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Reliving the good-old-days November 7, 2007

Posted by gordonwatts in physics life.

All of us old professors like to reminisce about the time we were graduate students or post-docs. How good it was, and how much we’d like to go back to it. I’m not so sure we should.

In general, graduate students and post-docs focus on analysis. They have 24/7 to work on that. Technical problems, physics problems – whatever. And they can play with the data. They make the plots. They see the bumps and get to play the “What the Hell is that!?” and then really get their hands dirty and find the bug, or the new detector feature, or (whatever) that caused it. To me, at least, that sense of discovery was exhilarating.

And I really miss it now that I’m a professor. I have students on two different experiments now, so my time is split at least three ways: D0, ATLAS, and the University of Washington (teaching, department duties, etc.). So, my time to make plots isn’t very much. And it is very fragmented. But I have this desperate need to return to that.

But I’m on sabbatical this year. And I’m returning to being a graduate student. I’ve been making really simple plots — like muon fake rate vs chi2 cut. It is a lot of fun. Only, perhaps a little less fun when I discover that the new bump I’m looking at has already been endlessly discussed on one of ATLAS’s hypernews forums (an internal discussion board like Yahoo groups or USNET). And this is the root of why this perhaps isn’t such a good idea: my students and post-docs can move on this sort of thing much faster than I can. On the other hand, my experience can allow me to look at their work and quickly decided if it is right or wrong (well, mostly). As far as producing physics and getting the experiment running my time would probably be much better spent doing that sort of thing – and learn the experiment through their plots.

But the need is strong. So I continue to make plots on my own…

I think as HEP ages, btw, it is less and less the case that graduate students and post-docs have real time to focus on a single project: graduate students and post-docs are required to multi-task more than I remember having to do when I was a graduate student or post-doc. But this may be me just thinking the old days were better than things are now.


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