The goal for Physics and Astronomy Community Excellence (PACE) Fire Up Fridays is to provide regular meeting space and programming that is designed specifically in the interest of supporting and developing incoming graduate students in our department. This includes both structured and unstructured activities that will foster a sense of community and inspire resilience within our community of graduate students.
For resources and summaries of our past Fire Up Friday sessions, see below or click the corresponding link: How Do You Do It All?, Tell All About The Qual, Stressing Less: Part 1, Finding an Advisor... and Other Mentors Too!, Stressing Less: Part 2, You did it! - Ice Cream and Fellowships, Post Qual Priorities: What Do I Do Now, Sweet Summer Success.2019-20 FUF Sessions See Our Syllabus Here
How Do You Do It All? Session
This session served as a guided discussion/panel on balancing grad student responsibilities. In small group settings, senior students shared their experiences, including their successes and failures, as well as trips and tricks for studying, TAing, etc. Key take aways from this session were to know it's ok to ask for help and to do so often, that scheduling can be a life-saver, and that checking in with yourself is incredibly important!
- UCI's Keeping the Balance Guide for Grads and PostDocs
- How Hard Do Professors Actually Work (some perspective)
- Research On the Overestimated Workweek (see fig/chart 1)
- Example of How a Physics Graduate Student Could Spend Their Time (see slide 10)
Tell All About The Qual
Senior grad students shared their experiences to help demystify the qual exam experience, as well as provided tips on surviving the Winter Quarter leading up to exams. Key take aways from this session were to remember that if you fail the first time, your career as a scientist is not over and to figure out how you feel most comfortable studying (i.e. alone, in small groups, doing practice problems, redoing homework).
These serve as a repository of resources that current PACE mentors used to help them pass the qualifying exams. Please remember that different approaches and resources work for different people, so it’s important to identify the study methods and content that is most crucial to meeting your needs. As always, you can find an archive of previous exams here.
- Columbia’s qualifying Exams with Solutions
- Google Drive of Some Resources/Solutions (helpful textbooks and solution manuals included)
- Google Drive of Resources Curated by UCI Physics and Astronomy Grads (previous exams and homework problems included)
Post Session Mentor Blurbs
"Quantum mechanics will likely present the greatest challenge to passing the qual. Professor Hamber's no graded homework, take-home final approach makes it easy to sweep quantum under the rug as you manage the rest of your tasks during Winter quarter (and this last Fall quarter). On top of this, quantum mechanics is one-3rd of your qual. Finally, quantum is already a challenging subject, and Professor Shirman may emphasize different topics in his questions than what Professor Hamber emphasized in lecture. I think it's important to find a way to really motivate yourselves to study quantum consistently during Winter quarter. One idea for making sure this is done is to form "quantum teams." Before the quarter starts, each team could create a quantum study plan for the Winter quarter. This could be just keeping-up with quantum 2 or involve studying for quantum 1 as well. Team members could hold each other accountable by meeting once or twice a week to study that week's material together, go over questions about it together, or just hold everyone accountable for studying that week's material. Teams should be relatively small so that it's noticeable if someone is absent or not keeping-up, but not so small that everyone could feasibly bail on studying quantum one week. 4 or 5 people seems like a good team size to me. Regardless, your quantum game plan should be finalized before the Winter quarter starts, or it might never happen! As long as the other classes have in-class exams, then quals will be like 'final exams, round 2' for those subjects. So as long as you're doing fine in your classes, then dedicating most, or all, of your quals study time to quantum mechanics will probably get you the most bang for your buck." - Michael S.
"One point that I feel wasn't hit during the panel is the fact that the thought of not passing the qual can be a daunting one. I found it difficult for me to feel well-prepared for the qual after being burnt out from struggling with the first and second quarter courses. Just keep in mind that it isn't the end of the world if you don't pass it the first time around. Having to retake the qual does NOT make you any less worthy of being a part of this department and this field for that matter. As I mentioned during the panel discussion, taking the qual over the summer gives you much more time for some good, non-stresful qual prep. " - Francisco M.
"Qual Advice: The qual will be definitely be stressful, but don't let it take over your life. Think of it as a big cumulative final. It's scary but it's just like the tests you've taken before. Don't get overwhelmed studying for it. Make a study plan; break it up into what you need to do and tackle it piece by piece (preferably with others). Get a group to meet regularly and go over problems. I found this incredibly helpful, especially for statistical mechanics. Don't be afraid to talk to the professors, they're there to help. Also, and this is my biggest piece of advice, don't sacrifice paying attention to your classes Winter quarter. I personally think paying attention is more important than crunching through a lot of past qual problems. Remember that quantum and E&M are weighted the most heavily and the majority of what you'll be tested on comes from the Winter quarter's material. Overall, for each of the classes I would say do the following: 1) For quantum, work through some of the basic problems and concepts from undergrad but mostly focus on the material from Winter quarter. 2) For E and M, pay attention in class and do the HW. Arvind is a great teacher and the class prepares you well; you'll be fine. 3) For statistical mechanics, work Pathria problems in a group, steadily throughout the quarter. Get familiar with where things are in Pathria, it will be a lifesaver on the exam. 4) For classical, don't start looking at it until the last couple of weeks of Winter quarter or spring break. The material will come back fast, so don't stress about it too much." - Jessica H.
Stressing Less: Part 1
In the first session of this two-part series, we explored as a group some methods of stress reduction - or rather stress expression - to use for when times get rough. This included discussions that facilitated the normalization of our struggles. The key take aways from this session were effective stress management methods such as calendar blocking, practicing discipline, exercise, using To-Do Lists, outsourcing and multitasking (links below). We were left with a great Grandpa quote - "Do your best and eff the rest."
Finding an Advisor... and Other Mentors Too!
During this discussion, we explored how and when to find an advisor across physics subfields, what to look for in an advisor, and what it means to have multiple mentors.
- Inside HigerEd: Intro to Mentoring Network
- Chronicle Vitae: Why a Mentoring Network is Beneficial
- NCFDD’s excellent video on advisors, mentors, sponsors and the filling out your Mentor Map (70 Minute Video)
- Other Related NCFDD Resources
- NCFDD's Mentor Map (One suggestion is to think of the Intellectual Readers section as mentors who will read your papers and give you feedback on such areas as Research Methods, Science Story, Readability and Overall Story.)
- This report from the American Astronomical Society’s Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion on Astronomy Graduate Education contains guidelines on admissions practices, recommendations to improve retention, and has a lot of very practical resources to accomplish improving diversity and inclusion in the appendices.
Stressing Less: Part 2
In this special session lead by UCI's Grad Division Counselor, Dr. Phong Luong, we will discuss individualized and consistent self care, especially for physics graduate students and learn some breathing exercises!
You Did It! Ice Cream and Fellowships
Congratulations for making it through the Qual! This session we enjoyed ice cream while discussing fellowships opportunities and (very briefly) applications.
Post Qual Priorities: What Do I Do Now?
In this session, we took time to identify goals for the rest of the quarter (now that there is more free time to do so), learned how to break these goals down into an NCFDD Semester Plan, and celebrated the small wins along the way.
- Sunday Meeting (Weekly Planning)
- Semester Planning
- ATracker Pro
- Waste No Time (Google Chrome Extension)
- Action Dash (Time Tracking App)
- One Note
- Regularly using calendars - Google, paper, white board, ect.
- High Performance Planner
- Weekly Planning
- Accountability Techniques
- Schedule regular group meetings Monday mornings to set goals
- Send monthly, weekly or daily emails with an accountability group regarding goals and progess.
- Make a promise to someone regarding your goals.
- Binge Watching TV
- Blocking out time on weekends for fun
- Hiking and nature trips
- Money making hobbies to fund other rewards
- Keeping a dream journal.
Sweet Summer Success
This session served as a time to discuss tackling conferences and self promotion. We discussed balancing intense research time with developing important professional skills/materials such as personal websites, CVs, posters, etc.
- Speak Your Science: How to give a better conference talk (Planetary Society Blog)
- How to Give a Great Scientific Talk (Nature Blog)
- Keep two CVs, a long version that has all your accomplishments and a condensed version. Consider having the condensed version as the one on your website.
- Personalize Your Website and CV/Resume
- Remember, we are humans as well as scientists.
- Examples include recommending books, discussing your hobbies or adding a QR code to your website on your CV/Resume.
- Photos are great! Consider adding a professional headshot and photos of yourself presenting your science and doing activities you enjoy.
- Keep in mind that motion graphics on websites can be sensory overload.
- On your website, consider structuring it after your goals - one tab/page per set of goals.
- Cross-linking on your website is super helpful for two reasons - 1) it gives your audience more ways to interact with you and learn about you, and 2) it can help boost your website to the top in search engine results. Examples are: