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Graduate Student Blog

by Sadie Doran **Blog Competition**

02/20/2019

 

Applying to Dartmouth to pursue my masters in engineering management is part of my “Top 5 Best Things I’ve Done in My Life” (thus far) list. Here’s why: I drove towards Dartmouth on the first day of orientation in September, really nervous, but also with a good gut feeling. Going into undergrad at Syracuse University, I was certain that my random roommate would be my best friend, my life would be like the college photos - and let’s just say life smacked me in the face when I was crying every day and missing home. I actually did cry as I pulled into Hanover that day for orientation (but those were pure  uncontrollable happy tears). In comparison to the larger school community that Syracuse was, Dartmouth automatically felt like my kind of niche environment. Joining a class with interesting people from all over the world, able to share experiences and motivate each other has consistently been a great place to learn and grow. My 7 months here have gone by too fast, but I am so looking forward to the memories yet to be made. It is hard to believe how my life would be different if I had never found the Dartmouth. MEM program…but we don’t need to talk about that. Alright, I am being kind of sappy and cheesy about my love for Dartmouth (blah blah), BUT of course there are hard times that come with being a graduate student. A heavy workload, high expectations, being broke (AF), surrounded by brilliant people (who in the end make you smarter and better, but also slightly intimidate you). I think those tough late nights spent understanding one little topic make it all worth it and I would not trade them for the world. We’re all learning & growing into “adulting” together – so support one another and appreciate all that Hanover has to offer. I feel really lucky to be here in case you have not noticed.

Sincerely,

Sadie

 

by Hannah Grover **Blog Competition**

02/08/2019

 

Stressful. Rewarding? Sometimes it can be hard to really think about the pros and cons of day to day life in graduate school, as fairly often the cons outweigh the pros. The routine can be draining. Every day you get up, put in eight to twelve hours of work (sometimes more…), go home, sleep, and repeat. You eat lunch at your desk so that you can keep working, forgetting when the last time you spoke to another person was. It can be isolating. Trying to plan down to the hour when you have time for homework or heading to DHMC to incubate some eggs, it’s a weird example, but I work with chick embryos and brain development. When you have to work three weekends out of four or the entire “Spring Break” to stay on top of research and classes, to meet deadlines. When do you even have time to read that research article your advisor sent you? It’s never ending, until, you get to that fourth weekend. Finally, there’s no work (or a lot less work). There’s just relaxing, seeing friends, and maybe catching up on a little Netflix. You can read that article now! You can also look back and realize, I actually got so much done. That feeling of accomplishment is what keeps me going and gives me motivation. Crossing long-staying items off a to-do list and feeling like you overcame some hurdle or finally got a protocol to work after spending months getting nowhere because for whatever reason nothing ever wants to work. These are the things that make up for all of the hours put into that the graduate student cycle. It’s the knowledge that you didn’t give up at the toughest times, you buckled down and worked through it. These are the things that help me sleep at night when I know that in the morning I have to be to lab at 6AM on a Saturday. I just repeat the mantra, “It’ll probably be worth it in the end”. The best moments for me, are seeing my work pay off in the form of abstract acceptances to conferences. That’s the moment that you knew those late nights and early mornings really meant something (like a trip to Ireland in July!). Weighing the day to day pros and cons is tough, but in the big picture you know that you are making a contribution and working towards something great. That is the feeling that keeps me going in graduate school. Then you realize there’s still so much more to do…. and you pour another cup of coffee (the other 80% of what keeps me going) and get back to work.

by Nicholas Warren **GSC Professional Development Fund Recipient**

01/20/2019

 

         Thousands of chemists from across the world and dozens of specialties converged in Boston, MA this week for the 256th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS). Themes ranged from nanoparticle formation, to making batteries safer and more efficient, to designing non-addictive pain medications, to sending probes to other star systems, and even a keynote speech on “the Power of Procrastination” by PhD comics creator, Jorge Cham. The meeting showcased how intertwined chemistry is with every aspect of our daily lives and provided glimpses of technological leaps soon to benefit our society.

Dr. Harry Atwater presented a Keynote speech on “Light  as Fuel” to discuss advances in solar power and fuel generation. The existential threat of global climate change to most life on Earth requires urgent attention, but it is not an impossible challenge to address. Dr. Atwater provided several examples of how solar panels are becoming more efficient at trapping solar energy, thus decreasing cost and promoting green energy adoption. Solar power may soon be the cheapest source of electricity. One new innovative method is to take advantage of materials like Germanium-based semiconductors which re-emit photons instead of completely capturing them. This seems counter intuitive, but the properties of Germanium allow photons to be emitted and re-absorbed almost 100 times. Each time the photon is absorbed a small amount of electricity is generated, allowing for a greater conversion of the overall energy. Better yet, Germanium semiconductors are as flexible as a plastic sheet. Perhaps the greatest challenge of converting our infrastructure to renewable energy is the storage of energy when the sun isn’t shinning. New N-acyl-pyridine based cells are capable of converting sunlight directly into chemical reductive energy to convert CO2 into hydrocarbons like ethanol and ethylene. Some versions are even approaching energy conversion efficiencies similar to traditional solar panels in use today. Artificial photosynthesis of hydrocarbons could readily replace fossil fuels in transportation and power generation while removing CO2 from the atmosphere. These break throughs show great promise for tackling climate change in ways that will decrease the price of energy in the long term.

Solar fuel generation is still likely a decade or more away from wide-spread use, in the meantime there is a need for smaller, incremental advances in energy storage. Rechargeable lithium batteries are currently seeing large advances in efficiency and safety. New formulations of lithium anodes will greatly increase the capacity of batteries. However, there remains a large safety issue with packing all of that chemical energy into a smaller space; lithium battery fires have been well publicized in the media. Dr. Zheng Chen’s strategy to enhance battery safety was to engineer a nickel nanoparticle embedded plastic to create a temperature controlled barrier inside the battery. This thin layer of plastic expands when it heats up, which causes the nanoparticles to move away from each other and cuts off the flow of electricity. If the battery gets too hot it will automatically turn itself off instead of degrading and catching fire! This technology will be ready to incorporate into commercial practices in a matter of years.

The opioid crisis is another great challenge that is hitting New England especially hard. Nationwide, there are an estimated 42,000 opioid overdose deaths each year. The majority of people who overdose started their addiction with legally prescribed medications. The medicinal chemistry session on “Novel Treatments for Chronic Pain” showcased several strategies to design pain medications without neither the addictive nor physiologically harmful effects of current therapies. Dr. Laura Bohn presented her work on teasing apart the molecular actions of the μ opioid receptor (MOR). MOR has two discreet functions: shutting down neural transmission of pain signals and activating a protein called β-arrestin. She found that β-arrestin is responsible for most of the bad effects of opioids like brain stem depression and increasing opioid tolerance. Using new drugs that only activated the pain cessation signaling, but not β-arrestin, was able to treat pain in mice with a greatly enhanced therapeutic window. Dr. Roger Kroes presented work on targeting a different receptor in the brain, NMDA. NMDA is a master regulator of creating new synapses in the brain. He designed a new drug to activate NMDA to modulate neuropathic pain signaling, treating pain for up to two weeks following a single dose. The NMDA activator had a few novel side effects in mice: increased memory and learning. Not all side effects need to be bad!  These new chemical approaches will hopefully bring safe and effective pain relief to millions of Americans that struggle with pain on a daily basis.

In addition to scientific talks, ACS organized several professional development workshops such as how to lead organizational change, improve interviewing skills, write grants, and find jobs in various career paths. If you are a member, a number of these workshops and other resources can be found online at ACS.org!

by Anonymous **Blog Competition**

01/08/2019

 

I have always been an emotional person. I laugh a lot, cry a lot, scream and gasp a lot, and get surprised really easily. My emotions never really bothered me—I thought my ups and downs were a way of life, something everyone goes through on a daily basis. Besides, some extremities here and there just made life more interesting. 

 

It has come to my attention that I am incredibly emotionally sensitive and unstable these days. Even the slightest things stir me up, and somehow those negative emotions don’t go away. 

 

It used to be the other way round—I would be happy most of the time, and even when something upset me,  I would find something interesting and forget about what made me upset. My default face used to be a smile, and now it is a neutral face with tears welling in my eyes.

 

I hoped that this would only be a phase. I hoped that in a few days, I’ll be rolling along with a big smile under the bright sun, humming my way around campus, looking forward to running into friends and engaging in conversations. But this phase has lasted a lot longer than my expectation, and I do not see an end approaching.

 

I’m trying hard to recover from this mess, but I can’t tell when I’ll be okay. I am suffocating under the pressure of my thesis, my career, and my future. Today I made some goals for myself. I didn’t get to finish them. I felt bad. As I go to bed, I’ll worry about tomorrow, knowing I have things to catch up on. Tomorrow I’ll make more goals, fail to reach them and feel bad once again. I can’t help but fail, and I can’t help but be harsh at myself. 

 

So instead of pretending to be fine, I decided to admit that I am weak. I will fail, but that’s okay. I will need to ask for help and support from others, but that’s okay. I might cry in public resulting in some people staring at me, but that’s okay. Maybe someone will give me a hug.

 

This is me now, and I’m okay with that. 

by Khang Vu **GSC Professional Development Support Fund Recipient**

12/20/2018

 

This summer, the National Committee on North Korea hosted the Knowing North Korea Workshop, where young professionals gathered and exchanged ideas with their peers and experienced researchers and policymakers for two days. This year’s conference was held in Washington, D.C. and featured topics on North Korea’s nuclear weapons, economics, politics, and society. Participants also got the opportunity to visit the Department of State, the Library of Congress, and Congress and learned how think tanks and government analysts write reports and formulate policies on North Korea from a variety of angles.

 

Fortunately, I received financial support from both the National Committee on North Korea and the Dartmouth Graduate Student Council to attend the event. I have been doing research on North Korea’s nuclear weapons for several years, and this event helped me test my ideas in a professional environment as well as meet people coming from all disciplines and professions who also shared the same interests in North Korea. Moreover, as an international student, getting an opportunity to visit the State Department and Congress and talk to U.S. policymakers is a life-changing experience. I got to see up close how politics played out in Washington. After the two-day workshop, I have a better understanding of how U.S. analysts approach North Korea and the variety of tools that researchers can use to cover issues surrounding the Korean peninsula.

 

Overall, I really enjoyed the workshop and all the new friends that I have made. I now have better ideas of what I want to do in the future. Once again, I want to thank the National Committee on North Korea and the Dartmouth Graduate Student Council for the financial support and Assistant Professor of Government Nicholas Miller for his mentorship during my research on North Korea.

by Kayla Duval **Blog Competition**

12/08/2018

 

Transitioning from the bustling city of Boston to the sleepy small town of Hanover as a twenty-something year old was definitely a shock to the system. Gone were the days of endless food options, bar hopping through the city till 2am, and public transportation at night/on the weekends. These were replaced with debates on whether we should go to Thai Orchid or Tuk Tuk, drinking our way through the three rooms at the Hop and being asleep by 1215am, and committing to walking home after a night out. For many, NH small town life is like a whole different world – from the weather extremes, to the minimal indoor activities (RIP Shenanigans). Even for me, a born and raised New Hampshirite, Hanover was a whole new level of small town life. It’s easy to fixate on the remoteness of Hanover, but in actuality Hanover is a great place for grad school. Being at Thayer is like being back in high school; there’s only 100 PhDs so you know everyone, and of that 100 you really know 50% and you really really know 20-30%. In the 2.5 years I have been here, I have tried so many new things, become way more outdoorsy, and had way more fun than I ever thought possible, thanks to Thayer grads I really really know; it’s like its own little (big) family of friends. We have gone to countless DOC cabins, in the dead of summer and the dead of winter, cooking giant meals, and singing an eclectic range of songs around the fire. We have gone to Maine and canoed along the Saco river, camping along the edge and somehow not getting lost. We have hiked countless mountains from Moosilauke to Washington, with groups ranging from 5 people to 25 people. Winter is a time that many people struggle with because of the cold and snow, but I and others have recently learned how to ski so we can now join our friends and have ski trips with 20 of us at varying ski levels all having a blast. We have an annual Friendsgiving that grew to almost 50 of our closest friends this year and was a great time. We have random movie nights taking advantage of the giant screens in Thayer, and impromptu trips to cities like Nashville. On any given Thursday you can find anywhere from 5 to 20+ of us at Ramuntos, and at other times at Canoe. Outside of the social events, you can also overhear us talking about the wide range of research topics we each work on. I now know more about robots in Antarctica, buoys in Greenland, space weather, using bioimpendance to develop new surgical devices, circulating tumor cells for cancer diagnostics, and protein design than I ever would have thought possible. I guess what I am trying to say is that Thayer is an amazing place full of hard work on super cool research, and totally rad people who love to have fun outside of work.

by Christopher Helali **GSC Travel Grant Recipient**

11/20/2018

 

I would like to thank the Graduate Student Council for awarding me the Conference Travel Grant which gave me the opportunity to attend the 24th World Congress of Philosophy in Beijing, China. This conference, which occurs once every five years, was hosted by Peking University and had approximately 8,000 registered participants. I was able to present my research to distinguished scholars and students from around the world. In my paper entitled, “The Ancient of Days: Semiotic Multivalence and Oikonomia in Byzantine Iconography,” I spoke about my ongoing research on icons, some of which has been conducted at the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, MA. The panel I was presenting in was on Byzantine Philosophy with most of the participants being Chinese scholars of Byzantine philosophy and theology. Their questions were phenomenal and delved into a wide field of philosophical inquiry, bringing up theories and insights from early Christian theologians all the way to Derrida and contemporary anthropologists of modern Greece. During the conference, I had the opportunity to hear Judith Butler give the first ever Simone de Beauvoir endowed lecture at the congress on the topic of gender, language and translation, as well as to listen to Peter Singer from Princeton University speak about animal ethics and rights. For me, the highlight of the conference was seeing my former philosophy professor, close friend and comrade Rodney Peffer along with my comrade and friend Thalia Fung from the University of Havana who both presented on roundtables together on topics ranging from contemporary developments in Socialism, feminism, and the rise of the alt-right. This congress, attended historically by philosophers like Nobel laureate Bertrand Russell, is an opportunity to build internationalism and solidarity amongst people's not only from the core of the world-system, but from the Global South, whose voices are rarely heard. It was a great honor and privilege to have attended this conference and I am thankful for the Graduate Student Council for helping to make this a reality.

by Baihao Shao **GSC Professional Development Support Fund**

11/08/2018

 

With the generous support from Graduate Student Council, I was able to attend the influential workshop titled as “Molecular Rotors, Motors and Switches” in Telluride, Colorado at June of 2018. Leading scientists in our field, including 2016 Nobel laureate in Chemistry (Prof. Sir Fraser J. Stoddart), were invited to the workshop and gave interesting and inspiring presentations during that week. The telluride workshop is known for its condensed size with about sixty participants (including forty professors, and twenty postdocs and graduate students). Ample time was given to have deep discussions in science and establish collaborations.

            I was giving a poster presentation on the first day of the workshop, where I shared recent advances I have achieved in hydrazone-based photochromic molecules in our laboratory with colleagues. During that three hours, I have answered questions raised by my colleagues, who are interested in utilizing our molecules to build up new molecular machines. Meanwhile, I also received rewarding comments and opinions on my current research project and, had insightful discussions that helped to tackle a few problems I carried to the workshop. In addition, I stopped by others’ posters, including the beautiful works we used to discuss in weekly journal club at Chemistry Department, and had very beneficial talks with those researchers.  

            Within that week, about thirty invited speakers, including my advisor Prof. Aprahamian, were presenting the most recent research done in their research groups. Among them, the talk given by Prof. Nobuyuki Tamaoki from Hokkaido University (Japan) left deepest impression on me. His strategy of developing a photoswitchable ATP (AzoTP) to control the biological motor (kinesin) was very impressive. In the video he showed, the visible microtubes driven by kinesin were traveling with UV light, as the AzoTP can be activated with exposure to UV irradiation.  Inspired by his work, I think that interfacing the chemistry with biology in our lab will also deliver interesting research using our photoswitchable hydrazones.

            The most important thing in attending this workshop is that I am able to talk with all the attended professors and young scientists. During the rest periods, I could approach presenters and have further communications on their talks, and also conduct face-to-face conversations with “authors” on confusions and questions generated when reading their publications. In all cases, the professors and young scientist were quite open to discussions and willing to give information as plenty as possible. I was always able to receive more detailed and persuasive explanations on those scientific questions.

            As a second-year graduate student, I really benefit a lot from an experience of participating into a workshop like this. I got a better understanding on the field I worked in and, built up more confidence on carrying out my own research. Not only that, I have better ideas on how the scientific community works and what kind of requirements should be fulfilled in order to be a qualified scientist. In the end, I want to thank Graduate Student Council again for funding me to attend this fantastic workshop!  

 

by Camilla Tassi **Blog Competition**

10/20/2018

 

In my background as an early music singer and computer scientist, I find myself asking questions regarding performance of early repertoire in the contemporary age. Carissimi’s Jepthe was first performed in 1648 at the S.S. Crocifisso oratory in Rome. Its audience was surrounded by the architectural and visual elements/frescos of the venue, which are missing from today’s concert performances. At present, we are hundreds of years, and miles, away from the composer’s intended location of the piece’s performance, we do not speak the language of the work, and we may not come from its cultural and religious environment. The music speaks to us, but we lack a layer of accessibility to the composition that can help us understand it at a fuller, more complete, level. This role provides the chance for design and movement to evoke the missing layers.

 

In designing the projections for this work, I took a musical grounding: each prevalent musical key area is represented by a color. For example, blue is for G major, red for F major (often associated with Jepthe), A minor as white (a key introduced during the most tragic portion of the story’s prophecy), and so on. On the other hand, for the more representational imagery, the inspiration came from the text and narrative. This is seen in the battle of Ammon, which includes an image depicted by 17th-century baroque painter Nicolas Poussin, who spent most of his life working in Rome. At times, the musical writing’s density was of interest: the single vertical line for the narrator’s voice is contrasted by a large number of intersecting lines relating to the SATB texture during the first full chorus “Transivit ergo Jepthe”.

Language is wedded to the music. As a result, translations are incorporated as part of the set, not as separate elements. I was interested in avoiding program note translations or supertitles, which are located away from the performers, in order to instead keep language as part of the central narrative action.

The relationship across mediums (audio and visual) is one that continues to raise questions and provide various interpretations. Dartmouth’s campus and collaborations across art forms provides the platform for experimentation in performance. Projection is similar in properties to light in movement, color, intensity and distribution—all areas that one comes across in this production, particularly in transitions and animated imagery. In this work, the staging and projections work in conjunction to bring the dramatic narrative and music of Jepthe to a secular performance space—all in the spirit of the baroque period’s spectacle and history.

by Xanthe Kraft **Blog Competition**

10/08/2018

 

As someone who did her undergrad at Dartmouth, people ask me if I’m “sick of Hanover” or tired of Dartmouth, as I approach the 6-year-mark. Because I’ve changed my focus from Earth Science to Computer Science, then Philosophy, Digital Arts and now Music Composition, I could hardly tire of anything save the library KAF line. But even so, I recognize something special about being a graduate student that my undergraduate education lacked, that transforms the way I experience the same resources and place— Integrity, or ‘wholeness’, in an old way of understanding the word. Now, as a Master’s student in Digital Musics, my whole life encircles one focus, one meditation, one ever-growing framework on understanding Beauty, Art, and its interactions and implications in our technology-laden world.

 

I tell people I love grad school SO much more than undergrad, not because I didn’t love my A cappella group (which, honestly became a higher priority than my classes themselves), or partially enjoy those dramatic study buddy woes and all-nighters that defined “working hard” in that environment (an odd type of “hard-work signaling”, if you will), or taking spontaneous runs into the woods because I can (and because I’m some medieval fairy artist). But because now I live an extremely monotonous, cyclical, balanced, sole-purposed life. And I love it.

 

I have a regular sleep schedule, whereas I previously scraped the sanity of the wee hours for those juicy late-night thoughts and tunes that mostly aren’t that good, I just think they are because I’m tired. I work-out regularly, cook and make my own nutritious food (balancing good for the body with good for the soul), and *usually* stop researching at a reasonable evening hour. I get artistic inspiration between 9am and 12pm, writing like a madwoman until my alarm interjects, and then I flip to analyzing my Seminar’s readings for the week, or practicing voice. In the quiet moments from event to event, I casually sift my studies through mundane tasks, yielding surprising fruits. On evenings and weekends, with my grad school buddies, our jokes require a shared mastery of material, and we reap our common subjects for all their numerous humorous rewards. Yet, these reoccurring, regimented events all contribute to the singularly focused and free contemplation of my work.

 

Living such an integrated life enables me to somehow always further my academic goals, even when I’m doing something seemingly unrelated or taking a break altogether. By constraining myself with my schedule, and not being divided by so many superfluous tasks and decisions, I’m free to dedicate myself wholly to my work, and pursue it to highest degree possible, for me right now (I am, after all, only a Master’s student). While I still have many spontaneous moments, as one must, my life looks less interesting, but is more. I love what I do, I love what I study, and I love doing what makes that work. I can’t help but think this is always how school’s supposed to be.