Saturday, July 19, 2014

How to Find a Grad School #1: Where I DON'T want to go

There are many different factors that one must consider when searching for graduate school to apply to, but when it comes down to it, there are many good schools all across the globe. How to narrow it down? Start crossing entire regions off the list.

I've lived in Colorado my whole life. Colorado is probably the best place in the world, let's just face it. The climate is nearly perfect, although its bipolarness, no tripolarness is annoying. Spoiled in this lovely region, there are some places I cannot bear to live in for two to six years (depending on if I stay for my PhD). Thus began my search.

I hate humidity. And heat. And extreme cold. I don't really want to leave the continent. That left nowhere. But I narrowed it down to this:



So I'm getting somewhere. (Just kidding: I have a list, don't worry, and will probably have a spreadsheet soon). But none of these places are perfect, of course: my short stint in the Northeast thus far is showing me how humid is too humid, and how my hair might be unhappy there. Winters there also suck more than Colorado winters. So my red region might even be shrinking more. But everything is a compromise, right?

Next in How to Find a Grad School, I'll look at schools based on the number of windows in their earth science buildings. You know, the important stuff. 

Note: The posts in this series contain an undisclosed percentage of sarcasm. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Stuff Mines People Say, v3.1: Now with even more Geophysics flavor!

Catastrophic loss of credit!! Donuts. Tests that took up two classes. Skipping Structural to go to Chick-fil-a. Writing "I'm sorry :(" on the front of a test. You know, normal things in the GP lyfe (geophysics life, for those who don't understand) and Mines life.

In the craziness of rushing from the end of the semester, to field camp, then straight to internships, I almost overlooked at how great of a year Junior Year was. I never want to do it again, and thankfully I don't have to, but there were some crazy, dorky, difficult, fun, and all-around good times spent with both new and old friends.

So without further rambling on the nerdiness and hilarity of Mines kids (and professors), here are Junior Year's quotes. These also include some from Field Camp. There aren't many from second semester...I think I was having too much fun, or got Junioritis or something, so I'm sure I missed some gems that I didn't save. (Sophomore and Freshman Year's are linked for nostalgia's sake.)

***

"I hate boys. I hate Dynamic Fields." ~ Rosie

"I want to get a telescope lens and take pictures of people who are at the top and then run up and meet them with prints." ~ Jayden, on hikers on South Table

"Sometimes I think life would be easier as a MechE." ~ Rima


"Storm's taking a procrastishower real quick." ~ Shane

Cashier at Snarf's: "Do you have your CSM student ID?"
Me: "Not on me, but I do have the emotional scars."

"I call him the gravity whisperer....[whispers] because he talks like this..." ~ Shane, on Rich, our gravity prof.

"If I would've taken this class in 4th grade I would've gotten an A in this class." ~ Shane

Me: "Why are you ramped up?"
Shane: "Because of Field Methods...that class sucks."
Me: "But it's not even Thursday yet..."
Shane: "But it will be...eventually."

"There are two kinds of fedora: real fedora and CompSci fedora." ~ Laine

Rosie: "I bet if you polled the school, the majority of them would say they like hockey."
Shane: "I bet if you polled the school, the majority of them would say they like baseball."
Brandon: "If you polled the school, they would say they watch Pokemon."

"Without me, we wouldn't have made it this far in college. Well, I wouldn't have made it this far without me. True story." ~ Shane

"Anna was almost our 29th electrode." ~ Joey, after Anna almost touched an electrode during a DC survey in GPGN303

"If I got a B in AEM, I would punch myself in the face." ~ Shane

"What happens in the Linux Lab stays in the Linux Lab." ~ Stephen and Colton

"And that is why we are esteemed geophysicists. We are not limited by that thing known as reality." ~ Stephen, on geology

"The great thing about Structural is that it's worth just as much credit hours as Continuum." ~ Bradley, because Structural Geology was easy and Continuum was NOT

"I was actually really productive today. Probably because all my homework was due." ~ Emily

Nik, on the Continuum Mechanics final: "There was a little k, and kappa, and a big K. You can't have three k's in a problem!!"
Jennifer: "Yeah, that's just racist!" 

"What's a Green's Function?" ~ All of us Juniors, all the time

Professor quotes:
"You guys have seen this notation before...probably." ~ Jeff

"Do you know what a SWAG is?" ~ Terry

"That is one crunchy potato chip...You could just let it soak in your mouth a while." ~ Switzer, to a kid eating chips in ProbStats

Student: "On the test, are there points for a picture?" 
Switzer: "No. A picture should be reward in itself."

"Oil is a metamorphic rock derived from the primary rock, dinosaurs." ~ Jeff

"This is basically Maxwell's 5th equation. Don't quote me on that...actually, no one would ever, ever say that." ~ Andrei

"Can anyone tell me what isopach means? Iso...pach..Iso...Iso...Iso...pach...pach [waving hands] Pach... Pachy...Pachyderm.. Iso…pach ...?" ~ Dr. Bob

Random quotes from field camp:
"In the beginning, God created the Laramide orogeny."

"That DC inversion was beautiful."

"And it's not even smoothed yet, just raw beauty." 
"No makeup and still a ten."

"Last one in the vans is a geologist!"

"There are more buttons in this truck than the MT equipment!" ~ Andrei

"Do these trucks automatically downshift? Because mine just did." ~ Andrei, not too long after the buttons quote

"Look! Geology IS useful!" ~ Batz, after propping a door open with a rock


"So where is this water coming from?"

P.S. Yep, I miss you guys. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

First Week in New England

Last Saturday, I hopped on a plane to be the furthest I've ever been from Colorado while living in New England for nine weeks. I'm living in Nashua while working in Westford at the MIT Haystack observatory through a NSF REU (research experience for undergrads). First big difference: green forests everywhere. Second: people drive very fast here. Third: Springtime actually lasts longer than three weeks here, and it's nice. Fourth: I can't walk up a mountain that's a ten minute-jog away anymore. It'll be fun though.

My office building.
Monday

Talk about fire hose. My first day was kinda crazy, and I didn't have coffee in the morning. The drive to work is cool, though. It's a half hour commute through the green forest. My mentor gave me a bunch of MATLAB code. And by a bunch, I mean a boatload. I now have a few subprojects: One looking at a storm on Oct 14, one looking at the convection patterns, and one that is supposed to clean up a former REU student's code (which is terribly disorganized and not well-documented...c'mon people--it's CompSci 101) and check if it actually does what it says it does. Yikes. I've gotten to run some MATLAB code, which I had missed dearly, but no writing. Science-wise, I feel like I need to know what's going on.

Tuesday
Today was less overwhelming. I spent the morning researching what I'm doing and getting the jargon cleared up by reading papers. One of the things I'm supposed to understand is the South Atlantic Magnetic Anomaly. This is an area on the east of South America where the magnetic field is much weaker, which poses problems to GPS and spacecraft flying through this area. So that was cool learning about. I also tried to learn about how sudden stratospheric warmings affect the ionosphere, which is the area of the atmosphere I'm studying this summer. After meeting with my mentor in the afternoon, I had a better picture of where I'm going, at least in the short term. I then fought with MATLAB over shading and interpolating the plots I was making and making a movie out of them.


Right before lunch, we were notified about free food in the conference room. There were delicious muffins and coffee (my would-be second cup). The day before, I went to Target and bought some K-cups because the office does not have a regular ole coffee maker, and buying the K-Cups in the vending machine will add up. Still, my coffee habit will cost me $40 this summer, assuming I drink two cups a day only on workdays and manage to get another box of K-Cups on clearance when this box runs out.

Wednesday
I made a movie before 10AM! Great start to the day. The rest of my day consisted of making more movies and freezing frames that were interesting. Then I looked into what scintillation was before looking at the scintillation patterns that corresponded to the interesting time. What is scintillation? It is bad. It messes up GPS stuff with refraction and diffraction.
We have seminars at 4PM some of the days. Today the Radar Equation came back to haunt me, which I kind of learned in Intro to Electromagnetic Methods. 

Thursday

It was really good programming weather today, as it rained all day. It was nice to drink coffee and code with the drip drop of rain. The only downside is that my hair is super frizzy and poofy. Maybe I should straighten it. 

I spent most of my day looking at one piece of code and making a similar script that gets scintillation data rather than TEC (total electron content) data, and from a different database. At lunch, it felt like I had done nothing, but I got a plot to work by the end of the day. MATLAB isn't visualizing the data how I want to though..so that's the struggle now. 

I'm starting to get into a rhythm now. The days are really running together, and I only have a few hours of free time after work, exercising, and then cooking and eating dinner. The summer is zooming by already. 

Friday

I still fought with MATLAB for hours today, trying to overlay some data on some plots. I might need to do it in Python. My mentor is trying to find me the code that does it in Python. 

This morning a scientist from the MIT electrical engineering dept. came by and gave a seminar. I really enjoyed it because a). There were donut holes and coffee b). She was really awesome c). The technology she was talking about was very interesting. Stuff like being able to track people's movements with WiFi. 

Sunday

This weekend was the first my fellow interns and I ventured into Boston, and was a lot of fun. Yesterday we went to Cambridge and checked out Harvard. The buildings are so old and cool. We went to Harvard's museum of natural history. I ended up in a conversation with one of the people who worked there about Mines and geophysics. Random. One thing that this museum had that Denver's doesn't is gross animals in clear jars including millipedes, eels, and spiders. Boston was pretty cool. We walked along the whole Freedom Trail, past Paul Revere's house and the Old North Church, and leading up to the USS Constitution. Oh, and along the way we ran into this parade in Charlestown that had colonial-era to current era living history people, as well as bagpipes. It was strange to run into, but a pleasant surprise. We then went back by Faneuil Hall and ate a bread bowl of chowder...yum. 

Downtown Boston
I'm really enjoying getting to see different places. I'm sure we'll hit up Boston again, as well as visit the MIT campus. I really want to explore Nashua as well. But it's been a great week! 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Geophysics Field Camp Week Four: Onwards, Upwards



The view as our caravan left Pagosa Springs, CO

"Remember this moment," Dr. Hale said to us at the end of the final presentation. "There have been only a few times in my life where the geophysics gives something completely unexpected."

We did it. We survived Colorado School of Mines Geophysics Field Camp. And in style, too, as our professors, industry people, and our beloved department head said it was the best Geophysics Field Camp they had seen in their years at Mines. All the early mornings and those two late nights and the weird weather and the orange vests and wanting to kill our classmates and loving our classmates to death and funk music and spilled coffee and being annoyed at geophysics and being convinced that geophysics is awesome went into those four weeks. And in the end, it an incredible experience.

It is such a privileged to be able to do geophysics in every stage of its process on an area that no one has seen down in the subsurface before. "You're right, this isn't Kafadar Commons anymore," Andrei said to me after we got so excited from the preliminary seismic section. Doing geophysics on Kafadar is incredibly uninteresting, when it comes to the subsurface. Doing geophysics on the unknown is exciting. It's like being an explorer.

Here I am getting ready to drive and operate the vibroseis truck.
Andrei is in the background, waiting for me to hurry up. 
***

People hate airports and fly all the time, but for me, it never gets old. I rolled to the United terminal and the sign above me advertised Mines. As if it needs my attention some more.



Where is the water coming from? Where is the water going? Two important questions when doing a geothermal investigation.

Where are we coming from? Mines.  And before that, other various places that all combined to lead us to here.

Where are we going? 

***


"So how does it feel to officially be a senior?" Michelle, the Geophysics Department assistant asked at the End-Of-Field-Session BBQ right after our final presentation.

I responded with 10% sarcasm: "It's surreal. I feel like this year and field session have all culminated in my geophysical journey though Mines as a sort of rite of passage to make us seniors."

"But now there's Senior Year..."

"Yeah. But in all seriousness, as I told Austin earlier, we've made it through Junior Year, and now we've made it through Field Camp. We can do anything."

***

I actually ate breakfast that morning at the airport. I never eat breakfast other than coffee. While I finished my sandwich, the television report showed something about California Chrome. I laughed. California Chrome was the name of Craig's (one of the TAs) van. I guess Field Camp held some fun times.

I was exhausted. My brain had been going non-stop since...well, January. The swift transition from school to Field Camp to summer internship had left me no time for processing (mental processing, not data processing). Even while going through security my brain did not fully comprehend that those four weeks were over, and I was moving on to Massachusetts for my summer internship. I was so glad that Field Session was over. And thinking back, I was pretty miserable academically right before that, yearning for Field Session to start. I had spent my time looking forward to things ending. I even dreamed about graduating during those four weeks.

Where am I coming from? I knew this.

Where am I going?

I buckled up and sat for a while, waiting for the plane to take off. It began rolling. It began rolling slightly faster. Then it pivoted onto the runway. It stopped. Then, WHOOOOSHH! 

It was then when I realized where I was going; where my classmates were going.

Onwards, upwards.


The 2014 Colorado School of Mines Geophysics Field Camp (photo by Dawn)

Friday, May 30, 2014

Geophysics Field Camp Week Three: I Like Processing Things

Out in the field, I had geophysics dreams.

I was walking along the survey line taking measurements with the magnetometer. I wasn’t the only one who had geophysics dreams out in the field. Our professor and field camp coordinator Andrei (more affectionately known as "Swiddy" or "Dr. Drei.") said he had dreams about driving around in his truck, making sure everything was going well. My classmate Roy said he had a dream about a geophysics survey as well.

Back in Golden in front of a computer, the hours are less intense than when we were out in the field. Geophysics doesn’t take over our entire lives…well, at least we get weekends back here.

But geophysics still takes over my dreams.

I’m part of a two-woman team that is processing the gravity data from our geophysical surveys down near Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Gravity processing is fairly uncomplicated, and as a result, we have been able to get things done relatively quickly. First we had to apply some corrections to the data, since gravity measurements are sensitive to elevation, latitude, and terrain/topography. Then came the fun part of creating a model for our data. This consists of drawing a geologic model of the subsurface in a program. The program tells us how well our model matches our data, and we tweak the model to reduce error but at the same time to agree with the interpretations that our classmates in other methods are producing. The past couple of days have mostly consisted of forward modeling for us.


Our working forward model of the subsurface created in GMSYS. It fits the data pretty well.

All this gravity gets into my head I think, because I had a dream that the Gravity and Magnetics team was racing to get everything done before everyone else. Which is weird because in real life, we really don’t need to race.

At any rate, I'm enjoying the computers part much more than the exhausting part. It’s not as fun in some ways of course, but I love the fact that my team is on track and that we don’t have to do geophysics stuff from 7AM until 6PM anymore. Our classmates in charge play funky music. Sometimes there are donuts. One day I ate two donuts. It's a good environment for geophysics. 

Out in the field, I would shovel my lunch into my mouth and be done in ten minutes.
Back in the lab, I go make myself a nice sandwich and savor the hour lunch break we get to take.
Out in the field, time would fly in the flurry of activity that geophysical surveying is.
Back in the lab, it’s more relaxed, at least in this third week. We get time to process processing.

I like processing things…I like being able to think about something and understand it. I have also had time to mentally process the field part of field camp and catch up on sleep. As one of my friends in the GP class of 2014 said, "It's the most fun you never want to have again." So true. 

I had another dream. I was helping the EM team (electromagnetics) write their report while they did some processing stuff. That dream was way too realistic, because it ended up happening. To add to the list of realistic geophysics dreams, Roy said he had a dream that he was processing the EM data. This also continued to happen. My classmate Tiffany had a dream about a bear, which makes sense because we saw a bear almost every day out in the field, but the part where the bear attacked did not come true.

I wonder if I will ever have ordinary dreams again, such as the ones I used to have a a kid; dreams containing tornadoes, tsunamis, and giant earthquakes that are geophysically inaccurate.