Welcome to the GradschoolShopper podcast. In this episode, Dr. Nicole Gugliucci shares her experience as a PhD student in radio astronomy and explains the differences between astronomers and engineers working on instrumentation. She also describes what it feels like to present a dissertation, which she recently passed. (Congratulations, Nicole!)
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Dr. Nicole Gugliucci, oft referred to as the “noisy astronomer,” is a PhD student in astronomy at the University of Virginia, an active science communicator, and blogger for DiscoveryNews and Skepchick. Nicole just recently presented her PhD thesis defense in April 2012.
Nicole was a member of the project, “The Precision Array for Probing the Epoch of Reionization,” (PAPER) which involved building a low-frequency radio telescope to detect hydrogen from the very early universe.
Nicole helped build the telescope and worked on developing new techniques to do the imaging from the data acquired.
When instrumentation is involved, engineers and astronomers work closely together and learn from one another.
In this project, the engineering grad students worked mostly on the design of the electronics and systems, as well as the testing of the instruments.
The astronomy grad students concentrated more on the data produced from the telescope, analyzing the results and optimizing the imaging techniques.
First they tell you that you have 30 minutes to summarize the last 6 years of your life. And you’re like, ‘What? That’s not enough!’
The first part of the defense is a 30-minute public presentation, where you share your research with the department. At the end of the presentation, the audience can ask a few questions before they are sent away, the doors are shut, and only the committee members remain.
In this stage, the committee members begin asking you questions about your research. These questions span your entire research, from the engineering side to basic cosmology and the actual research thesis itself.
Finally, the student is dismissed and the committee remains to discuss its decision.
Nicole, of course, passed successfully. Congratulations!
There is a lot of data out there and not many eyes to analyze it. CosmoQuest is an open-source science project that invites anyone to analyze planetary data from different sources around the solar system. Through this project, people can help process the science that might lead to new discoveries. It is also a wonderful opportunity to experience what it is actually like to handle data and conduct research work in astronomy.
MoonMappers is CosmoQuest’s current project. This automated system attempts to identify craters on the surface of the moon–although it is not always entirely accurate. MoonMappers faces the challenge of both finding craters on the moon’s surface and validating those the computer finds.
Visit your prospective grad schools and talk to students without the faculty present to get an honest and accurate perspective on what the school experience is like.
Grad school is hard and very long, and you want to make sure you’re in a place where you have support.
Relax, don’t panic! Grad school can be very hard and exhausting, especially in the beginning, but it will get better.
Are you at PhysCon2012? You want to solve our awesome anagram challenge? Here’s a hint for you:
Ah, oui oui, I was not just a brilliant physicist, I was le Duc. Oui!
Look for more hints and solve our anagram online!
Get a summer job, or summer classes, in the school you are going to study in. You don’t have to commit to anything long-term, but you can start in the summertime before your program starts. This way, you can also secure your accommodations and avoid competing with other students for housing during the fall. — Gary White, director of the Society of Physics Students and Sigma Pi Sigma, Podcast Episode #3