On Graduate School

Steinn points to this excellent post at "She Falters to Rise" about surviving graduate school.

In graduate school, according to Brin I should have been a happy student (see Steinn's post) -- I was in a stable relationship, and my research went well, so other than the occasional hiccup (say, like moving buildings and pissing off the project manager) I was pretty happy. Even though I didn't experience some of the lows SFtR alludes to, I need to echo her point of view -- Shan was undoubtedly an important part of making grad school tolerable, but what made my work progress at a good pace was that the people I worked with provided a great support network. My advisor was actually quite a good mentor, so again I guess I was lucky. However, he was simply overwhelmed with time commitments throughout much of my graduate career, so it meant that all of his students had to pretty much do what we could on our own and try to keep our visits to our advisor to those absolutely essential questions. The way things evolved is that his first three students (me, Mike, and Jamie) supported each other, and we wound up spending *many* hours arguing about the minutiae of photometry, which improved all of our work. We all (yes, even Jamie) spent a lot of time later on mentoring the students who followed us and passing on whatever code and knowledge might be useful.

Of course, it wasn't all work, but those 3am trips to Jeffrey's to watch Lebowski again or to watch the Godfather over shrimp and tater tots (seriously) were just as important. Sure, we could have been working, or getting some sleep in order to be refreshed for the next day, but the occasional night of "which one of those was Logjammin?" keeps a proto-PhD sane. We joke all the time about needing to "get a life", but I honestly think one of the greatest assets of being a student at UVa in the mid-90s to early-00s was the camaraderie (I'm biting my tongue a bit here, but I will cryptically say that I'm happy to see this appears to still be the case and that I'm a bit surprised at some people who underestimate its importance). Anyway... we were all going through the same thing together, and we were all willing to help each other succeed.

We're all over the place now (UT, OCIW, Northrop Grumman...), so these days an email replaces a trip down the hall to Jeff's office to waste his time (which I'm sure he appreciates), but I think if you add up the time we wasted together and the time we saved each other it has to at least come out a wash. Hope the feeling is mutual...


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