Monday, January 4, 2016

Wilson Inspired... by the Banneker Institute

Thoughts pondered and experiences gained during my 10 weeks a part of the Banneker Institute summer graduate school preparatory program at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. As the days pass by, I am moving exponentially up the learning curve in regards to my skills in Coding and my knowledge of the Universe. This fact may or may not be discerned in my posts over time. Peruse my posts, Share with others, and Enjoy the read!  "

...was how the previous heading description of my blog went.
I made this blog with the purpose of enhancing my writing skills, discussing the details of my summer research project, and expressing my thoughts about anything my heart desired.  Seeing how it has turned out thus far, I am happy that Harvard professor, Dr. John Johnson, recommended that all of us interns create this blog and write in it as often as possible.

"You might have to follow the advice given in [one] post, which gives you a link to a previously written post that you should read first."

I decided to write about the lessons we learned during the Astro-Statistics class we took that summer.  Occasionally, I discussed my research project as well.  For both of these topics, it was necessary to have them be a continuous series of blog posts.  So, to get the full understanding of some of my posts, you might have to follow the advice given in that post, which gives you a link to a previously written post that you should read first.

This blog has become a hobby that I plan on continuing for years to come.  Most of my future content will be me teaching a scientific concept or talking about an event or person in the scientific community.  As time goes on, I will be writing more material that people outside of the scientific community can understand.  Working for the Adler Planetarium consistently reminds me of how vital it is for astronomers to teach and inform the lay[wo]men about astronomy.  Thus, I will be doing this through my blog as well.
People who are not as scientifically inclined as the PhD astrophysicists I work with will enjoy these 3 blog posts among others:
When I have spare time and an intriguing topic, I will keep writing in this blog because I have already seen how beneficial this has been to my research and personal life.  Considering the intricate code, physics, and mathematics that entail astronomy research, writing the details down in an organized fashion has been a life-saver when I must re-do a procedure or re-calculate something months after doing it the first time.  I have been in this circumstance several times during my 2 years of undergraduate research.  On those days, I always remember to give myself a pat on the back as a way of motivating myself to keep being diligent in my writing.

"With an inspiring leader like Dr. Johnson, it is impossible for interns to walk out of the Banneker Institute the same as they came in."

In regards to my personal life, articulating my thoughts through writing is an empowering experience.  I now understand why many astronomers use this powerful form of communication to organize their thoughts as well as to inform, inspire, and influence the world.  Although people may use their blogs for writing poetry, telling stories, marketing themselves or informing others about scientific results, I am happy that one of the first blogs I have read in my entire life is used for activism towards social justice issues.  The blog I am referring to is Dr. Johnson's.
This guy is a great role model for the newest members of the astronomy community as well as the oldest.  This is true in regards to the diligence and intelligence necessary for scientists to conduct excellent research as well as the patience and open-mindedness necessary to form healthy collaborations amongst scientists of various nationalities, ethnicities, and ... well ... genders too (because according to current statistics, white men are appallingly over-represented in the astronomy community and thus often lack the experience of working with others of a different background than theirs).  I am sure that if you visit Dr. Johnson's blog, you will see why he is such a well-respected and powerful figure in the astronomy community.  Moreover, you will get a glimpse of why his internship, the Banneker Institute, is one of the most unique experiences a summer intern can have.

With an inspiring leader like Dr. Johnson, it is impossible for interns to walk out of the Banneker Institute the same as they came in.  Because of the Banneker institute, I am sure that NO hardships of graduate school will halt my relentless pursuit for the PhD.  Thanks to the Astro-Statistics class, my computer programming skills have drastically improved.  Furthermore, my public speaking skills have skyrocketed after being taught the art of elocution by Professor Johnson and his colleagues while also delivering a talk to my peers every 2 weeks.  And last but not least, my mind has been enlightened to the intrinsic, yet subtle, injustices and prejudices that currently plague the science community.

My time as a Banneker Institute Fellow may have ended, but I will certainly remain an affiliate of the program and support other interns as more arrive summer after summer.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Long Time, No See

Wow! it feels good to be back.

Many of you know, have seen, and have heard about the grand schemes I have been up to in the past few months, which has kept me too busy to write more blog posts here.  I'll take a moment to get you all up to speed on the big moves I have been making.

Some of you have seen the inception of my Research Website and the drastic changes I have made to it since I started writing the HTML/CSS/JavaScript code for that in September.  I even have a cool background image for the site now!  Look familiar?
Seeing this website come to fruition is like a small dream come true for me.  This started as a simple idea and at the start I only knew a couple HTML commands (< br > for break and < a > for links).  The website is still a work in progress but I love how it's turning out.

Another endeavor (that only my research advisors probably noticed) is the amount of money I have racked up this year for research--as seen on my CV.  Receiving that much   \$ for research funding as an undergraduate, within one year's time, required me to devote a LOT of time to writing about my research.  (And my CV doesn't even include the generous stipend I received from my summer internship! )

Needless to say, all of that writing about my research took a lot of time away from my academic studies during this past fall semester.  The writing combined with the actual obligations of conducting the research certainly made this semester much more difficult.   However, I am happy to inform you that I persevered.  I didn't get a 4.0 GPA this semester, but I am still happy with the fruits of my labor.  Excellent grades, great progress in research, and an abundance of research funding came out of my hard work this summer and semester.

The McNair Scholars Program, formally known as the Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, also kept me busy.  Much of my extra-curricular writing this year was for the McNair Program.  Additionally, because of my completed McNair research project I had to present my research at the FIU McNair conference.
 Me delivering my talk.  For those of you who've seen my website, the photo should look familiar.
Hanging out with other McNair students that completed their research projects was a fun experience too.

We had a great time together.  The conference itself was mediocre though.  (With the AAS Meeting being my first science conference, I admit that I'm probably spoiled when it comes to this stuff.)

In this post, I have given you a brief synopsis for a few of my most time consuming (although fun) extra-curricular activities for this past semester.  However, I didn't even tell you about the hard work I put into my NSF Graduate Research Fellowship application.  Nor did I discuss the essays I have written this semester for graduate school applications.  But most importantly, YOU JUST DON'T KNOW how tortuous the Quantum Mechanics class I took this semester was.  To give you a glimpse of the pain, here is a quote from my professor: "I expect the homework to take 15 hours for all of you."
Unfortunately, this was not a joke.  Each homework assignment given once every week to us--undergraduates who are taking 4 or more classes this semester--truly did take a minimum of 15 hours to complete.  The teacher believed that this absurd amount of work would prepare us well for graduate school.  Literally, every student in his class disagreed with this notion at the beginning, middle, and very end of his class this semester because of the 4+ classes we all were taking.

Without a doubt, this was the hardest semester of my college and high school career.  To be frank, I am willing to say that I had a great/fun semester ONLY because of how good things turned out for me in the end.  Ultimately, the, sometimes overwhelming, amount of work and stress I experienced this semester was mostly my fault.  I decided to work on 3 research projects simultaneously this semester (including 1 that is not mentioned on my CV).  I made the choice to apply for research grants and write essays while taking this tortuous Quantum Mechanics class.  I made the choice to do all of these extra-curricular obligations even though I knew that I had graduate school applications coming up.

Perhaps this semester, I bit a little more than I could chew... Regardless of whether or not that is true, great things were--and still are--happening for me on a weekly basis thanks to the immense amount of time and effort I put into all that I do.  I'm looking forward to seeing more fruits of this semester's labor manifest once the results of my NSF and graduate school applications come out.