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

Recap: Terms 8 and 9

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: Terms 8 and 9

Olivia Wilkins

It sure has been a busy year, and as such it has been not one but two terms since I last typed up a summary of my progress in graduate school. At this point, I've gone through nine terms of graduate school, which comes to about 39% of the average 5.7 years (or 23 terms) it takes a Caltech chemist to get a PhD.

Last time I provided a recap, I had just passed my candidacy exam and had found out my GBT. I also shared among other things, that I finally had my hands on my ALMA Cycle 5 data. Since then, I've spent a lot of time working on that data.


In terms 8 and 9...

I started selling science-inspired artwork (SciArt) on my website. I sell everything from stationery and stickers to jewelry and ornaments, the sales of which help me fund my science communication efforts by helping towards the cost of fuel and materials for activities. I've had a lot of fun with the project so far, and in my first five months, I've made over 50 sales, or a sale about once every three days, which I think is pretty good considering I'm a full time grad student and have been traveling a lot.

I traveled... a lot. My work took me to five states outside of California, and the family and I had six days of flying in addition to days sapped by driving. I visited Green Bank, WV, three times: once for fun, once for a remote observing workshop (so I can control the GBT from my computer in California if I so desire for future observations), and for collecting data, which I shared in an article I wrote for GotScience Magazine. I also spent a week in Charlottesville, VA, to visit the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and get help with my ALMA data. Finally, I went to Portland, OR, for the Professional Organizational Development (POD) Network conference, where I was awarded a professional development grant.

The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) on a cloudy fall day in West Virginia.

The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) on a cloudy fall day in West Virginia.

I gave numerous talks, most of which were during somewhat of a speaking tour while visiting south-central PA. My speaking tour included stops at Mount St. Mary's University (Emmittsburg, MD), Lycoming College (Williamsport, PA), Gettysburg College (Gettysburg, PA), Dickinson College (Carlisle, PA), and York College of Pennsylvania (York, PA) to talk about astrochemistry and radio astronomy. I gave an additional talk at Dickinson about my year as a Fulbright research fellow in Germany. In addition to those talks on my south-central PA tour, I also gave talks at California State University - Channel Islands, Green Bank Observatory, and Palomar Observatory, bringing the total number of talks up to nine!

Speaking about radio astronomy to the York County Astronomical Society. Photograph by high school friend Alexander Arigo.

Speaking about radio astronomy to the York County Astronomical Society. Photograph by high school friend Alexander Arigo.

I was on the local organizing committee for a conference in July entitled Astrochemistry: Past, Present, & Future in honor of Ewine van Dishoeck. That was an exhausting but rewarding experience in addition to being a throwback to my event planning days from college. I helped book rooms, run registration, and keep the audio/visual components running smoothly, even after the projector lamp broke the second-to-last-day of the conference. I also sketched an illustrated summary of every single talk using pen and a brand new set of Prismacolor colored pencils Alex gave me as an anniversary gift (three years of marriage, folks!).

I taught Scientific Writing for a fifth time. Even though I was away, I remotely gave feedback and helped students with their writing for the first half of the class, then facilitated peer review in person once I returned. I learned so much through my students' writing. As always, it was a pleasure to co-instruct that class!

We moved! 2018 was a rough year for many reasons, the tipping point of which was finding out that our rent in the family apartments through Caltech Housing was going up 5.2%, and without a raise to the stipend. I'm still bitter that they raised the rent most for families, many of whom have partners who can't afford to work because childcare is so expensive. Many are struggling as it is, especially with the sole source of income being the grad student stipend. This took a serious toll on my mental health, and I found my time was mostly being spent looking for cheaper places to live as a contingency. I also spent a lot of time figuring out whether we would be able to afford for me to stay in grad school since rent had gone up over 4% in the previous year as well.

Anyway, we threw the dice on a cheaper apartment in the grad student lottery, and by some miracle, we got it! We're saving $5100 this year by living in an apartment that is about a mile north of campus. While it doesn't have a dishwasher, it has an amazing courtyard in the center with a play structure for Güni, and our apartment seems to stay pretty cool in the summer. We love it.

I had a busy 2018 with lots of travel, so I'm looking forward to starting out 2019 (and term 10) kicking back at home and continuing to dive into my ALMA data. I think I'm on my way to having some publishable results, and I'm eager for some relief from feeling like I'm spinning my wheels.