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Recap: Term 3

Graduate School: Applying, Living, Thesising

The Professional Student is a blog about everything grad school from the application process to my experiences living as a grad student, being a parent in grad school, and researching the role of chemistry in the evolution of our universe.

Recap: Term 3

Olivia Wilkins

After three terms of grad school, I've hit 13% completion! (That is assuming the average of about 5.7 years or 23 terms for Caltech chemists.) I've completed the number of classes required for my degree (although I am taking Cosmochemistry next term anyway), leaving candidacy and thesis work to occupy my time.

Getting to this point has given me a chance to take a deep breath; I made it past what is (at least for me) perhaps the most stressful part of grad school: classes. Here are the highlights (a month late, but hey, I've been busy being a grad student!).

I attended the American Chemical Society National Meeting in San Francisco and presented a poster about social media in science. Although I missed the first week of third term, I learned a lot of astrochemistry. I also had great conversations about how scientists can use social media for both inreach and outreach, some of which landed me a gig as a member of a social media task force with the ACS Division of Chemistry Education! On our way to and from the conference, my family also trekked to six(!) different National Park sites: Pinnacles, Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Yosemite, Muir Woods, and King's Canyon.

I took my final required class toward my Chemistry Ph.D. I capped my five courses with Spectroscopy, the key instrumentation technique in my area of astrochemistry research. I'm still taking another class next fall, but it feels great to have completed a major component of my degree!

I co-built a new tutorial class from scratch! My friend Cam and I co-designed and co-taught Astrochemistry: Spectroscopy in Space, and we learned a lot (perhaps even more than our students) along the way. Over the term, we introduced chemistry undergrads to astronomy, described the methods used in the field of astrochemistry, and explored the research in the field from the interstellar medium through planet formation. It was an out-of-this-world experience!

Check out more Astrochemistry 101-related tweets via #astrochem101.

I submitted my first ever ALMA proposal, and I was listed as PI! I submitted a proposal to ALMA Cycle 5 about methanol isotopologues in Orion KL. The proposal was one of ~1700, so my hopes aren't all that high for it, but cross your fingers for me anyway; I should find out whether it was accepted or rejected at the end of July.

You can read about my interests in interstellar isotopologues generally in my Year 1 NSF GRFP Activity Report (2017). If you want to learn more about astrochemistry generally, check out my post "Chemical Archaeology in Space"!

I continued to be invested in education through outreach, giving fellowships advice to other students, and learning about teaching. I worked several more science nights at local elementary schools, sharing the wonders of chemistry (and science generally) with young students and their parents. I also gave some insight to older students, specifically those considering applying to a Fulbright as a panelist answering lots of questions, perhaps the most challenging of which was "Should you apply to grad school at the same time as the Fulbright (or other fellowship)?" Finally, I attended numerous seminars, many of which were focused on themes like the evolution of the modern classroom and active learning.