The end of graduate school

2012 Jul 21 -

I have often heard people say “as one door closes, another one opens,” but few have said exactly where that second door may reside. In my case, I have spent the last five years studying astrophysics in the University of Denver’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. Recently I completed my Ph.D. and have accepted a postdoc, my “next doorway,” at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany working with Gerd Weigelt’s infrared astronomy research group.

(left) All of my astrophysics text books. (right) Five years worth of notes from graduate school, all digitized and prepped for recycling.

Before I started at DU, I wondered “what does it take to get a Ph.D?” In my first year I spent, on average, 78 hours per week in my office or in the Physics and Astronomy building doing homework, teaching labs, reading, and preparing research. Subsequent years were much better, but always involved a similar level of discipline. I would often be in my office 40 hours a week, but I did a lot of work from home. I would characterize my daily routines as (1) wake up; (2) shower, eat breakfast, pack lunch; (3) go to the office; (4) eat lunch at my desk; (5) go home around 5:30 PM; (6) watch some TV, and have dinner with my wife. After she went to bed, I would (7) get back to work until I finally (8) went to bed. Clearly, this type of life was not very enjoyable.

If you want some different metric, take a look at the recycle bin to the right. That’s all of my hand-written notes, homework, quizzes, and tests from grad school (I digitized them before discarding them). Before putting them in the dumpster, they occupied 18 feet of shelf space. In addition to my notes, there was also lots, and lots of reading. I probably spent about half of my days reading books, journal articles, and technical manuals. A subset of my astrophysics books are to the left.

Aside from finishing my dissertation, my last task at DU was to vacate my office. It looks quite lonely now; however, I’ll soon have another office to call home.

Bye bye chair, I will miss you greatly.