And just like that…

Summer has come to an end.

The life of a graduate student works a little backward at times. As Bloomington steadily diminishes in undergraduate student population and opens her roadways for effortless commutes, she officially marks the beginning of summer. The warm summer’s breeze buzzes with plans of imminent adventures and excursions to distant worlds or perhaps just coming home. In celebration, I took a day off to relax and prepare for the fleeting sabbatical ahead.

You see, like elves, fairies, and leprechauns, summers are these mystical, almost dreamlike spans of time where one can focus intimately on his/her research uninterrupted by the rigors of classwork and burdens of teaching responsibilities –and grading, mindless and soul-numbing grading. The sheer joys of temporary liberation is well apparent on the faces of most faculty members as they happily work in their offices waiting to be bothered by graduate students armed with endless questions, I am sure. Despite the long hours on experiments commissioning the new particle accelerator and the preparation for an article to be published at the next International Particle Accelerator Conference held in New Orleans, I still made time for a little fun.

It is typical in our field to see close friends and colleagues in the department relocate to national and international laboratories for research. Recently, one of our good friends, Manny, moved to the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Virginia to work on the GlueX Experiment. Certainly this gave us good justification to explore the Midwest before Manny departs. As the old adage goes, “In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is strength, but whiskey is the water of life.” The Kentucky Bourbon Trail was the next adventure on our list, I’ll just let the photos tell the stories.

This was the most stationary photo I’ve found of our crazy tour guide who gave us a fine tour of the Buffalo Trace Distillery. Photo taken by Alfonse.

Devil’s cut and Angels’ share fills the dark damped air as we descended deeper into the aging lair. Photo taken by Alfonse.

Some of the finest bourbon Buffalo Trace Distillery produces. Photo taken by Alfonse.

At the Woodford Reserve Distillery. Our tour guide was much tamer this time. Photo taken by Alfonse.

All bourbons are required by law to be aged in new charred American white oak barrels. Photo taken by Alfonse.

Got schooled on a little bourbon history. Photo taken by Alfonse.

Our final stop of the day, the Four Roses Distillery with one of the department’s finest in frame. Photo taken by Alfonse.

Four Roses was built remarkably like a particle accelerator, I felt just right at home. Photo taken by Alfonse.

Hardware, oh glorious hardware. Photo taken by Alfonse.

We made a pretty good sized dent in the list of “things to do in the Midwest” this summer and great memories were made. Our own graduate traditions dictates that no summer is complete without a boat party in Lake Monroe, so thus we forge ahead cutting through the clear waters in our rickety rental pontoon yet again. Until next time.

Proof: 25 graduate students + boat + lake = one hell of a time. Q.E.D. That seemed a proper thing to say with two very mathematically inclined minds, center frame, discussing their ideas as the boat was en route to our favorite destination. Photo taken by Sunny Nigam.

Taking a Break Helps Me Think

This summer was full of hard work, discipline, and learning more about the dedication it will take to complete a dissertation. I took two classes, one of which was an independent study. Additionally, I split the week working at my assistantship and at a research center on campus. Despite the hard work, there were moments that I had to escape to find a balance. Lo and behold, in came a trip to my home state of Virginia!!

Photo of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport in Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo taken by Tomika.

I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the town of my undergraduate institution and walk around campus. I mean, this is where it all began! The focus, the dedication, the fun…. It was wonderful to take my parents on a tour of my old campus as I pretended to still know the name of every building on campus. (By the way, I failed since there was new construction.)

I think there are times in graduate school where we forget just how important it is to take breaks away to recharge and refuel ourselves. Summers are great opportunities to refocus before the new year. I found it refreshing and necessary to spend time with my family.

Gaitinsburg, TN . Photo taken by Tomika.

A second trip included one of intentional isolation and fun! My family takes annual trips together and this year we got a cabin in Gaitlinsburg, Tennessee. The majestic mountains, crisp air, amazing outdoor activities, and bonding time was truly the highlight of my summer. I actually plan to come back here next year. Being in an isolate place, there was no internet and limited cell phone use which was the best part of the entire vacation. I was forced to step away from all virtual responsibilities and focus on reconnecting with my family.

I feel recharged and ready for what will be the most challenging and exciting time of my academic career. I look forward to tackling new projects and beginning my dissertation. Remember:  Your brain may sometimes need a break. So take it!

Summer on La Isla Del Encanto (“The Enchanted Island”), Puerto Rico

With the support of a departmental research grant and through some great networks, I landed a 6-week research experience in Puerto Rico.  The experience was eye opening, served as a language and cultural immersion, and established lifelong friendships.

During the previous spring semester, I had been chatting with a friend and faculty member about the anti-climatic feel to the passing of my qualifying exams and how unprepared I still felt.  I attributed this to my lack of experience in working with a research team or with a specified project.  After listening to me, my friend simple asked, ”Well why don’t you do something about it?” The faculty member followed in asking,  “how is your Spanish? I have a contact in Puerto Rico.”

I contacted the faculty member in P.R. and within 24 hours I had a response and the rest was my summer.

During my time there, I worked at the medical campus alongside two faculty members, and graduate students who had recently collected data on sexual health, attitudes, and personal sexual history of Puerto Ricans.  Additionally, I visited and was a part of the workshops offered at a local AIDS clinic, participated in the end of semester presentations, commencement, and the inauguration of the first transgendered safe space, Nosotr@s.



On the weekends, I visited surrounding towns, cities, and beaches.  The people of Puerto Rico were warm, extremely hospitable.  At social gatherings I encountered individuals who were eager to hear about my experiences on the island, and ready to add to my bucket list.  Needless to say, the bucket list only seemed to grow, and I eagerly look forward to next summer when I plan on returning to take on another project.

*All pictures taken by Zelideh

Summer Time Fun

Picture taken by me at the Muhammad Ali Museum

Hey cyberspace friends. It’s me J.T. and today I want to tell you all a little bit about my summer. Last year I spent it working with the Upward Bound program and doing an internship at Texas Christian University (go Frogs!). This summer was a lot more laid back. I took one summer class and traveled around the Midwest. For the first time I visited Louisville. I took in the sights, by far my favorite place was the Muhammad Ali museum. I was unaware that the greatest boxer that ever lived was from Louisville. The museum is by far the best museum I’ve ever been to. The Muhammad Ali paradoxically both mythologizes and humanizes one of the most fascinating public. SO my FTOD (Free Tip of the Day) is obvious. If you are ever in Louisville visit the Ali museum. Much love! Peace.


Below are more photos of my Louisville vacay. Enjoy!

Summer Work: Paid internship or work on research?

In computer science, summer academic work usually narrows down to two avenues. On one side, grad students can go on to an industry (or research lab) internship where they can gain professional experience, as well as earn some extra money for the upcoming semesters. On the other side, grad students can spend the summer working on their research project(s) without any other academic or teaching responsibilities. Throughout my grad student career, I have experienced both and found each one to be uniquely rewarding. Previously, as a master student, I did a research-oriented internship where I had the opportunity to work on an interdisciplinary and industry-related research project. It was a great experience and I gained several skills which I would not have received any other way. Additionally, I was paid a decent amount of money, thus, I got some financial flexibility for the upcoming semester.

Nowadays, as a PhD student, I rather spend my summer working on my research projects than doing anything else. This strategy has proven to be quite beneficial as I am able to make substantial progress on my projects while still having some time to enjoy the summer.

Summer Plans

The summer is fast approaching! Although, many of my friends and fellow grad students are preparing to go on to an industry (or research lab) summer internship, where they can gain professional experience, as well as earn some extra money, my summer plans are quite straightforward: I will be alternating between preparing for my Qualifying exams and working on my research projects. It will not be until after the quals that I will have time to enjoy Bloomington’s weather, as well as visit nearby cities and go to some baseball games.

Closing out the first year

One more test. That’s it. One more exam and I can conclude my first year as a doctoral student at IU. This has been far the most challenging semester of my graduate experience. My doctoral classes have literally forced me to think outside of the box and challenge myself to take charge of my learning. Throughout this year, I do believe I have a greater understanding of the higher education as a field of study and what is required to be a successful contributor through research and practice. Statistics has been the most challenging class of my entire collegiate career. (haha..) There have been days when I have questioned if challenging myself to grasp quantitative analysis is really worth the stretching of my brain. As as a lover of qualitative research, I chose statistics this semester as a way for me to expand my ability to be effective in future research. I think that I have achieved a wonderful appreciation for the impact of quantitative analysis in my field. What I will be taking away from this statistics experience, is a new challenge to take harder classes. I do not want to continue just to take classes and conduct research in the areas I am most comfortable with. Rather, I look forward to taking boundaries away from the preconceived notions of where I have thought my research topics should be. Reflecting over the past 18 credits of this year, I made the right choice in coming to IU. Professionally, I can acknowledge the qualities that I bring to my job and what I am able to offer the students I work with. Academically, I can’t wait to start an independent research project this summer!! And, I do believe that it will be quantitative. The next few years will continue to be more challenging, but I find comfort in my support system at IU. There are endless opportunities to succeed at this university, I am very blessed to be here.

On procrastination…

The semester is ending in two weeks. [Insert surprised exclamation of choice here such as “Egad!”, “Wha?” or “Whoa!”] Point being that I have a final paper, a manuscript revision, data analyses, and TA duties looming in the next few weeks. Some of you might be thinking, “Pssshh! That’s nothing!” And I am almost inclined to agree with you.

I say almost because I have a serious obstacle in my path. Something that makes the hill-ish pile of work ahead appear to be more akin to a mountain. Not quite Mt. Everest, but definitely up there. So what is this obstacle? It’s a game that some of you might know as Bejewelled Blitz. It’s a fairly popular game on Facebook. According to their Facebook page, there are currently 11,463,184 monthly active users. Sadly, I am one of them. Every Tuesday, when the weekly scores have been cleared, my need to establish an ever higher high score manifests itself. Scratch that. It’s a compulsion at this point. I have to play, and keep playing, till I have a high score that I can be satisfied with. Sigh.

So the next few weeks are going to be tough. Not only do I have a lot of work to do, but I also have to find a way to beat the game quickly enough each week that I will actually have the time to get the work done! So yeah. Egad! However, after five years in graduate school, I have a few tricks up my sleeve such as restricting my access to the internet, going to my favorite spot to work, and imagining how great the summer will be after all the work is completed. But in the meantime I still have some time, right? Enough to play just one game? 😉