Wednesday, January 20, 2016

First week in PhD

So I'm in the middle of my first week of my Physics PhD, at least officially, since the semester began this past Monday. I'd been spending time at the campus since last week, just getting started planning things with my adviser and getting used to the facilities. I actually like the CUCEI campus quite a lot, but it's been undergoing heavy renovation for a few weeks now, and I'd prefer to wait a little bit before I post pictures of what it's like there. Most of the surroundings of our building are full of dust, and entire new buildings are being built, so it's kind of a mess. For now, what I can do is show my cubicle, which is nice and spacious, and all to myself.

The only problem was, when I got there last week, there was no knob on the door. After a couple of days, one was provided to me by our wonderful administrative assistant (secretary?)... but I had to install it myself. No big deal, but it was took some work because the door needed some light carpentry before the knob would fit. So here is the way it was before:

So after some light carpentry with tools a professor lent me, I laid out all the pieces of the disassembled knob and got it to fit into the door, after about 45 minutes of work:

Ta daaaa! Maybe not the best use of a graduate student's time, if you asked my professor, but I actually kind of enjoyed it. Anyway, the cubicle isn't completely ready yet, as it will get a new coat of paint (probably tomorrow) and I'll also get a bookshelf. For now, it looks like this:

I'm sure it will be nice an cozy in a few days, after I get more of my stuff there and am fully settled in. In the background, you can see new whiteboards, still in their packaging, that each of the cubicles will get once the painting is finished. With one of those and the bookshelf, I'll be ready to spend most of the next three years of my life in there, doing physics. Yay!

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Speaking of physics, it looks like I'll be working mostly out of Carroll's text book (see a couple of posts back). My professor asked me to "look over it" for the next few days (graduate professors are notoriously cryptic), and I'm basically reading it from the beginning. Also, I got two other books I ordered by mail just yesterday:

So I'm pretty much covered for this semester, which will be devoted mostly to learning General Relativity and getting some rudimentary models to work on my computer. If I had to put a title on my thesis right now, it would be something like The Multiplication of Tiny Four-Dimensional Spacetime Triangles: a Model. For a pretty good introduction to Causal Dynamical Triangulations, which is the formal name of what I will be working on, check out this Scientific American article by the original inventors of the idea: The Self-Organizing Quantum. Basically, I'll work on a model devised by my professor and other colleagues of his to get fundamental units of spacetime spreading out on a computer model, according to the ideas presented in this paper: (the first author is my prof). The goal is for me to understand the math well enough to translate it into code, hit Enter, and see what happens under different starting conditions. By the end of the PhD, I should have enough knowledge and code to churn out a handful of papers on the subject in addition to my thesis.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Start your engines!

So I'm finally ready to begin my actual PhD this next Monday after months of preparation, waiting, and lots of anxiety. These past couple of days were especially tiring, as I had to complete the documentation required by the university. A complicating factor was that I hadn't formally requested my Master's degree, which is a prerequisite for applying to the PhD program. Since that takes time, it's necessary to request several special permissions and extensions, as well as filing the paperwork for the actual degree.

So when I got to the CUCEI campus this Thursday, on the next-to-last day to get all the paperwork done, I found the admissions office with several dozen people already there, waiting in line:

Unfortunately for me, I had to make a stop at another office to turn in my files for my Master's degree first, which meant I would have to wait to get into the admissions line for a while. However, when I got to the degree office, they told me I needed a certificate from my undergraduate institution, which is ITESO. Also, I needed a more recent birth certificate, since the one I provided was more than three months old. And so, I had to leave and head to the Archivo (the Archive), as it's known by all in Guadalajara, and get a new birth certificate. It's one of the busiest public buildings in the city, with all kinds of people trying to get all kinds of documents for all kinds of purposes:

After that, I headed to ITESO to get the certificate, and I stopped to take some pictures along the way. It's one of the most peaceful, beautiful campuses anywhere in Mexico, and it was even greener than I remembered it from almost ten years ago, when I got my engineering degree there (click to enlarge):

When I finally got back to CUCEI and turned in the documentation to the degree guys, the admissions line had multiplied in length, and there was no way I would be able to turn everything in before they closed for the day at 3:00 p.m. (it was 2:30). I resolved to get back early the next day (the last day allowed) to finally turn all my documents in. Here is the line, pictured from left to right as it wraps around:


I finally turned in my documentation to the admissions office yesterday, after only a couple of minutes of waiting in line, and without any further requests from the staff. So I am now free at last to focus entirely on physics.