Well– so much for updating my website more..Better late than never though!
I honestly can’t believe that I just finished my first semester of grad school… It was just a hodgepodge of things to adjust to and I somehow managed to survive. I’ve heard of so many different opinions, although the dominating ones are the mainly bad — it’s stressful, you can’t afford to sleep, etc. — and the same people who said those are not too inclined anymore to pursue astronomy as a career. Not a good omen for me, I guess?
But fret not! Because grad school is what you make of it. Compared to undergrad, it seems like you have all the time in the world (I guess until quals and your thesis defense) and there are lots of ways that it could be bad, but also lots of ways that it could be good. So yes– it is intimidating to have that much time in your hands but the silver lining is that you’re not necessarily headed towards doom.
ALRIGHT! Some of you might be thinking of going to grad school, have applied to grad schools and are waiting on your decision, are on the same boat as me, or just plain curious so let me break down to you how my first semester went: class, research, personal-wise.
I took three classes: Stellar Atmospheres, Galaxies, and Instrumentations — not all of which are relevant to my research, but were nonetheless interesting. I’ve heard from a grad student before to “aim for a B”. If you get a C, you didn’t try hard enough; if you get an A, you didn’t spend much time on research. B is Goldilocks.
I think this is sort of true? I was finishing up my undergrad paper and was not able to spend that much time on my current research. Thankfully my paper with Eric is published now so I can focus on VENGA (and I’m making another blogpost about writing a paper, submitting it to ArXiv, etc. because I definitely needed help myself and sometimes the internet just doesn’t have the answer). Anyway, I’ll talk more about research later!
I know that not everyone has the same experience when it comes to grad school/classes. But with a huge strike of luck the classes I took didn’t make me want to pull my hair– so that’s good news! For Stellar Atmospheres, my professor was very chill and understanding. He knows that students don’t enjoy final exams so instead we had final projects, which, methinks, is definitely the way to go. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to wrap my head around the Fortran code I was going to use for my project so I did a journal club style presentation instead. Galaxies is (and I think forever will be) my jam so that class was not bad either. Perhaps the only hard part was having to memorize equations for the exam but well… if I’m going to make a career out of this subfield, I better know my stuff, right? We also won’t have cheat sheets for our quals so it’s some kind of practice. Lastly, there’s Instrumentations which was cross-listed as an undergrad class. I, and a
bunch of my classmates, think that this class required the most work– or at least more than what we expected/wanted to do. The class completely switched gears every 3 weeks as we went over different modules (mechanics, electronics, optics, and interfacing). I haven’t dealt with some of those topics since I was in high school so I had to rack my brain a little harder or resign and ask people who have taken it before for help.
At the end of the day, my classes were manageable enough that they didn’t make me breakdown. I could only hope that the next 3 semesters would be the same!
Making progress on my graduate research was a little tricky given that I didn’t have enough time before classes started to actually get on that grind. I got to Austin on August 19th and classes started on the 24th so I only had time to do orientations (for international students, for astronomy graduate students, had to miss the general graduate students one). I was advised to make the most out of the summer after undergrad because never in my life will I have such a long break again. I took that advise seriously and stayed in the Philippines for 3 months.
That was both good and bad. On one hand, I’ve never been home in a long time and I really badly missed my family. I can’t afford to be with them like that once I start graduate school and get further along in my career. On the other, I could have gotten a head start on my research one or 2 months before I got busy with classes and everything else, letting me focus on my research more. I honestly tried to work on my paper while I was in the PH but not much was done because 1) my internet was super slow and 2) it’s just hard to work while my brain is in vacation mode. That kind of got me scared that I wouldn’t know how to do research anymore once I get back to US because I was so good at being a bum.
But everything was all good when I got back. Whew.
Once school started, I mainly worked on my undergrad research since it had the faster approaching deadline for revisions. On the side however, I also got my hands dirty with VENGA, most of which is just getting ahold of the files I need and the right permissions because the data hasn’t been worked on for quite a long time (in UT at least). Since it’s a different flavor of studying nearby galaxies, I had to acquaint myself with other similar studies, what is known about them, and what more we could do: specifically what VENGA could contribute to that vat of knowledge. I was also reducing data for NGC2903 to get a feel of how my final data has been processed. It’s just an exercise though because the reduced data already exists– it’s just nice to know where they come from in case my committee asks me about it during my defense!
Let me start with how I feel about living in Austin:
It’s a dope city and that’s definitely one of the things that attracted me to UT’s program — if I’m ever stuck in a rut and need something to do to chill out, there’s so many places to go to, so many things I could do here at ATX. Since I’ve lived a huge chunk of my life in Metro Manila too (only going home to my province, Bulacan, every weekend), being in a busier place makes me feel more at home. It’s not exactly in the middle of nowhere, Texas.
There are some downsides to it too, though. Unlike Ann Arbor (where I did my undergrad), I have to take the bus downtown (whereas I could just walk to it in AA) and the buses are rarely on time… The bus that goes near my house also stops running at 12 mn so I have to get an Uber to get back home.
BUT jokes on me, there’s no Uber! Austin has other ride-share apps though like Fasten and Ride Austin but they’re a little more expensive that Uber. That might be better for the drivers though because I heard that people rarely make money driving for Uber unless they do it a lot. Ride Austin also lets you round up your fare and donate the extra money to charity 🙂
Social-life wise, I have a smaller group of friends here which, I think, reflects adulthood anyway. I think I’m actually quite lucky that I’m still in school (albeit it’s definitely different from undegrad) because I get to see people who are the same age and have the same interests, making it easier to make friends compared to having a job. We have trivia on Wednesdays and Happy Hour on Fridays so yes, we do still have fun! I also met some Filipinos here so I can speak Tagalog to them and talk about what we miss back home.
And there you go! My first semester is DONE.
I know this blogpost is a little too raw with me talking about how I need to ask help, or how I’m a little behind on things and just cannot get started — basically how I feel like I probably didn’t do enough. I think it’s quite inevitable to think like that sometimes if you go to grad school (also the imposter syndrome is just really strong with this one) so I’m here to tell you, if you’re thinking of pursuing a career in academia:
it happens and you aren’t alone 🙂
I think this blogpost is also just a gentle reminder to myself that I did do something: I still got A’s in my classes, I published my paper, I made great friends in Austin, and I think most importantly, amidst all the struggles and pessimism, I’m still pursuing my dream and I wouldn’t have it any other way.