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A compilation of stories, telescopes, internship resources, and other things radio astronomy.

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 5

Olivia Wilkins

It's already week 8 of my sixth term in grad school, but to keep with tradition, I'm posting a recap of term 5 anyway! As of the new year (i.e. 1.5 months ago), I am 22% of the way through grad school (assuming the average of about 5.7 years or 23 terms for Caltech chemists). I spent most of my time teaching, attending class (my last, for real this time), and working on proposal writing (with a little bit of time left for fun with the family, too!).

Here are the highlights.


I facilitated two sessions at Caltech's 5th annual teaching conference. My first session, Building a Teaching Portfolio: The What, Why, and How, went over the components of a teaching portfolio and why it might be worth having one even if you aren't applying for an academic job. Over the course of the session, participants brainstormed why they should have a teaching portfolio, listed what activities they might include in a portfolio, and developed a plan for their future teaching endeavors to strengthen their portfolio's content. My second session, Teaching Outside the Classroom: Considerations for Effective Mentoring, focused on participants' own experiences as mentors and mentees and how mentoring overlaps with teaching inside the classroom. During the session, participants brainstormed both effective and ineffective mentoring behaviors and teamed up to troubleshoot how an effective mentor would react to a given scenario. Links to the online materials are given below.

Building a Teaching Portfolio online session materials
Building a Teaching Portfolio worksheet
Teaching Outside the Classroom online session materials
Teaching Outside the Classroom worksheet

I took my sixth and final (probably) class: Cosmochemistry (Ch 126). Cosmochemistry is all about the chemistry that happens during star and planet formation; it is the very chemistry that evolved from the subatomic particles of the big bang to complex molecules that make up life as we know it. For my final project in the class, I wrote a paper and gave a presentation about TDeciphering the Rosetta Stone: Comet 67P. Comets like 67P formed 4.6 billion years ago along with our solar system, so they can act as a keystone for unlocking the solar system's chemical past. In particular, 67P has given insight into the origin of Earth's oceans, the chemistry of the cloud of gas and dust that became our Sun and planets, and the level of molecular complexity possible in outer space.

I took a short course all about course design. ABCs of Course Design meets one hour a week for three weeks to go over learning outcomes and backwards design, active learning, and assessment. Throughout the short course, I developed learning outcomes for my Ch 101 tutorial I am co-teaching (again!) in the spring and thought about assessments I might want to implement to achieve and measure those learning outcomes.

Speaking of teaching, I wrote the first ever assignment prompts for the class I TA. I am the TA for Scientific Writing (Ch/ChE 91) at Caltech. Previously, the description of the two writing assignments for the class was limited to a few sentences in the course syllabus. I decided to exercise my prompt writing skills following a model of transparent teaching.

I wrote my second telescope proposal, and it was accepted! I applied for telescope time on the Radioteleskop Effelsberg in Germany and was granted time for my project (weather permitting). My data for ALMA was also taken, despite being given "Grade C" (lowest priority... but hey, an accepted proposal is an accepted proposal). This means that I can do science this year!!!

The family and I made it back to Europe for two weeks! We went to Norwich, UK; Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Köln and Wuppertal, Germany; Paris, France; and London, UK. We shared great food, beautiful sites, and lots of smiles.

I'm almost through term 6, and I cannot wait to share it with you in a few weeks!