Author Archives: Miss MSE

  The new school year is rapidly approaching, or has perhaps already arrived for some. As one of the resident graduate students here at EngineerBlogs, I thought I’d offer some advice to anyone embarking on the quest that is the US doctoral degree. On my own blog, I’ve offered advice about questions to ask on visits. So now that you’ve matriculated, what’s next? Accept that everyone is going to have advice, and much of it may be completely irrelevant to your department and situation. Learning to parse large amounts of information to find something relevant is a critical skill in graduate school, so consider this practice. Make sure you have all of the requirements for candidacy/graduation written down in one place. What courses do you need to take? How are your qualifying exams structured? When are you expected to achieve candidacy? In the beginning, you’re still going to have courses, but you’ll want to…

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There was a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Ed this week in which the author was advising a smart but abrasive younger colleague to “try being likable“. The phrase that really struck me was “Think of what you could accomplish if people actually wanted to help you”. The piece was focusing on interacting with peers, but it reminded me of discussions I’ve had with peers about interacting with the people who make it possible for you to do your job, which I’ve touched on previously. For example, most of my work is done on a super-computing cluster. In order for me to do research, I need the server up and running. Last Friday was System Administrator Appreciation Day, and so my group brought the sys admin team various goodies. They just did some major system upgrades which are having stability issues. Because they remembered me , when I contacted…

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So this week, we’re talking about what our essentials are that go in our bag. Because I have a very nice desk that is the only place I really work besides home, my daily bag contains my wallet, keys and phone. It used to have a book, but my phone does that now. And since everything I’m working on is on a remote server, I don’t need to take documents back and forth. Since this would be a very short post otherwise, I decided to instead go through what I bring to academic conferences. This can be divided into two parts: my luggage and my day bag. My day bag is a very nice black leather Samsonite bag which holds everything I need, while preventing me from deciding to pack the supplies needed for a small army. This bag contains: Laptop and power cord Conference booklet Medium Moleskin notebook 3+…

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An offhand comment about paper writing on Twitter this morning led to an interesting conversation about what different fields consider typical. This brought to mind part of what Miss Outlier was talking about in her post on thought leadership, namely the different expectations she encounters. Every environment has a certain set of rules you’re expected to follow, many of which may not be initially obvious. Academia vs industry is a conversation that comes up semi-regularly here, since we have writers on both side of the fence. In academia, or at least in graduate school, it’s not uncommon to go months without a hard deadline. I don’t think my husband has gone more than a week without a firm deadline since he started his current job. On the other hand, he’s expected to work certain hours, whereas my hours are fairly unregulated. Norms can also be very specific to a small…

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Fluxor kicked off this week with a post about his father, and with Father’s Day coming up, I thought I’d chime in about how my parents’ careers have affected my choices. Both my parents are programmers, and so my form of teenage rebellion was to avoid learning any programming. These efforts turned out to be counter-productive in the long run, since my current work is about half programming. When I was little, after he left the Navy, my father worked in the defense sector. When my sister and I started school, he started his own graphic software business from home. I earned my allowance by copying floppy disks and debugging. We were supposed to try and do new things with the software, and if it broke, tell him exactly what we had done that had caused the crash. I learned how to methodically trace my steps, and figure out where…

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Chris posted this weekend about his experiences at Maker Faire, and the idea of STEAM instead of STEM.  On my own blog, I’ve talked a bit about my involvement in the steampunk community. (No idea what steampunk is? Check out Girl Genius for an example) Generally, at least in my region, it’s a group with backgrounds predominantly in visual art, music,  theatre and literature, but with a strong interest in science and engineering. However, in many cases, they never got into science in school. So why do I care about outreach to the arts? Well, I find it hard to resist an interested audience that will let me lecture at length and asks great questions. I also care because science literacy is important for everyone, and if it’s in the context of dirigibles and boiler engines, so be it. By being able to put information in context, it becomes more interesting to your…

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One of the reasons I became a blogger was to become more involved in a community which could offer me advice and support on the problems I face in graduate school and as a woman in STEM. In many cases, others have faced the same types of problems I’m encountering and have found possible solutions. So what does this have to do with open source software? In many cases, there are communities of users that will offer beginners advice and support on starting out with a new software package or help troubleshoot problems. One of the open source software packages I use pretty much daily is LAMMPS (Large-scale Atomic/Molecular Massively Parallel Simulator), developed and maintained by a team at Sandia. While it’s a very well-documented code, the error messages can be vague. This is where the support community comes in. The lammps-user mailing list archive is usually my first stop, to…

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There have been some great posts on networking and impostor syndrome in the science blogosphere lately, which has prompted me to do some thinking about one of those pieces of advice that always crops up in such discussion: finding a mentor. It’s pretty generally accepted that mentorship matters at every career stage, but as someone early in my career, it seems that the first advice I’m given when I’m struggling is “find a mentor”. One mistake I think most of us make at least once is assuming that because we report to someone, they will serve as our mentor. Maybe it’s because finding a mentor is actually not a straightforward process. I can’t write a flow chart that will consistently find someone a mentor. Personally, I’ve generally found mentors simply by talking to professors outside of class, about something other than class, or talking to professors who I no longer take…

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I’ve been in hiding for the last two weeks or so, as I’m in a fairly intensive coding phase of my research project. While I normally take frequent breaks and interact with my coworkers, during focused coding efforts, I tend to lose track of time and tune out what’s going on in the office/outside world (hence the recent lack of posting…). Cherish has talked before about the effect of office space on productivity. Most of the time, I’m fairly happy with my office space. We’re lucky enough to have windows, and my office mates are all in my lab group. However, what I really want when coding is a cave with no distractions and a really large monitor. I also need enough space to scribble psuedo-code, to make sure it will do what I want before I start fretting about syntax. My prior desk served this role pretty well, as…

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My husband, Mr.ME and I often compare notes on what it’s like being in industry versus graduate school as part of our “how was your day” discussions.He graduated the year before I did, so it’s interesting to see what it would be like if we’d taken the other route after graduation.  Of course, not all graduate schools are the same, nor are all jobs the same, but we decided to offer some tag team insight into what our experiences have been like. Describe your job Miss MSE: I’m a graduate student in materials science at a major research university. My research is to study the structure of amorphous solids by molecular dynamics simulations. This is a major departure from what I did as an undergraduate, which was classical metallurgy. Mr. ME:  I’m a mechanical engineer responsible for the design of a key subsystem for a consumer product produced by a major OEM. …

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