Thursday, August 6, 2015

Week 9: Warning - This Post is Actually About the Program I'm In

On Wednesday, I woke up at 5:30 in the morning. I didn't need to, but my body pulls this stunt every time I know I have a presentation to do. It's a mixture of anxiety caused by the fear of oversleeping and anticipation because my god, do I love giving presentations.

I managed to fall back asleep for a half hour or so until waking up again, this time just 30 seconds before my alarm was going to go off anyway. I rolled out of bed, spruced up the beard, brushed my teeth, showered, picked out a shirt and tie, threw on those socks my dad got me for christmas that are covered in mathy equations, fed my landlady's cat, and began walking to the bus stop.

The bus seemed to travel far slower than usual this morning. The greens and browns of the northern New Mexican high desert smeared past the Park 'n Ride shuttle window while Green Day (Nimrod, in case you're curious; it's a solid album) wafted out of my earbuds. Once we arrived in Los Alamos, I wandered past security up to Research Park. I found the conference room that would be my home for the rest of the day, located the free coffee, and engaged in the nervous but pleasant chatter that always proceeds a "big" speaking engagement.

The day was split into two parts. First, we'd each give a quick, 3 minute presentations that would outline the longer talks we would give later in the day. The higher-ups at LANL would attend these quick-looks and use them to decide which talks they'd like to see in the afternoon. It was made very clear early on that between the short and long talks, the short ones were the important ones. Our coordinator also made sure to explain that the 3 minute time limit was a hard one. We had a schedule, and we were going to stick to it.

After finishing my cup of coffee, I found my partner and complimented his outfit. The dude wore a full on suit and looked sharp as hell. I felt silly but was glad I'd decided to at least wear a tie. As 9 o'clock drew nearer, we were told to grab seats towards the back so that the important people could sit in the front. The clock struck precisely 9:04 and we began. The first few talks flew by pretty quickly and I could feel adrenaline slowly leeching into my bloodstream as group after group inundated the room with their concentrated morsels of science. The first warm dense matter (WDM) group (who ran orbital free stuff) went up and dropped a few of our punchlines but before I knew it, Dan was up.

His presentation went really well. In it, he detailed what WDM is, why it's tricky to model, why we care about it, and how to calculate electrical resistivity using the Ziman-Evans formula. Before I could blink, he was done, the audience was applauding, and my presentation was already up on the wall.

We were mandated to provide an introductory slide before getting into the science so naturally, I dotted it a few jokes, a Star Wars quote (both of which went over well), and self-depricated about being from New Jersey. Then I got down to business. Our most exciting data was on display for the whole room to see. I felt like I did a solid job of explaining what our conclusions were, why they were significant, and why it was worth coming to our longer talk later in the day. We had a story and it felt pretty compelling. It was over before I knew it, but apparently Dan and I made a convincing argument for coming to see our talk.

When the afternoon session rolled around, there were far fewer people in the room. Friends had come by for the earlier talks (probably because they were short and came with the prospect of free coffee) but now, only summer students, mentors, and a few lost lab employees were present. That is until the WDM presentation(s) started. The room noticeably swelled up and I saw some faces I recognized. Obviously, Charlie and Marc were there since they were our mentors, but there were some other DFT-ers in the room, too. The long talk was an utter joy to give. Dan and I were really able to get down to the meat of how our calculations worked. I got to explain how we eliminated a handful of models, how we selected our exchange-correlation functional, and what our future goals with this code might be. We even got some questions, and I was even able to answer them. It was pretty groovy.

Then our presentation was over. And all the WDM people left. And the room was far less full. It was cool. Our science felt important. The rest of the afternoon was... long. The presentations were good, but four hours of constant exposure to 20 minute snipits of science is exhausting. By the end of it though, we were all relieved to be over this penultimate hurdle (I still have to write this paper-thingy). We all felt accomplished. It was a clear demarcation in the program.

The program is almost over.

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