Allen J. Hall

Materials Science & Engineering, Productivity, and Life

Tag Archives: The Scientific Life

NY-PBS Captures The Struggle Of The Graduate Student

It’s not often that someone goes about deciding to make a film about graduate studies. It just so happens that Thirteen (PBS-NY) has done just that. Their film “Naturally Obsessed: The Making Of A Scientist” is quite an excellent snap-shot of the struggle of graduate students to get their PhD degree and accomplish something very difficult. Of course each of our struggles is unique. We are all dealing with our own situations, with our own fields (some not even in laboratories- the horror- is that real science? hahahah).

Speaking of our own struggles, what most of the public often does not get a feel for is the absolute devotion, almost to insanity, towards finding the solutions we are looking for. Many of the comments by the graduate’s spouses touched home for me. In each of the graduates followed in this film I saw bits of myself. One thing however, that is different, is the struggle for the specific protein structure. Often that struggle is a lot less well-defined. In this situation, you either get the structure of AMPK or you don’t. I guess it’s a lot like their attempts at creating crystals. Sure, you get crystals, but if they don’t have a periodic structure, you’ll never get diffraction. In my situation, the variables in our studies are very difficult to control, and so often one doubts one’s work solely on the question of reproducibility. Many scientists struggle with this same situation. People think that doing things like “measuring temperature” is a very easy thing. In reality, it is a very very difficult thing. Especially in a vacuum. :) That question just arose the other day in discussing our science with a new undergraduate assistant. As we talked more and more on the difficulties of measuring temperature we all saw his eyes grow larger in wonder. The simplest of problems can often be the most difficult. How accurate do you need to measure it? What standard will you use? Do you believe your thermocouple, your thermometer, or your pyrometer? What if the emissivity of the surface changes? :)

This is the life of a scientist. And the film below attempts to capture the lives and struggles of a few graduate students who are hoping for a career in science. It’s a struggle. But, you have heard me say that enough. ;) To learn more about it I strongly suggest you watch this film. For the graduate student, I warn you: you’ll see yourself in this. For those who aren’t scientists: this may end up being a comedy, and I kindly refer you to Marg Simpson’s commentary on graduate students posted earlier in this blog.

My congratulations to Thirteen for doing such an excellent job on this one hour film. They didn’t have a lot of time to share with you everything regarding our struggles and achievements, but they distilled it quite well in the time available.

A Quick Introduction...

I'm a graduate student (PhD Candidate) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

I've studied and researched in two fields of Materials Science and Engineering (Polymers and Semiconductors). My interests are as diverse as my musical tastes and I usually have my hand in some crazy project during my free time.

I'm available for consulting and have access to a world-renown materials research user-facility supported by the D.O.E. If you would like to know more, please contact me.

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