Archive by category | Materials Girl

Materials Girl: Hey baby, what’s your h-index?

We’re just getting to know each other, but your resume caught my eye and I might be looking to collaborate… How many papers have you published? What’s the typical impact factor of the journals those papers appear in? Or — to be Google Scholar-forward — what’s your h-index? At what rate do you publish? Are you first or corresponding author? Why should we get to know each other better? Is your CV worth a swipe right?  Read more

Materials Girl: Life beyond academia

Mortality is not a concept that many young scholars are in the habit of considering. Indeed, students tend to pay little thought to their health within a frequently frenetic, sleep-deprived, caffeine-powered existence of procrastination and salty ramen (or are those tears?). Self-care was not an issue that I focused on during grad school, or even in the following year of post-graduation burnout. Sure, I dropped 15 lbs in two weeks while preparing for quals — however, starvation, 20 hour workdays and anxiety attacks are neither a healthy nor sustainable lifestyle (and needless to say, that weight came right back)… Only in retrospect have I realized the depth to which I was depressed, hyper-stressed, and overly isolated in The Dungeon – meanwhile medical specialists wondered why my health was so  poor for a normal-looking student in her early/mid 20’s.  Read more

Materials Girl: Growing up

The Materials Girl column was ‘born’ in August 2007 while I was 19 and halfway through undergrad. Back then, it was puzzling that other guest writers never seemed to have time to post. Undergrad was as busy as life got, and it didn’t take THAT long to write, right? Ah, youthful innocence – and whining! Considering my earlier posts, it’s a wonder that Stu and Neil patiently let me gripe instead of slapping me upside the head and pointing out that being an undergrad is relatively easy (#firstworldproblems). Then again, perhaps that clueless-but-learning perspective is part of the reason why they not only chose an undergrad blogger, but also let her keep writing on the Sceptical Chymist through grad school and beyond. For that, I am incredibly grateful – and rather abashed.  Read more

Materials Girl: End of the beginning

Just a few months ago, I was floundering to bring my projects to a reasonable stopping point and unify them into a coherent story (aka: my dissertation). The postdoc in our research group assured me that any self-perceived lack of direction and internal bursts of sheer panic were normal, while our sole PhD alumnus offered advice and described his similar tribulations on the road to graduation. YKW (my advisor) was perpetually ‘busy’ and stuck to his ‘hands off’ strategy, leaving me to forge my own path (and procure my own funding). More than once, I felt completely and utterly lost.  Read more

Materials Girl: End of a TA era

Teaching has been part of my graduate-student experience since the very beginning. For better or for worse, my department is happy to hire newcomers as teaching assistants (TAs) during their first terms as grad students. After 14 quarters encompassing a wide variety of undergraduate courses, I have now maxed out on the school of engineering’s allowance for TAing. This fall will be the first term where I have absolutely ZERO classes to take or teach. It feels surreal, and a bit sad. (Even sadder if my advisor runs out of funding to pay me, but that’s a whole different set of issues…) Since age 4, I have been ‘in school’ and always had classes of some sort. Twenty-two years later, the change is very noticeable. In particular, I find myself actually having proper time to focus on research, instead of having half my week appropriated to classroom-related work.  Read more

Materials Girl: Looking back… and forward

At the beginning of grad school I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to tackle the challenges of being a Master’s student. I went to bed early, and eagerly got up in the morning to continue working. I even won a few awards, thanks in part to jumping into a good research topic. Unfortunately, my youthful fire was extinguished within two years, and wasn’t boosted after deciding to stay for a PhD. Additionally, I was unexpectedly bumped to entirely new projects almost annually — it’s been a challenge to settle on a thesis project. When the new school year started a few months back, other students in my cohort had similar feelings of stagnation with their research, and we’re all getting angsty about graduation. Maybe the fifth year’s the charm for us?  Read more

Materials Girl: Flying and soul searching

Four hours into my first transatlantic flight, I have crazy cabin fever that won’t be helped by the usual narcoleptic tendencies (apparently my superpower of passing out is limited to talks/reading). Flights were a rare novelty in my younger days. Now, with some age and a few conferences under my belt, I wonder how frequent travellers manage to keep their sanity and knees intact in such cramped quarters. In lieu of cartwheeling down the aisles, I’ll be wiggling toes and catching up on blogging!  Read more

Materials Girl: Beginning of the end

Late last year during the fall term, YouKnowWho dropped a small bomb on my plans: I could write a dissertation using the work for my intended Master’s thesis. What?! In previous bids he had simply asked me to stay for a PhD to work on some project, whereas now there was the claim that I could finish in just another year. (I assume this means two more, bringing the total to a reasonable five years.) It was then the time for waffling. On one hand, staying would save a large amount of time and effort – no need to retake classes, create new networks, and familiarize myself with a different academic system.  Read more

Materials Girl: Secret professor tunnels

[Posted on behalf of Materials Girl] Many moons ago, Stu mentioned the following to me via email: “…the last paragraph of this post is (a) quite funny – ‘secret professor tunnels’ and (b) I thought it might inspire a blog post about seeing professors out of context from the viewpoint of an undergrad.” Disregarding the fact that I am no longer an undergrad, I’ve had several notable run-ins with professors outside of the classroom. My most surprising out-of-classroom experience took place at a small Japanese grocery store, which I visited infrequently since it required a cumbersome bus ride from campus.  Read more