30 March 2005

"The Physical Genius" (from the New Yorker)

For all you ambitious, perfectionist overachievers out there, here's an article for you.

(The link is from Eugene Wallingford's blog.)

29 March 2005

What do woman scientists wear?

Seriously... this is an interesting question. For starters, see the recent discussion on Sean Carroll's blog and the links therein.

But come on, how about some pictures? You can check out what the president of MIT (Susan Hockfield) is wearing. That's the example of the formal, middle-aged respectable scientist. Then there's the baseball cap wearing physicist (also at MIT): Nergis Mavalvala. (I've seen her in real life and that's really how she dresses at work.) For the hip go-getter, Middlebury chemistry professor Sunhee Choi is supposedly very well-dressed.

Unfortunately, I don't have many role models since there aren't many woman physicists around. Tenatively, I think that if I become a professor, I will wear a oxford-type shirt (sometimes called a blouse) over slacks or jeans (but no belt). This is the female equivalent of the shirt and slacks dress that is standard about male physicists. Of course, alternative suggestions are welcome. It's easier for men because everything is so standard. I also feel that it's much worse for a woman scientist to dress inappropriately than for a man. I pretty much ignore the dressing habits of male scientists (though Bob Jaffe always looks really good). However, if a woman wears something slightly unusual or looks sloppy, I always notice.

26 March 2005

Physics rumor mills

I try not to think about the future too far in advance, but I have to admit it: physics graduate students are worried about getting jobs.

To see how desperate the situation is, check out the so-called physics rumor mill. For the United States, there are rumor mills regarding particle theory, nuclear theory, astrophysics, and condensed matter/atomic experiment.

I'm ambivalent about rumor mills. As long as you're not directly connected to the field, you do get a small vicarious thrill in reading them. But I can imagine that if I were one of the job candidates, I wouldn't appreciate having private information posted for everyone in the world to see.

I hear the job search is not fun for the faculty either. Check out Gordan Watt's blog entry on this subject.

When I have a chance, I'll try to write up what I've learned about job searches and different academic jobs.

23 March 2005

Encouraging community in graduate school

I've been in graduate school for almost two years now. Thus far I have found graduate school to be far more isolating than my undergraduate college. That is not to say that my current situation is horrible, but it could be better.

At my old undergraduate place, people certainly worked just as much but they just seemed friendlier. I find that the harder I work, the more I need a kind word of encouragement to keep it up. So I try to be open-minded and gregarious with everyone I meet. Unfortunately, most of my fellow graduate students act like typical real-world adults. They go to work in the office and they have their own social lives outside the university. It's sad but the only really cohesive groups are the graduate union, which heckles the administration for better grad student benefits, and the few dozen social people at my dorm.

The situation is even a little worse in my department. Many scientists are fiercely anti-social and when I try to talk to these individuals, the conversation seems forced and awkward. One solution is to recruit friendly people to the department, but that takes a lot of work and probably also a great location (e.g. Berkeley or Boston).

I suppose this state of affairs is probably typical in graduate schools. But isn't the model of a university supposed to be one that encourages community, collaboration, and common purpose? Here are some ideas to move towards that goal:

1) Build many (decent) graduate dorms so that students from different departments can mix.
2) Start a prestigious lecture series where famous people come to talk about interesting topics to a general audience.
3) Build a university where the buildings of the different departments are connected together so you have to walk through other departments to get to your own building.
4) Throw a party or happy hour for several closely related departments. For instance: physics, electrical engineering, and chemistry.
5) Put lots of money into graduate activities and clubs. Of course, this success of this effort depends on the self-motivation of the graduate students themselves.
6) Create a graduate student government council and give it a large amount of money, independence, and responsibility.
7) Encourage interaction between undergraduates and graduate students. In my experience, this interaction usually benefits everyone. It also creates a larger groups of students with similar interests.

The world is a small place...

I thought that when I started this blog, no one would ever know about it, but apparently Michael Nielsen found a link through my writings here.

It's on the righthand side of his site. The link is "Bob Laughlin on Reinventing Physics (via Quantum Mechanic)."

I have no idea how Nielsen found my blog, but I guess I should be careful about what I write!

People can even find out which sites are referring to theirs. For an example, see the bottom righthand side of Lubos Motl's blog under the section "Referring Web Pages."

03 March 2005

More Irving Berlin: "Suppertime"

Here's another song I really like. How sad but how beautiful (when Miss Ella Fitzgerald croons it)!

by Irving Berlin
Supper time
I should set the table
'Cause it's supper time
Somehow I'm not able
'Cause that man o'mine
Ain't comin' home no more

Supper time
Kids will soon be yellin'
For their supper time
How'll I keep from tellin'
Them that man o'mine
Ain't comin' home no more?

How'll I keep explainin' when they ask me where he's gone?
How'll I keep from cryin' when I bring their supper on?
How can I remind them to pray at their humble board?
How can I be thankful when they start to thank the Lord

Supper time
I should set the table
'Cause it's supper time
Somehow I'm not able
'Cause that man o'mine
Ain't comin' home no more