Monday, September 14, 2009

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Well first let me say that I didn’t really have a summer vacation. That is, I didn’t go anywhere special. But then, most of my days are relatively unoccupied and I’m free to pursue all the cool stuff in my scientific agenda. So what’s this essay about then? I’d like to revue how I’ve been setting the stage for my continuing life in science. Some of you may be going through a similar search for academic clarity.

Up until recently I’ve been somewhat undirected in my pursuits of science. It was just 2007 when my own personal outline of scientific interest areas covered three full pages. I’ve worked consciously to trim down the list. It isn’t that I’ve shed these interests; it is more a realization that I need to focus on fewer areas in order to establish myself in those areas and hopefully make a real contribution one day.

My new short-list is pretty straightforward - gravitational wave astrophysics and several related fields - general relativity, numerical relativity, and black holes. A close second is galactic center including the genesis of the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* and the study of the structure and dynamics of stars surrounding the black hole. A couple of tertiary fields of interest are exoplanet discovery and cosmology. My short-list is still quite pervasive, but much briefer than a couple of years ago.

I’ve also come to the realization that in order to make a true impact in any of these fields I should have an advanced degree. Although my historic academic interests were solely related to computer science, I must now make the transition to astrophysics. I’m very motivated to do this, however I do have some constraints namely at my advanced age, the timing of this endeavor is critical. In addition, I still fully intend to pursue having children. If this sounds ambitious, well it is but as I’ve said, I’m very motivated.

For starters, I’ve been scouring the Internet for applicable Master of Physics degree programs. Some of the local schools I’d prefer such as Caltech, UCLA, U.C. Berkeley and Stanford want graduate students to head straight into a doctoral program. This would be fine with me; however, given my concurrent priority of having children, I think a masters degree is more realistic. But this route certainly does not preclude a Ph.D. in astrophysics at some later date.

Location is a big consideration. I shouldn’t be hampered by what academic alternatives are available here in Los Angeles, so relocation should be an option. I’ve been considering New England for one simple reason. There is no other region of the country where there are so many quality degree programs in such a small geographical area. In New England you have the big names like MIT, Havard but you also have an incredibly strong extended list – U Mass Amherst, RPI, Rochester Institute of Technology, Boston College, Boston University, Syracuse University, and University of Rochester. Many of the above institutions are members of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC) which means they are active in gravitational wave research.

There is a lot to think about. I promise to keep you all posted. If one day I up and move east you probably won’t even know it as this blog will live regardless of my physical location.

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