About This Blog
I am a PhD candidate conducting a study of the X-ray spectral variability of AGN. This blog is a collection of brief tutorials on AGN, burblings on journal articles, and descriptions of underlying physics. I may also post on the general goings-on in science and astronomy; though, it is not the main thrust of this blog.

Please feel free to leave comments to challenge me, to clarify your own understanding or to suggest other resources.

I also keep up a personal blog:
My Silly Life.
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May 13, 2008


Hey all -- I know things have been quiet here, and I suspect it will continue to be fairly quiet until June or so. Partly I'm just tired, and partly I'm trying to figure out what the future of Galaxy Girl should be.

First a brief update: I made all of the required revisions to my thesis, and submitted the final version to the University before April 25 (the deadline for May graduation). So, I will be walking in graduation ceremonies in a little over a week. My family is coming into town next week, as well as several of my closest friends. We're having a huge blow-out party next Saturday to celebrate, too.

I don't know what I'm going to be doing with my life much beyond that, though. I have a summer position, kind of a mini-postdoc, along with my half-time contractor position. However, after September, I will need to move on to a new position. Both of my long-standing contract positions will be going away with FY09, and the mini-postdoc only lasts 4-5 months, half-time. Ideally, I'd like to find an education/public outreach or science writing position. Even more ideally, it wouldn't require moving. The latter is unrealistic, with my current odds placed at about 50-50 that I'll have to move. I'll keep you posted on my job search.

As for Galaxy Girl...I originally started this blogs with the hopes of talking about astronomy. Specifically, I wanted to make a few posts that were meant as "tutorial"-level posts talking about active galactic nuclei (AGN). I also wanted to make a few more advanced posts about peer-reviewed articles, to discuss current-happenings in X-ray astronomy and AGN science. Once my thesis started to gear up, and especially when I started to have lots of troubles, both with the data and with my advisor, this blog took an unexpected turn into a "life of a poor grad student" blog. I'd like to get back to my original vision, if you all are on board with that. It may take a bit for me to feel less bitter about my place in the food chain, but I'm working on it.

Posted in Grad Stuff by Barb at 5:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

April 12, 2008

That's right, it's Dr. Galaxy Girl to you!

Yup, the defense went well yesterday! I've been recovering for the last 24 hours - the first free Saturday that I've had in I-don't-remember-how-long. I won't get into details, but a few things that gave me joy yesterday (other than hearing that I passed, that is):

  • I wore a Hello Kitty pirate temporary tattoo on my arm (out of sight).

  • My advisor locked himself out of the conference room when he came out to get me after the committee's deliberation.

  • I defended my PhD in pants that didn't have a button...I'm so glad they didn't fall off!

  • I found out after I got home that Andrew had worn his Dr. Who pin for the day - something he used to do for every final that he took at University.

Revisions start Monday -- they have to be completed and the final version sent to the University by April 25. No jammie weekdays for me until after that.

Posted in Grad Stuff by Barb at 8:13 PM | Comments (3)

April 9, 2008


My defense is in two days, and it seems a good time to reflect a little. I've heard too many conflicting stories about defenses to feel like I'm well-prepared for mine. I've heard that if I have good advisors, it should be a piece of cake. I've heard that the committee is going to try to get my goat, and that one person I talked to succeeded, but left the defense in tears. My office-mate thinks I'll be out in an hour to an hour and a half, but other reports say that a defense usually takes two to two and a half hours. I'm not sure where I stand, especially when I don't know what to expect.

I feel like my talk is in good shape. It may run a little long, but at the practice, no one felt like it was too long. I'm going to practice again tonight and tomorrow morning. Possibly Friday morning, since the defense isn't until Friday afternoon.

I've re-read the first two chapters of my thesis and made a list of things to remember and worked through a few different problems/equations that might come up. I need to finish reading the final three chapters, but these are the ones that I'm more familiar with.

I have my spa appointment for 12:30 tomorrow, with a massage, facial, and manicure scheduled. I plan to do very little tomorrow evening, except order pizza and play some Zoo Tycoon. At some point I have to decide that I know all that I can know before the defense, and just take a deep breath to relax.

I could use all the good mojo, happy thoughts and stupid-sucking that you all can muster. The defense is Friday at 2PM, Eastern Daylight. I'll try to post the results Friday night or Saturday morning.

Posted in Grad Stuff by Barb at 7:40 PM | Comments (2)

March 30, 2008

Thesis done and printed

I've been waaay too busy this past week to update you all on the postponement fiasco of last week. I did not send the letter to my advisors, as cooler heads advised. Instead, I wrote to my other advisor to see if he was on the same page as the one who advised postponing -- he was not. I thought my thesis was strong enough and that we could get it into shape in a week. He also made the executive decision that the committee could wait an extra weekend for their copies, giving me yesterday to proofread and today to print.

So, I've worked over 100 hours since last weekend, and the thesis is now printed and at Kinko's being bound. I'll pick it up tomorrow morning on my way to work. I don't plan on staying around all day -- just long enough to drop off copies to my committee members, and maybe have lunch with a friend. Then it's back home to either nap or veg in front of the TV or play Zoo Tycoon. We'll see what I feel like.

Tuesday I'm meeting with my advisors to put figure out the best way for me to spend the next two weeks in preparation for my defense April 11. Yikes!

I also have to give a big shout out to my husband, who wrangled LaTeX for me last week, and late several nights when he had to get up for work in the morning. This would never have come together without his help and support.

Posted in Grad Stuff by Barb at 8:33 PM | Comments (2)

March 21, 2008


I heard from one my my advisors today that she thinks I should postpone my defense, and let this slip into next semester. I'm not handling this well, as most regular readers could probably guess.

I'm thinking of sending the following letter to my advisors:

Dear Advisors:

I’ve been expecting the suggestion that I postpone my thesis defense. I completely understand the suggestion, and probably agree. And if it is your consensus that my thesis is not strong enough for a defense, then I’ll abide by that decision - I don’t want to be humiliated in the defense.

I have a strong feeling that if this is the case, I may not finish. I have been miserable in my thesis work for over three years, and having a clear end in sight was the only thing that has kept me going for the last 6 months. I don’t know that I have the emotional wherewithal to force myself to continue to be this miserable.

I can easily pinpoint several reasons that I have been so frustrated, but the overarching theme is that I have never felt like a valued grad student. I’ve been told often how important my work is, and yet, I feel like the person doing the work is clearly not. I don’t want to air a laundry list, but feel that I owe a few examples of why I feel this way.

I feel that every time I have asked for a little more attention, I have gotten less. I don’t think that my requests were unreasonable, and yet we generally met only every several months. As an example, you may remember that I had a bit of a meltdown in the Spring of 2006, after which we all went out to dinner to help me figure out if the PhD is really what I wanted. The dinner concluded with me decided to continue, but I said that I really needed more regular contact to keep my motivation. that we would strive to meet every 2 weeks to help keep me interested in my thesis. However, the bi-weekly meetings lasted a month, and for the remainder of the year we met scarcely 5 times. When I tried to set up a meeting in the fall, instead of leaving it to Advisor1, I was the only one who wrote it down in my calendar.

More recently, it feels as though Advisor1 has not taken this thesis-writing seriously until just the last two weeks. I started writing in earnest in October, but did not get substantial comments from her until February. In the early writing process, it was imperative that I get comments to know if I was on the right track, but instead I heard silence for months. I continued working as best I could, but without knowing if I was doing it right, I couldn’t be sure of what I was doing. It took Advisor2 to finally ask for comments in a timely manner, but only because I pestered him to do it. Oh, and earlier this week, Advisor1 suggested that I have been procrastinating, which was demoralizing.

I could go on, but this is enough of a flavor of how I have felt over the past 3 years. As a graduate student, I feel that I hold a tenuous position, knowing that you both have power over my future career. I tried to work within the system to get what I needed, unsure of how to address my feelings directly without jeopardizing my future, but ended up flat on my face. I thought that when I voiced my unhappiness in 2006 that things would turn around, and when it didn’t I didn’t know what to do. I did turn to other professors and scientists for advice, but still to no lasting effect.

Having an end of my thesis in sight made me think that I could do it. But another 3 months is too much to ask. I’m tired. I’m burned out. And there has to come a time that I stop hitting myself in the head with a 2x4.

I’m open to discussing this, but I’m going to take a lot of convincing. And you should know that I’m becoming immune to the “you’re so close” arguments. I’ve been hearing that for 3 years, and it gets harder to believe, even at this point (especially at this point).

Posted in Grad Stuff by Barb at 12:31 PM

March 17, 2008


I showed more restraint today than I knew that I had.

As any regular readers know, I've had some...er...difficulties with my thesis advisors. They've finally stepped up, now that I have less than two weeks before I need to turn in my thesis to the committee. I must say that one of them has been pretty good about getting me comments on my thesis chapters, but the other one has not. Today's frustration is related to the other one.

We had a pretty good meeting this morning to solidify my ideas about the AGN that I'm studying, especially some of the history that I'd been having a hard time pinning down through article searches.

However, at the close of the meeting, as my advisor was leaving the conference room, I commented something about giving up sleep for the next two weeks. My advisor stopped and something along the lines of, "You know, I was talking with my spouse this weekend, saying that I didn't think I was doing enough to help Galaxy Girl out with the writing of her thesis. My spouse replied, 'You know, I think Galaxy Girl and I are a bit alike. I tend to procrastinate, but in the end I get it all done.' So, my spouse thinks you'll get this all done."

Are you fraking kidding me? *My* procrastination is the thing that's put me behind???? For real?

Let's look at a timeline of my writing process, shall we?

  • First draft of Ch 2 sent Oct 12. Advisor's first comments on Nov 20.
  • First draft of Chapter 3 sent Jan. 6. Advisor's comments Feb. 7.
  • First draft of Chapter 4 sent Jan 26. Advisor's comments Feb 27.
  • First draft of Chapter 5 sent Feb. 12. Advisor's comments Feb 27.

So, it has taken this advisor between 1 and 1.5 months to get me comments on chapters. As long, or longer, than I spent writing the darn things. So, really? It's my procrastination that has put the writing process off??

I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying anything as my advisor left the room. But I knew that if I said anything that I would regret it. I'm too exhausted and emotionally drained to have a good filter on my mouth, so it was better to just keep my mouth shut. I have to say, though, that it took every ounce of restraint that I have.

One more month. One more month.

Posted in Grad Stuff by Barb at 4:06 PM | Comments (3)

March 11, 2008

Are YOU ready??


It's coming!!!

On Friday, everyone can talk like a physicist. Not sure how to do that? Check out the FAQ on the Talk Like a Physicist blog. And for those of you physicists who do not think you talk like a physicist (like me), rest assured, you do.

[Cross posted at My Silly Life]

Posted in Fun Stuff by Barb at 10:26 AM

February 19, 2008

And so it begins...

I received an envelope today from my esteemed University which read "Urgent Graduation Information". I turned in my committee nomination form last week, so I thought that maybe it was somehow related to that.

Silly me. It was an offer to buy a frame for my diploma. Apparently my University has an interesting definition of "urgent".

Posted in Grad Stuff by Barb at 8:32 PM