Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Living LIGO's Belated 3rd Anniversary

This past Saturday, 5 October, was the 3rd anniversary of the Living LIGO blog (you can see the first ever post here).  I remember that because it also happens to be my birthday - I started this out of a desire to do something I always wanted to so what a better day to start than your own birthday.  (If you must know, I've just celebrated the 6th anniversary of turning 29.)

I know it has been a long time since I've posted.  I've been teaching at LSU and doing research at LIGO.  On paper my life looks great but the reality is that there are many details, both personal and professional, that have added up to me not being in a great place for a while.  I've been getting my jobs done but after that I've been pretty exhausted, at least mentally.  This has happened to me before, so I thought I would direct you to my thoughts on what it's like being down but getting up again anyway here.  (Also see my last section below: "A WORD OF ADVICE...".)

But there is one thought that has come up many times in the last few months:  "I'd like to write a blog post on that."  There are many different things, like continuing the series of posts I've started about methods of looking for gravitational waves or telling the story of where silver and gold come from (as in, how did it come to be on Earth).  So, I am going to dig myself out of my slump and get back on my metaphorical horse - starting now!


Let me tell you a little about what I've been doing since I've last posted.  I got to go to a large meeting called the GR20/Amaldi10 Meeting in Warsaw, Poland (where almost 850 gravity theorists and experimentalists gathered for this joint meeting) and gave 2 invited talks.  The first was a formal talk on outreach skills and media (featuring this blog) and the other was less formal and was on the benefits searching for gravitational waves can bring mankind focusing on spin-off technology (I've written about this before here).

This is a picture of the gates of the Uniwersytet Warszawski where GR20/Amaldi10 took place.

A view through the gates at my colleagues on a coffee break in the distance.

One of the best parts of meetings like this is that the meeting dinner is usually somewhere a normal person couldn't go.  Our dinner was at the in the Royal Castle in Warsaw.  And this is my husband and I on the lawn beforehand:

My husband, Derek, and I on the lawn behind the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland.

Just before my trip to Warsaw, I took a short holiday to Paris, France.  There was a debacle with lost luggage and then wrong luggage being delivered to us, but outside of wearing the same clothes for a few days (this is why I always pack extra underwear in my carry-on luggage), my husband and I had a great time just relaxing and wondering around.  My new phone takes panoramic pictures and this is a good one I got of the Louvre:

Panoramic view of the Louvre (Paris, France)
Click on the picture for a larger view.

Once I returned home to the United States, I had tons of work to do.  I've talked before about how LIGO has been testing its data infrastructure to prepare for Advanced LIGO here.  We are then had our 4th software engineering run; that means that I had to improve upon the gravitational wave simulation software I wrote to perform better, faster, and incorporate more features.  It was a bit stressful come the deadline, but it all got done and turned out well.


Then school started again.  I am teaching (at LSU) the first semester of physical science (sometimes referred to as "Physics for Poets" since it is more conceptually based than mathematically focused).  Most of my students in this class (this year my lecture has only about 100 students) are elementary education majors.  Some might think that teaching an "easy" class like this would be, well... easy.  But it is far from it.  The less math you can rely on to teach the subject matter, the better you have to be as a teacher in communicating what the math means.  Since I love challenges like this, this is one of my favorite classes to teach.  I am also team teaching a junior/senior level class on Science Methods for secondary education pre-service teachers majoring in science or math.  This class shows them how science is done by doing experiments using the scientific method, analyzing their data and reporting it in both papers and presentation (since these are the two main means that scientists communicate with each other).

At LIGO, I am working on a paper with a group of other LIGO scientists who are looking for gravitational waves from supernovae that may have occurred while LIGO and/or other gravitational wave observatories were in operation (before the advanced detector upgrade began).  And, as always, I continue to refine my gravitational wave simulation software.


I'll be writing again soon (probably next week).  When I first started this blog, I promised you a peek into the life of a working scientist.  Lately I've been answering lots of questions about gravity and how to look for gravitational waves.  But since there has been something major going on in my life, and it kept me from writing my blog as I would have liked, I wanted to share that with you.

I am lucky since even though I know I have times when depression can get the better of me, I have wonderful support from my husband, friends, and family.  I'm not sure why, but they all seem to love me even when I can't stand to be around myself. 

For anyone reading this who has issues with depression and/or anxiety:  Don't fool yourself that everything you are feeling inside is not affecting you because you may be able to keep it together and have others think you are happy.  This will eat at you and everything you are feeling will come out sometime (and usually at the least opportune time).  If you are sad or anxious for long periods of time, even if it's on-and-off, find some help.  It is not weak to seek help (I've been told that before and it's usually by people who need help for themselves and are too afraid to get it).  It takes an inner strength to admit when you are hurting and need a hand up, an ear to listen to you, or a shoulder to cry on.  If that's not enough, talk to your doctor.  Not once has a doctor been anything but 100% supportive of me when I've gone to them seeking medical help.  NOT ONCE did they look down on me, or suggest that my feelings will pass, or that I need to "buck up".  With support and help, I've always clawed my way back to feeling like a normal person.  You can too!