Chemist stars in “Piled Higher and Deeper” The Movie
Jan17

Chemist stars in “Piled Higher and Deeper” The Movie

The new Ph.D. movie, based on the well-known comic strip “Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham has been taking college campuses by storm since its release last Fall. If you haven’t seen it yet, like me, I know you’re dying to get your chance. I just found out my campus is screening it in February—I’m super psyched about this! Well, did you know that one of the graduate students starring in the film is a chemist?* That’s right. Meet Evans Boney. He’s a chemistry grad student at CalTech, where his research efforts focus on astrophysics, surface vibrational transfer, novel photovoltaic designs, evolutionary theory, and statistical econophysics. But in his spare time, such as on weekends and in the wee hours of the night, Evans enjoys writing, acting and producing. Film + science = dream job After graduating from MIT (B.S. Chemistry and Physics, Math Minor, 2006), Evans’s long-term plan was to… well, he didn’t have one. That’s why he came to grad school. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and it seemed like a conveniently long number of years to delay the decision,” he says. In the past two years, Evans got into acting and film production with the help of his wife, Susanna Boney, who works in the film and television industry. “My wife started working her way up the ladder in Hollywood… so I started looking on the other side of the fence at her workplace and the grass seemed a lot greener,” he says. When he was finally honest with himself about his dream career, he realized he really wanted to be someone like  Bill Nye the Science Guy: a writer, actor and producer of science-related content. His biggest break has been with The PhD Movie, where he plays the part of Mike Slackenerny, a wizened nth year graduate student mentor to the Nameless protagonist. Evans has also consulted on a couple TV show pilots and played both actor and producer roles in Penn and Teller Tell a Lie for the Discovery Channel. “Now I’m marginally famous, signing autographs and working on a bunch of projects, so that’s cool,” Evans says. If that doesn’t make the rest of us lowly un-famous grad students feel a tinge of jealousy, I don’t know what would. How Evans got his break We can all recall a time when our experiments failed and we sat down and googled “What else can I do with my life besides research?” in our frustration. Well, at least I can. Evans’s decision to audition for The PhD Movie came out of a similar situation. “I was driven to the idea of acting when...

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2012: Looking forward to major transitions, fun adventures
Jan09

2012: Looking forward to major transitions, fun adventures

For the past four years, I’ve kicked off the New Year knowing more or less what the next year was going to hold: I’ll be in the lab, working on my project, hoping for good data that will lead to papers that will lead me one step closer to graduation. But this year is different. My defense date is almost scheduled in March (waiting for one last professor to confirm), and in May, I will walk across a stage and receive my Ph.D. diploma. While this makes me extremely excited, it’s also bittersweet. It’s exciting, well, because the end of grad school means the start of something new—finally! But it’s also a tiny bit sad because, as much as I’ve complained about it, I’ve enjoyed being a grad student and have made some really great friends who I’m going to miss. I know those who are in the thick of grad school will beg to differ, but it’s a pretty sweet deal, being paid to get a degree and all. I’ve learned a ton, and although day to day I haven’t noticed it, I’ve grown a lot in five years. It can also be a bit frightening, if I let it be. When several years of your life are spent doing one thing, and one thing only (or mostly), it’s a little unsettling to not know what you’ll be doing in five months time. Despite all that, I’m more excited than scared. I’m looking forward to an adventure-filled 2012. I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions, but I am all about making a list of goals and dreams I hope to see fulfilled in the next year. Those two things may sound the same, but they don’t to me. It feels much less restrictive and more freeing to say, “Here are my dreams for the New Year” instead of, “Here are my New Year’s resolutions,” so that’s what I go with. Here’s what I dream of accomplishing in the New Year: Be intentional and patient with myself as I grow as a reporter and a writer. As a child, I remember getting frustrated with myself when I saw older kids doing stuff I just wasn’t old enough to know how to do—like write in cursive, do algebra or ride without training wheels. Sometimes I feel that way as a writer. I look around and see what other writers, who have 20 years of experience, are doing, and wonder why I’m not out there doing that. But that’s silly. And I know it is, but for some reason that’s how I’ve always approached life. In my frustration, I...

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Flavor chemistry: The science of deliciousness
Dec20

Flavor chemistry: The science of deliciousness

Profile: Bethany Hausch, chemist, food scientist and technologist at Kerry Ingredients and Flavours We are quickly approaching the holidays and it only seems appropriate that I blog about food, since it’s such a crucial component of the season. More specifically, this blog post is about food science, and about how a good friend of mine, Bethany Hausch, took her chemistry skills into the world of flavor science. We met when Bethany was studying at the University of Illinois, and I’m so happy that I get to blog about her journey! Bethany is a technologist at Kerry Ingredients and Flavours in Beloit, WI. She works in the Analytical Lab at Kerry where she uses various instrumentation to analyze flavors and study the composition of foods. “Each day is different and depends on the tests requested from R&D scientists,” Bethany says. “Most days I work on three or four projects.    This could include identifying the source of an off-flavor in rejected product or comparing the flavor of samples in a storage study.  I might also spend part of my day determining the sugar profile of anything from coffee syrups to baby cereal.” In undergrad, Bethany majored in chemistry (B.S., 2008), but when she looked at the traditional career options available to chemists, none seemed to be the right fit. Food science seemed to have more direct applications to everyday life, so she went on to earn her Master’s degree in Food Science & Human Nutrition from the University of Illinois in 2010 and immediately landed her job at Kerry. What Bethany loves most about her job is the element of discovery and the fact that she’s learning new things all the time. Since the Analytical Lab provides support to all divisions of the company, Bethany learns about a lot of different types of foods and about the compounds that give them their flavor. “I enjoy this field because I see the beauty of science while working on projects that are practical and have direct consumer applications,” she says. However, the job also comes with a bit of routineness, which Bethany says she could do without. Also, making the switch from academic research to industry work was a bit of a transition. In her Master’s research, Bethany enjoyed taking a project from start to finish and grasping the big picture of the projects she worked on. However, in her industry job, her analytical work is one piece of a big puzzle that she doesn’t always get to learn all the details about. Bethany often receives a blank stare when she tells people she went to school for food science, because most people don’t realize it’s a legit...

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The light at the end of the tunnel
Dec11

The light at the end of the tunnel

I’ve been a bit spotty with blogging recently, so I apologize. I’ve been pretty tied up with collecting and analyzing data for what will be the last (I repeat, last) chapter of my dissertation. It is a wonderful feeling to be close to the end— I can’t overstate that!! Anyone who has gone through grad school can probably relate to the feeling of utter elation you get when you realize that you will in fact graduate with your Ph.D. in the forseeable future. The end is near! For those fledgling graduate students out there, you may be a bit jealous of this feeling I have. But I just have to say— stick it out and soon enough you too will know what it feels like to be almost done! Wow, there are a lot of exclamation marks in this post. Not to be overly dramatic, but throughout the first several years of grad school, it often feels like it’s never going to end. There are ups and downs and more downs (see earlier post about how I fell out of love with research). The thing about a Ph.D. program is it’s so nebulous when you will finish. It’s not like undergrad where you check off all the boxes, pass all your classes and walk across the stage to get your diploma. It’s hard to explain that to relatives who assume you’ll have a month-long Christmas break since you’re still a student. No, it doesn’t quite work like that actually… So when it finally hits you that the end is near, it’s an incredible feeling. Especially, I feel, for someone like me, for whom the end of grad school is the end of research, once and for all, and the beginning of doing what I really love. For those who don’t know, I’ll be diving head first into a science writing career as soon as I graduate. I’m so glad I’ve found what I love, and the thought of waking up and doing my dream job every day (instead of squeezing it in on nights and weekends and wherever there’s extra time) makes me really excited. I’m already starting to plan for my next steps. I’m applying for another round of science writing internships, as well as the AAAS Mass Media Fellows Program, which gives a select group of science students the opportunity to work as a science journalist for a major media outlet over the summer. I’m also preparing my application for journalism school, since I’m toying with the idea of getting more formal journalism training before launching a full-blown science writing career. Some science writers say the formal...

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The Quest for a Passionate and Purposeful PhD
Nov30

The Quest for a Passionate and Purposeful PhD

This guest post was written by Selina Wang, PhD. When I became a “PhD“ rather than “PhD candidate”, I couldn’t get the question “Now, what?” out of my head. It reminded me of the feeling I had when being asked “What do you want to do when you grow up?” as a five-year-old. Except I wasn’t five and I was supposed to be smart and have a respectful answer that validated the three letters that were now attached to my name. I was fearful to step into this unfamiliar territory. In addition, the same excitement I felt about my area of research when I first started the PhD program was now accompanied by the additional baggage of skepticism and confusion. I was about to face some huge energy barriers and to anticipate high entropy – something called the post-doctoral life and beyond. As I explored post-doctoral opportunities, I felt a little lost, sort of directionless and almost underwhelmed by this supposedly-one-of-the-greatest-accomplishments-of-mine-so-far.  Industry, government or academe?  Not sure.  A job that pays better than a graduate student’s stipend?  I hope so. I started to wonder how many of us that attend graduate school with a crystal-clear view of our future career direction maintain that view upon graduation. You know, despite how clear your NIR tubes are and how your crystals grow bigger and faster than your labmates’. I, like many, had an incredible experience in graduate school. I was in love with doing research and could have stayed in the program forever if I was allowed to (and if I had won a lottery so money was no object). I had a strong sense of purpose – to discover the unknown, to tell people about things they didn’t yet know, to satisfy my own curiosity. I was surrounded by individuals who cared about the same things as I do, including an assiduous PI who started his tenure-track faculty position the same year I started my PhD program. They understood my dorky jokes, granted that they didn’t have the sense of humor to laugh at most of them. It was a safe environment to learn and to do research – which was my job. Five years quickly flew by (with the exception of the year of my qualifying-exam). I had to move on to a post-doc position, though the idea of being a post-doctoral researcher never excited me. Why give me a PhD if you don’t think I am ready “as is”? At the end of my two-year post-doc gig, I felt my skills were sharpened and I started to feel an itch to get out into the real working world. I had a clearer idea of my strengths and...

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