Week 13: the once and future researcher

Willb/ May 5, 2020/ astronomy 341/ 2 comments

We’ve presented, and thus our journey has come to a close.

The digital poster presentation

Last Wednesday about 60+ astronomers loaded into a zoom call. They were serenaded by smooth jazz during interstitials and distant shouts, heavy breathing, and keyboard clacking throughout. It went off with so many hitches, but it happened none the less. The best part of the experience was hearing from my distant friends from Smith’s astronomy department present their theses and research; they do some interesting stuff over there.

Our poster! I got a lot of comments on the design and colors, of which I am very proud.

Presenting used to be a cripplingly dreadful experience for me, but a few years of practice have made me fairly confident in my ability to at least wing it when I stumble. The one thing that skill doesn’t really account for is technical difficulties, by which I mean my microphone not working for a solid, mortifying 30 seconds of our presentation. With about a 1/6th of our presentation wasted, our condensed talk surged forward. Fueled by an intense bout of secondary anxiety (supplementing the usual presentation anxiety), the rest of the talk went fine, even under the time crunch.

We only had time for one question, which worked out because only one person asked a question. Sadly, this was a question that was also posed to a previous 341 group. Professor Daniel Wang (who I’ll potentially be taking a class with next semester) asked about the apparent phase offset between filters in some of the more confusing looking light curves. I answered that most of the ones we see in our data are likely due to the quality of our data and period-fits, because I don’t have that much confidence in a lot of the phase-shifts and period fits for those more confusing targets. Still, if that offset appears in more finely sampled, or longtime monitored data, I think it could indicate that the H-alpha and continuum are tracing different patches of atmosphere with different temperatures, with different spacial positions or rotational properties.

Overall, was I satisfied with my presentation? No! It was mortifying and very scary; some dude started yelling on the zoom call while I was speaking. I have a hard time convincing myself that what I research is useful or how I present my research is engaging. The experience was a learning one, but in spite of my personal hangups, I thought that my partner did amazing during our presentation and our poster was incredibly well put together. Thinking about it, that’s mostly why I keep trying to do science: out of spite.

“So, good night unto you all. Give me your hands, if we be friends, And Robin shall restore amends”

The experience of Observational Techniques II (ASTR341) was one I’ll never forget. I came in expecting that, similar to my previous astronomy classes, that I’d be taking data in order to replicate a known result and graded based on my proficiency in replicating techniques and methods taught throughout the class.

In reality, this class was much more about introducing various tools to use and training up research methods to serve some of our own curiosity. In that regard it was one of the most interesting classes, and one that I’ve dedicated the most of my attention to. Lots of superlatives in this section of the blog, but well deserved superlatives nonetheless.

The trip up Kitt Peak and to Arizona was probably one of the best experiences of my life so far. Everything about it, from the KPNO staff, meals, the dorms, the 0.9m telescope building, taking data and the long nights, star gazing, and especially the view was breathtaking.

The warm breezes and blue skies of summer usher in new adventures. We bid adieu to Observational Techniques II and the confines of the classroom, at least for a few months. Next semester I’ll be working on an astronomy thesis, given things in the world work out. I’ll always remember this class for all the tools and experience it gave me. Maybe it’ll even end up as the astronomy class I finally get an A in. Zoom calls, frustrating code, and cloudy data aside, it was all worth it for the night lunch.

Until next time, wishing you clear skies. You deserve them!

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About willb

I'm Will, an undergraduate astronomer studying transition disks, direct imaging, and planet accretion and formation at the Follette Lab at Amherst College. I use they/them/theirs pronouns.

2 Comments

  1. “Fueled by an intense bout of secondary anxiety….” Sounds delightful. Have you recovered enough by now to feel it was delightful?
    Any word on summer in the lab or elsewhere and any chance of getting home for visit? I’ve got a round trip ticket with your name on it as soon as you hear. Actually I’ll PP you when you hear and let you do the honors. I can’t even do Western Union without a national incident. They keep asking me if I want to use their wonderful services again or rate their services on a scale of 1-10? No.

    Your poster is a thing of beauty! As is your prose, as usual. Science for spite with a touch of Puck!

    Lots of love and a Flower Moon tonight/tomorrow am,
    Gr K

    1. Thank you Grandma 🙂 I’m likely working remotely in a lab at Cornell this summer on a yet to be finalized project; where I’ll be working from is also yet to be determined but in the interest of maintaining quaratine and preserving personal space I might be remaining in Amherst (I’ll know tomorrow if I’ll be able to stay on campus). Lots up in the air, but I’ll be trying to pin it all down soon. Love you lots, hope you’re staying well <3

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