Thursday, August 27, 2009

Let the semester begin! I said, BEGIN!

On the fourth day of the new semester, I don't feel any different.

In an uncharacteristic bit of procrastination, I have not yet purchased the required book for one of my classes. Speaking of classes, I have two this semester. The one I mentioned above is a stats class, which should be useful for research but may not be particularly interesting in itself. The other, which I'm first attending this afternoon, is on the economics and law of global warming. That one sounds interesting on its own merits. I may be the only scientist in a room full of law students.

I'm now an actual PhD student, but I'm still refining my MS research for publication. I have more motivation to start on PhD work because it will be new and I have the opportunity to make some big strides quickly. With the MS work, I'm mostly wrapping up details. Granted, these details will significantly strengthen the research, but they don't provide any great visible progress. I also need to clean up some of the background sloppiness of my MS research. None of it should affect results, but it will substantially improve re-usability. Somehow, I need to find motivation to tie up loose ends before moving on to something shiny and new.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

stories of mother-scientists

My sudden absence again was due to a family camping trip. Besides the dead car battery in the middle of the trip, it was rather unexciting: two days of driving for four days of camping. I did enjoy getting out of town for a bit and getting some reading done.

During the four days of actual camping, I read quite a bit. I finished a book about scientist-mothers, Motherhood, the Elephant in the Laboratory. While I probably won't do actual lab work, these mothers' stories contain useful compromises and warnings for my future. Between that and Mama, PhD, I've gotten a good reality check on the benefits and challenges of career and family. I highly recommend both of them.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Proposed method of taking research notes

After several days of thought and input from a friend (thanks hankdmoose), I think I've come up with a good way to take research notes while I work on my PhD (see #4 in Master's as PhD training).

For my master's degree, I made dated entries into a single text document. I thought it would be easy to take notes while I worked since most of my research requires a computer. The text document was right there with all my other windows. What seemed like an advantage turned out to be a problem. My notes document got lost among all the other windows I had open. I also couldn't sketch diagrams, tables, or figures.

These notes were not very useful a month or two after I'd written them, much less by the time I wrote my thesis. It made me exceedingly glad that I did a master's degree on the way to a PhD. If I had used this method for a PhD, writing my dissertation would have been pure nightmare (I mean, more than it will be already).

As a result, I've devised a new plan. I have high hopes for this one. It is more complex and requires more time, but ultimately it should save me a lot of aggravation and time.

For daily notes, I'll use an old-fashioned notebook and pen. That way it will not get lost in my digital mess and I can carry it with me wherever I go. It will also give me tangible evidence of my accomplishments each day, something that is scarce in scientific research. I will use a contrasting color of pen to tag each daily entry with relevant key words so I can easily find related entries. To maintain consistency, I'll keep a running list of tags inside the front cover of the notebook, probably on a replaceable sheet of paper so I can organize them. (My current plan is to make two blocks of tape on the inside of the cover itself and tape a sheet of paper to the blocks of tape. That way the sheet of paper is easily replaceable.)

To make my notes more searchable by keyword, I'll post a weekly summary to a private blog (thanks to mareserinitatis for the blog idea). I'm not using the blog as my main medium because I know I won't take regular notes if I have to go to a web page to do it (much like the problem I had using a text file). The blog will also give me a more concise version of my notes so I can filter train-of-thought ramblings that will undoubtedly show up in my notebook. While I may not be able to easily include diagrams in a blog, I can more easily include actual figures I produce simply by linking to them. If I'm really desperate to include a hand-drawn diagram, I can scan it.

I'm really excited to see how this new method works. I hope it will make my dissertation a bit easier and make my research progress more smoothly. It is one of many habits I need to improve and piecewise progress is still progress.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

One advantage of being a minority

There is at least one distinct advantage to attending a male-dominated workshop. The ratio of women to women's bathroom stalls is 7:5.

No lines. Ever.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Two days into the Petascale Workshop

Now that have reached the end of my self-imposed research hiatus, I am not working on research. Instead, I'm attending the Scaling to Petascale workshop this week. This should give me a good introduction to massively parallel computing, which I hope will be useful for running the Weather Research and Forecasting model as part of my PhD research.

I was late to the workshop on Monday because some genius thought it'd be fun to throw eggs at my car overnight. Around 7:20am, I found yellow goo smeared across the side of my car and broken egg shells littering the road. After half an hour of scrubbing the side of my car with dish soap, I got most of it off.

However, I could not head straight to the workshop. I had to first take my car through an automated car wash to get the dish soap off (yay, its first car wash since I bought it a little over two years ago!). I still need to find some clear coat touch-up to fix some chips where the egg hit. At least the whole thing only cost me about $4 plus a bit of clear coat touch-up. I missed part of the opening speakers, but nothing substantial.

A continental breakfast of the usual pastries and fruit was provided, so I decided I'd eat breakfast at home the rest of the week. Honestly, I've had a very hard time paying attention to the speakers. I really want to be interested enough that it holds my attention. I think a lot of the concepts we're learning are neat, but I'm somehow unable to pay attention for more than a few minutes without doing something else.

Part of it is lack of sleep (nine hours between Sunday and Monday nights), but it's also difficult to listen to computer science talks, especially when the speaker has a heavy accent. I find the workshop as a whole overwhelming. The talks involve a lot of terminology that I don't understand even when it is clearly pronounced and they are pretty dense. Programming is better learned through experience than through lectures anyhow. I'm hoping that the presentations and websites will be enough to help me through the example exercises, which seem very good.