I have discovered a truly marvelous example of the theory of general relativity in my time at University of Michigan. The warping of space-time by mass is typically only observed on large scales, relevant to orbiting satellites, solar systems, stars, and galaxies. This novel example of small-scale time dilation is both readily observed with simple equipment and easily reproducible in any university laboratory. I am speaking, of course, of the case where every day of grad school feels exactly the same, with little progress or accomplishment, until a year later when you look up and you have a laundry list of additions to your CV. This time last year, I was heading into my last semester as a pre-candidate, finishing up some course requirements that I’d missed earlier in the program. Now, I’m a full candidate, deep into a hardware project that’ll make a good chapter of my thesis, and researching full time.
The course requirements were by far the easiest and most engaging part. I took a course on network theory that, although not directly related to my field, turned out to be an application of my favorite course from my undergrad mathematics major. I also got to take an astrophysics seminar that was so engaging and fun that I occasionally referred to it as “Physics Storytime.” Even better, at the end of that semester, I had all the pre-requisites for my Master’s degree, and walked in the commencement ceremony with my Babcia and Grandma there. I was the first person on my dad’s side of the family to get a bachelor’s degree, and now I’m the first to have a Master’s - and I’m only a little bit smug that I got it before my golden child cousin got her nursing degree.
I didn’t get to celebrate for too long, though. I still had to finish the candidacy process, and because I’d struggled early on in my program, I had to take my qualifying exams in the same two-week period as my prospectus and my preliminary exam. Although I ended up with the cold to end all colds by the day of my prelim, I passed the written classical physics exam, nailed the modern physics oral exam, turned in a cohesive prospectus, and presented my preliminary research results. I worked hard and showed my skill and expertise in those exams, but I honestly don’t think I would have passed without my partner’s support or the gallons of Ginger Dragon I bought from the Espresso Royale next to Randall Lab. I highly recommend it, it’s the perfect drink when you’re sick and stressed.
I finally got on track with my research, too. I’ve been working on pulsar detection software, which expands my statistics and coding skills every time I sit down to work on it. I also got a position at one of the LIGO observatories, so in June, I packed up and moved out to Washington for the rest of the year. I’ve been thrown deep into a hardware project, and I’m learning new skills every time I head out into the cleanroom, plop down at a bench in the electronics shop, or settle in to a control room workstation to wrangle some data sets. I’m working on a paper right now, and hopefully that’ll spin into the first chapter of my thesis.
The above anecdote is a clear demonstration of time dilation in graduate students - how I can think that I just started writing for this blog yesterday, yet managed to come so far since I sent in my application last summer. I can only advise that you, the reader, keep in mind that although the hours, the days, and the weeks of graduate school might seem impossibly long, for some reason, the years are shorter than the sum of their parts.
About the Author
Jax Sanders, Ph.D. Student, Physics
Published in: Student Voices