfortunate, since I need to complete one final measurement before I leave (there’s always one more measurement to get done, right?).

According to the latest email from facilities, they might have things working again late afternoon or evening. If that really is the case, it might be cool enough to do measurements by tomorrow, but we’ll just have to see. These last few data might just fall to my colleagues to finish up on their own, but I’m sure they can do it just fine. Meanwhile, it’s starting to get stuffy in our office as the day warms. At least it’s not going to be a 100-degree day, but even in the dry heat of Colorado, any interior is going inevitably warm up. That means by afternoon I don’t know if even I, who generally likes being warm instead of cold at all, might not be able to stand it. I may have to escape to our lab space in the new building for a few hours.

Well, at least I get to go out with a bang. There’s nothing like a significant building malfunction to leave me with fond memories of working at this old place. Power outages, lab floods, fire alarms, radioactive spills…just another day in an old government research lab.

Rainy days and Mondays

Evidently I’ve had three Mondays in eight days. That’s rough. I had a normal Monday today and a week ago, plus I had a “Monday” the day after Independence Day. Having one day off in the middle of the week was nice, but I had a difficult time getting going again, even with just two days until the weekend. Today has also been particularly tough since DH and I took a fast and furious weekend trip and only got back last night. It was really great, and more details will follow, but it’s been challenging getting back up to speed. Not having the weekend to keep up with routine tasks at home means I’m a little bit behind now. Plus it was rainy this morning with possibly more showers this afternoon. A rainy day and a Monday…bound to get me down I guess.

Since it is indeed Monday, it’s time for another Goal of the Week. I decided that I need to up the running again. I keep letting things get in the way of my normal exercise routine, but I shouldn’t. Given the Monday-ness of today, I know it might be hard to force myself to do it, but I’m going to, or else. I hope. :-/ But getting the blood pumping would probably help improve my Monday (and whole week) outlook. So I will do it or else. I hope.

I currently am courting two different job opportunities. Both have their appealing aspects, and they certainly¬† have their drawbacks as well. Things will undoubtedly progress as I continue to talk with both parties this week, and it’s quite possible I’ll have some significant decisions to make in the coming weeks. We’ll just have to see how it plays out. All the while I’m still keeping my eyes open for anything else that comes along. Just three weeks left in my current job…trying to stay motivated until the end. It’s hard when my experiment isn’t working as expected, but, after seven years of research, what else would I expect?


Justify your existance

I presume that a lot of scientists know how to pitch their work in a way that makes it sound useful to somebody, or else they never get any funding, right? This was also a huge part of my thesis preparation, as your committee likes to see that your research means something to somebody. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, there’s some aspect of your work that might only be tangentially related but that, when Aunt Ruth asks you what you do all day, you can pull out of your back pocket so they feel like they actually know what you do (I personally find that “Well, Aunt Ruth, you know that “atomic clock” on your wall that updates itself automatically for daylight saving time? I work in the group that does that” is usually a lot more enthusiastically accepted than “I measure the amplitude-to-phase conversion of semiconductor photodiodes in the context of generating ultra-stable microwaves from optical signals”).

However, while I’m quite tired of all the things I’ve been doing, on occasion I do feel as if I’ve justified all the work I’ve done by the people who have genuinely expressed interest in it. I often have one or two people really quiz me at conferences about measurements I’ve done and the questions they have about similar things. However, I have on a number of occasions received emails out of the blue from people all over the world asking me specific questions, usually about very technical aspects of research I have published in papers. So in reality, some number of people have sought out my work to help them work out a problem they were having in their research, and a handful of them have gone so far as to contact me to ask questions about it. While I often still feel like a doofus about science and am constantly reminded about what I don’t know, once in a while I can feel good that I am actually an “expert” about some small sliver of scientific knowledge and that the work I’ve done has helped them accomplish research in even more areas that just what I’m doing. I guess that’s a pretty decent way to end a week.


Life feels stale, stagnant, circling, waiting, stalled, suspended. Despite the fact that I’ve defended my thesis, earned my PhD, graduated, and even had other personal accomplishments (like running the 10k) in the past month or so, I feel totally and completely stuck in my life right now. I’m looking for a job, but I haven’t found one. I’m still working at my old job, but I’m rehashing all the old stuff that was the bane of my existence previously. I have some free time again, yet I can’t muster the motivation or energy to do much at home. I’m waiting for something to change each passing day, but so far what I’m waiting for hasn’t come.

I don’t even think it’s just about waiting for a job opportunity, either. I think I’m just mentally and emotionally stuck, just exhausted in spirit. I desperately need a vacation, or at least I think I do, but I feel like I’m stuck waiting on I-dunno-what before I can even think about making some sort of real plan. It feels like everyone around me is taking time off and going fun places, both local and exotic, while I, despite working hard for two semesters to get done and feeling like I’ve earned some sort of special trip to celebrate my success, am still sitting on my couch petting the dog day after day. All the while, it at least seems like getting away would energize me and strengthen me as I am waiting for whatever-it-is. It’s a catch-22, evidently.

Some days I feel more optimistic than others, and even on those days I just feel generally dull. Some days are not so good, but if I feel down I try to just let it out and then move on with a slightly improved disposition. I guess I’m feeling a little more down today, just trying to trudge along, keep taking steps forward, hoping for a better day tomorrow despite feeling trapped. I wish I could find some way to reboot myself so I can finally restart afresh with a little more of the joy I expected to have after being done.

It’s really dumb to feel sorry for myself, since there’s not really anything wrong and I’ve had so much blessing recently. It shames me to confess that I find myself wallowing a bit from time to time. I really, honestly believe that God has something worked out for me, something that’s good for me, something fun and enjoyable, something to be passionate about. I just wish I felt more energized about the future and didn’t struggle with doubt sometimes.

Mark 9:24: “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!”

Thesis submitted

Today, I officially submitted the final version of my thesis. All of this was done electronically, so I just uploaded my PDF, payed them a few bucks for a nice hard copy, and clicked “submit” and it was done. I had sent my previous version in for an initial check by the graduate school to make sure they were happy with the formatting, and it got the a-okay. You always hear horror stories about people whose margins were an eighth of an inch off and were denied submission of their thesis, but these days, with everything done electronically, I guess it’s not such a big deal. Plus, as I mentioned before, I did mine in LaTeX, and the formatting is pretty much automatic. At any rate, my hands are now washed of the document.

I also submitted my final piece of paperwork today (at least, to the best of my knowledge it’s the final piece). I hope it’s the last one; I’m tired of making the trip up to campus only to discover I need just one more signature and have to return again. I haven’t been on campus this much since I was taking classes; it’s just almost unacceptable.

Now that all that is over, I’m sort of in a lull, catching up on a few things and doing a bit of job searching and related issues. Next week I’ll talk with my boss about stuff I can do as I coast into my last days here. I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned it (surely I have), but my current appointment will last through the summer, so I have a few months to wrap things up if I so desire. I just know he’s going to suggest redoing the measurement from Hades to make some final and definitive measurements with it and possibly write up a paper on it, so I’ll have to really search deep within myself and find the strength to at least not run screaming from the building prematurely.

And then there will be commencement in three weeks. I think my parents are coming, so I will actually have to get up at the crack of dawn to fight horrible traffic for the ceremony. I guess that’s okay. The day before is the department ceremony, which I think will be a little more meaningful for everybody. Plus I get to wear a big robe and a hood and look like I’m from Hogwartz or something. And instead of a wand, I guess I get a laser pointer. Doctorus defendo!

One month from today

It is March 12. That means my defense is exactly one month from today. I have one month to finish writing, make all my revisions, make sure I have all the data I want to show in its most presentable state, retake any vital measurements without which my arguments would be incomplete, and create my oral presentation. Today I submitted my official title to the graduate school and definitively booked a room and set a time for April 12. It’s coming, and doing so at a break-neck pace.

It’ll all get done (I guess), but, as has been the case this whole semester, I have to continue to stay right on top of everything.

In trying to get all my data together, I found that some of my data was a little wonky…it looked right, but it is shifted up a little from what I would have expected. After talking it over with my advisor, we decided to hit the lab for a quick check of one possible culprit. So, for the first time in almost two months, I went in the lab to take a measurement.

When I first went in there this afternoon, he and my colleague were cleaning off some space to move some items around in the lab. I chipped in to help pick up random stuff, throw away trash, and put components back in their usual spot. That was almost like Christmas. I’ve always said that my dorm room was never cleaner than finals week, when you hate to study and put it off by doing something else that is actually visibly productive. If I am procrastinating a measurement that I don’t really want to do in the lab, you bet my work area is tidy and spotless, as shuffling around the lab with various unused amplifiers or pieces of optics makes you look like you’re doing something while avoiding the whole measurement issue altogether.

It’s been such a sprint to the finish line that I haven’t actually managed to procrastinate this way. I must say that while I could have spent that hour doing some more writing, it was quite soothing to be in the lab doing something I knew how to do….put junk up. I was quite surprised, given my reluctance to do anything at all in the lab, but somehow it was just what I needed today. Unfortunately, when the junk was put up and I set up the quick measurement, our suspect was proven innocent of the alleged crime. But at least we know what it isn’t, right?

Well, I have a lot to do this week–I need to finish writing the introduction and maybe start in on the conclusions, I’ll probably have some more revisions come through, and I have a few items left to tidy up from the most recent revision. I’ve surpassed my quota of advisor-sanctioned diversions, so it’s back to the office to, as Nike says, just do it!