I just got back from meeting with my academic advisor. She’s the person who signs off on all of my classes and makes sure that I’m completing all the requirements for the PhD here. (We do this at the start of every semester.) She went down the checklist:
TQE - done
RQE - done
Master’s - done
Classes - done
Minor - done
Thesis proposal - done
TA - done
She turned to me and said with a knowing smile, “Well, now all that’s left is the thesis and the defense. And maybe a little bit of research.”
Yes indeed. All that’s left is the research. I’ve done a pretty good job getting all the other requirements out of the way. The only problem is that the other requirements were distracting me from the research - something I really enjoyed. It’s not that I dislike research, it’s that I like having more than one thing going on.
But now I find myself staring down days in the cleanroom, methodically processing my wafers. The cycle of clean, deposit, pattern, etch awaits me in all of its mind-numbing yet critically important glory. I admit: I’m finding it hard to get excited right now. I had this feeling last term and I decided to take a class. Part of my New Year’s resolutions is that I won’t take class.
Hot ovens, dangerous acids, and plasmas are waiting for me in the lab. (Hi Mom! Graduate school is totally safe!) I’ll greet them - tomorrow - and hope that I pass through these doldrums with some wind at my back.
I’ve said it before and I (hopefully) won’t say it again: today I’ll complete my last bit of classwork at MIT. I have a final at 1:30 this afternoon. If anything, I’m really sick of sitting for three hours for an exam, so I’m making a mental note not to do this again.
To the researchers at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, I ask, “What would your mothers say?”
If you haven’t been following the news, a whole lot of emails were hacked at one of the leading climate research universities in the world. They fudged some temperature data to “hide the decline” in global temperatures. Perhaps more troubling, they discussed how editors at leading climate research publications should be removed so that the journals would stop publishing articles that doubted global warming.
So let’s boil this down. These researchers a) made up data and then b) rigged the editorial boards of journals to silence the other side. I ask again, “What would your mothers say?”
This has nothing to do with science and everything to do with ethics. When you publish a paper, the world is trusting that you haven’t made stuff up. When someone reads a journal, they are trusting that they’re reading the top quality research out there - not the top quality research that the editor happens to agree with.
The scientists at EAU seem to defend their research by saying, “Yes, but we published in peer reviewed journals, so it’s all good.”
Ugh. The point of peer review is not to make sure that you’re telling the truth. Peer review is meant to ensure that your assumptions and procedures are logical and in line with the standard practices of the field. It’s also meant to make sure that your paper is complete and that you’ve answered the questions that are relevant. The peer review process is not supposed to guard against dishonest jerks.
This whole scenario reminds me of this guy at Bell Labs. He made some headlines when he published papers demonstrating a molecular transistor. But it turns out that he made the whole thing up. By the time the scientific community caught on, he had published 8 papers in Science and 7 in Nature. So that’s 15 papers published in the most respected journals based on nothing.
So what would your mother say? If I fabricated data, my mother would say, “I taught you better than that.”
I recently discovered that my academic advisor during college is now on the faculty here in CSAIL. Cue the children’s choir: It’s a small world aaaaaafter all.
I didn’t do research with him, but I TA’d his class for two years and he signed off on my classes every semester for three years. Every term, I would walk into his office with the list of classes I wanted to take, he would give me the ok, and then ask, “So, what do you want to do after graduation?”
“I’m not exactly sure,” I would say, and, before he could jump in with a suggestion of more school, I would blurt out, “But I definitely want to get a job!”
I wanted no part of grad school and would explain that to him. I don’t actually like going to class and I wanted a paycheck. I didn’t know what type of job I would get, but a job it would be!
He kept trying to talk me into grad school. “You’d be good at it,” “Grad school needs people like you,” “I think you’d have fun.” I wasn’t buying any of it. He was a guy who had spent 9 years in grad school because he enjoyed it just that much.
I returned to campus in the fall of my senior year after having a wonderful internship experience that made me think I’d have to get a PhD. I met him in his office and and he signed off on my classes. I waited for the question, which I knew was coming.
“So, what do you want to do after graduation?”
“I think I might want to go to grad school,” I said meekly.
“Yes!” He threw his hands into the air. “We got her!”
Five years later, he’s now in an office down the street from me. You know what this means?
Whenever my experiments are failing and my simulations make no sense, now I’m tempted to march into his office and announce, “This is ALL YOUR FAULT!”
I keep holding back - I don’t even know if he remembers me.
I kid you not, the following conversation actually happened.
The scene: My apartment, last week during the Angels-Yankees ALCS
The actors: My roommate, myself
Roommate: I really like the number 14.
Me: Why’s that? Because it’s even.
Roommate: Yeah! It’s so pretty.
Me: Oh, I like odd numbers. I have a thing for prime numbers.
[I rolled my eyes at my own statement here because, I have a thing for prime numbers? What?]
Roommate: Prime numbers are ugly.
Me: Why? Because they have no factors?
Yes, my roommate also goes to MIT.
The Ringling Brothers circus is in town for their annual show. While I’ve never actually attended the circus, I always know they’re here.
The circus transports all of their equipment and animals up from New York via train. The train pulled into Cambridge a few days ago and they parked it on a track right near MIT. Now, if you were the circus management, how would you get all those animals from Cambridge, across the river, and to the Boston Garden*?
You walk them. Naturally.
Here’s a YouTube clip from a few years ago.
Elephants on Memorial Drive
Last night was the annual elephant parade. Around 7 pm I found myself out on Mass Ave as elephants and horses passed. The circus staff was walking with them - elephants need supervision - and handing out clown noses. So now I have a Halloween costume too.
* Yes, yes, it’s no longer the “Boston Garden” technically, but it’s gone through so many names that I have no clue what to call it. I’m reverting back to the original.
A few weeks ago, I found myself on the beach with my mom, dad, aunt, and uncle. Sitting on a beach with a book is pretty much my definition of relaxation, so I was doing my best to stop thinking about work and MIT.
At some point, my uncle turned to my dad and said, “Hey, do you know what 2009 is the 40th anniversary of?”
I rolled my eyes behind my sunglasses and, inside my head, started shouting, “For the love of God, WE KNOW. Man walked on the moon!” But this is my family, so I didn’t shout at them.
Why didn’t I want to hear about the moon landing? Because MIT has been celebrating it for most of 2009. It culminated in June with a three day event that included tours and panels and a general space love-fest. The Boston Pops played a special performance of Holst’s The Planets that was only open to the MIT community. Buzz Aldrin narrated.
It’s not that I hate space or the moon or Buzz Aldrin, but I was sick of hearing about it. Landing on the moon was certainly an accomplishment for mankind, but when can we have a party for the transistor?
Anyway, I was smiling politely on the beach when my uncle asked my dad what 2009 was the 40th anniversary of.
“That’s right,” my dad said. “Woodstock.”
Aha! Woodstock! Normal, non-MIT people remember that other things happened in 1969!
It was so lovely to sit there, listening to them reminisce about what they were doing during that weekend and how they were both oh-so-close to going. It’s truly vacation when you’re on a beach with a book, surrounded by people who would rather talk about Jimi Hendrix than Buzz Aldrin.
Ok, my real vacation hasn’t happened yet. In a few weeks, I’ll go traipsing around Glacier National Park and explore all that Montana has to offer. But for the last month or so, I’ve been teaching an electrical engineering class for high school girls as part of the Women’s Technology Program. It was great fun.
Popular consensus was that learning to solder was the best part of the class. Man, if you want girls to feel empowered, just give them a hot iron and tell them to go melt metal. It works really well.
What did we solder? Jewelry. We’re girls.
(Well, we also soldered some heart-shaped circuits… because we’re girls who like things that light up. See here.)
I didn’t want to be left out of the fun, so I made some jewelry too. I thought about where I would wear jewelry made of wire and resistors. I’m going to be in a wedding in August, so first I thought I would make blue earrings to match the bridesmaid dress that I’ll be wearing. Then I thought that the bride wouldn’t really appreciate that.
So I thought some more. And finally made these.
Where will I wear such hideous, tacky earrings? My 5th reunion is coming up next spring. I’ll fit right in with this guy.
Photo is courtesy of the Princeton University Alumni Association. And some awesome dude in the class of ‘42.
I’ve lived with many different people over the years. I thought I had finally figured out the questions to ask potential roommates before agreeing to live together. What are your hours like? Do you cook a lot? How frequently do you have people over? These are all good things to discuss before signing a lease.
You know what I forgot though? How do you feel about mice?
Let’s say, for example, you see a mouse scurrying across your desk one morning. Do you think, “I need to snap that sucker’s neck until he’s dead dead dead”? Or do you think, “Cute! I’ll name him Milo”?
My roommate and I fall on opposite sides of this fence. If she feels the mouse run by her feet, it makes her happy. If I ever felt the mouse near my feet, I’d scream so loud the entire block would hear me. I have no desire to name it; I want it dead. Now.
I think my roommate is coming around to the bloodthirsty side of things. This morning, she woke up to find that the mouse had gotten into her (very tasty) cherry nut bread. Now it’s war. Milo must die. If the traps don’t work, I’ll go after him with my softball bat.
1. Technical qualifying exam - Completed: 5/06
2. Classes for master’s degree - Completed: 12/06
3. Master’s thesis - Completed: 12/07
4. Research qualifying exam - Completed: 4/08
5. Minor program - Completed: 5/09 (Note: this is new. Yaay!)
6. TA - Completed: 7/09 (est.)
7. PhD thesis proposal - Completed: 8/09 (est.)
8. PhD thesis - Completed: Hahahahaha!