Well well well, my little blogosphere echo chamber, we meet again. Almost two months into the semester, I figured I should take a moment to look back and take stock of all of the things I’ve accomplished (and been hazed by) over this first in-person leg of my PhD marathon. I often feel like I’m dragging my feet, not keeping up with the pace of other people in my lab or grad program, and yet objectively I can say that I have spent almost no time at all doing anything other than grad school work in the past 7 weeks. That’s probably unhealthy, but hey, ain’t that the name of the game in this late-capitalist hellscape??

Before the semester even started, I had to complete a 7-day planetary science intro short course as part of the requirements to qualify for my Collaborative Specialization in Planetary Science and Exploration. This meant being in lecture every day from 9 am to 5 pm, not to mention the additional time spent every evening either on readings or working on the labs and group project due by the end of the course. It was a gruelling introduction to the pace of grad life, especially for me, definitively not a morning person, but I managed to limp across the finish line with my sanity (and my grades) intact. Just in time to start…

…My first regular-semester course! I’m taking a grad-level course in geophysical forward and inverse modelling, which, while highly relevant to the work I’ve been doing for my first paper (and in general my bread and butter as a geophysics student), was also an intense re-introduction to linear algebra and statistics that I hadn’t really touched since undergrad. Thankfully, the assignments for this course have been fairly spaced out, but I’ll be honest that this is probably the part of my academic life I’m the most concerned about at the moment. It certainly is the most difficult for me to completely comprehend; despite the fact I’ve dedicated significant portions of my life to mathematics and coding over the past decade, the truth is that I am not one of those people for whom either of these subjects comes easily.

Screenshot of my solution for the first problem set in GP9505A. Future students don't plagiarize!!!
You know you’re a real physics student when you write your problem sets in LaTeX 😎

While I can wrap my head around basically anything I can visualize, concepts like abstract mathematics and programming language architecture take a massive amount of concentration and commitment for me to understand. But I’ve also learned that these subjects push my learning the furthest beyond my comfort zone, in addition to being incredibly quantitatively useful for doing scientific work, so over the years I’ve developed a soft spot and real fondness for the deeply technical and exacting parts of this job.

Okay, getting back to the original point: aside from the geophysics course, I’m also taking an additional full-semester planetary science seminar course, which thankfully has had minimal homework/outside class assignments so far. This is mercifully the class requiring the least amount of effort, so it hasn’t increased my workload too drastically (…yet, anyway).

And just when you thought, “Cailin, there couldn’t possibly be any more classes than that! You’re a grad student; aren’t you supposed to be doing research and stuff??”: Nope! I also recently finished an impact cratering field course in Sudbury, Ontario (which my labmates have probably written about much more extensively than me, so go check out their posts about it for details). This was also a punishing 7-day short course, except this time the hours were even worse: 8am-5pm. Needless to say, I was completely wiped at the end of every single day, and took a couple of days to recover when I finally got back. But the fun wasn’t over! While we were up there we had to collect data on a field site, and then write a 10-page report on our observations, due the next week. Unfortunately our group just happened to be the only one that couldn’t get our GPS data off the devices right away, so we had to get an extension just to be able to incorporate it and finish everything. So, that was great.

Me on an outcrop in Sudbury, being very Geologist-y
Pictured: my feelings about waking up at 6:00 am every day.

Finally, in other PhD-related tasks: in these past 6 weeks I’ve had to complete an extremely daunting application for a huge grant that could alter the course of my life for the next 3 years, provide feedback on a paper I’m a co-author on, attend a few conferences and science team meetings (but not present at any, thankfully), and do some archival/data processing work for a couple of Diviner projects I’m helping out with. There’s probably more in there I forgot about, but you get the idea. Big 😩 energy.

An example EPF plot for Giordano Bruno crater, based on data acquired by Diviner at a range of observation angles
At least I got some cool plots out of it?

And just as a reminder: none of this is mentioning anything that’s been going on in my personal, non-grad-school life! (which, to be fair, isn’t a whole lot at the moment)

The coming few months are honestly pretty daunting to me. Here’s just a brief enumeration of the scholastic tasks that need to be accomplished by the end of the semester:

  1. A midterm exam for the geophysics course, taking place next week during class.

  2. A research project for the geophysics course, consisting of a 10-page report (sans figures) and a presentation to the class, on a topic related to the methods discussed in the course. Thankfully I think I have an idea for this already: inversion of raw radar data to extract dielectric properties of planetary regolith!

  3. A research project for the impact cratering short course, consisting of a 20-page report on a topic unrelated to our thesis research (so, there goes half the things I actually find interesting about the field, haha). This will require actual lab work and observations, so I need to get started on it ASAP, since I’m notoriously terrible at these.

  4. A group project on one of the latest Planetary Science Decadal Survey white papers for the planetary science seminar course, consisting of leading a ~15 minute class discussion on the paper, with slides/figures as appropriate.

  5. Another group project continuing on from our presentation at the end of the planetary science short course, where we have to create a

Title slide from our mission proposal presentation at the end of the intro to planetary science short course, showcasing our mission, POSEIDON
At least we have a cool logo already?

And, in research/instrument science work:

  1. Final review of the paper I’m a co-author on, before the primary author submits the paper. Due date: comments, if any, sent back before this Friday (Oct 22).

  2. Completion of the text for my group’s contribution to the LRO ESM5 proposal, which will probably involve several rounds of edits and passing the document around for comments from the other group members. I also just found out about new data that should be included in the figure for our section, which will require some processing and visualization work. Tentative due date: end of October-ish?

  3. *Finishing my first paper*! I know I’ve been talking about this for a while, but my supervisor and I have set a new deadline of end of October for me to have a first draft, since I really, really should have it at least submitted before the ESM5 proposal is sent in next January, and preferably before the end of the year. To accomplish this, there are several remaining sub-tasks:

    • Incorporation of a new statistical method for parameter optimization into my existing code. Difficulty: hard as f***.

    • Running the code on the suite of data I have for all the ~60 craters in my study, and extracting the best resulting maps to include as figures in the paper. Difficulty: easy.

    • Production of quantitative plots (changes in thermophysical properties of various ejecta units with age, size, etc.). Difficulty: let’s-find-out-how-good-I-am-with-matplotlib

    • Actually finishing the writing of the discussion and results sections. Fortunately I’ve already written almost all of the introduction and methods sections, which, due to the excessive standards of rigour I’m holding myself to (especially for a first paper), is already >38 pages (double-spaced and with figures, but…) That still leaves what are often the most significant sections of the paper to write, though. I’m hoping that, due to the amount of effort and validation I’ve put into generating the actual results, the conclusions that flow from them will be easily justifiable and obvious… but that’s still a big unknown. 😕

  4. Prepare a 20-minute talk for the GAC-MAC conference happening at Western in two weeks. Thankfully I’ve talked about these results so much at various meetings, conference, etc. that I can probably just mash together several slide sets from previous presentations. But I still have to, y’know… do that. Due date: November 4.

  5. Decide whether to run for the DPS Committee Student Representative position? I’ll be honest, I don’t totally understand this role or what impact it would have on my grad career, but my supervisor encouraged me to apply, so… here we are! Due date: December 15 (thank goodness).

  6. Provide comments/feedback on another paper I may be a co-author on, and possibly do some additional data processing and figure generation for said paper, depending on the timeline for its submission. This will hopefully begin with the data I need to process to create the figure for ESM5, so this could be feeding two birds with one scone. Due date: ?????

I think that’s everything. This whole post was more a chance for me to enumerate the many, many tasks I’ve already accomplished so far, in addition to the ones still to come. The former is an idea I first heard about a long time ago from a YouTuber called Hannah Hart, a “To-Done List”, to help overcome the paralysis and despair that can happen when you only look at the things still left to do. So, hopefully, this will be a useful way to remind myself of how far I’ve come, even only 50 days in.

Anywayyyyyys. Okay, that was way too serious and intense for what should really be a frivolous, open-ended exercise in creativity. Next time it’s just gonna be 100% memes.

Till then,

-xoxo gossip grad