So, last Fall I talked to some people in the Eberly College of Science about doing a project to communicate my experiences doing undergraduate research. My first thought was, "That sounds like a neat idea," but my second thought was, "I've got grad school applications and the GRE in Physics coming up, and I've got marching band! Not going to happen." But now it's a new semester and the applications are in, the GRE is taken, and basketball band takes up a whole lot less time than football band. So, I decided to do this blog. I'll post something every other week on Friday evenings about some aspect of my research experiences, my education, or some other interesting topic that pops into my head.
I figured I'd spend this first entry talking a bit about myself and what I've done for research. My name is Patrick Breysse, and I'm a senior at Penn State doing a double major in Physics and Astronomy. I'm also getting a math minor, but that's less significant since the physics major basically comes with a free math minor. Most of my time outside of class, homework, and research is spent in the athletic bands. I've spent four years playing baritone in the Penn State Blue Band, and I've really enjoyed it -- so don't be surprised if I talk about it more. I also play in the Pride of the Lions (POTL) basketball band and the concert band. As I said above, I spent most of the last semester applying to a bunch of graduate schools, so I'll be spending next year starting on a Ph.D. with the eventual goal of becoming a physics professor.
As an undergrad, I've worked with two research groups. I live just outside of Baltimore, MD, so when I was looking for a job the summer after freshman year, I emailed a whole bunch of professors at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Robert Cammarata in the Materials Science department responded offering me the chance to work in his lab. I worked with him for two summers making nanocomposite thin films.
In my sophomore year, I decided that while the materials science work was plenty interesting, I really wanted to find something more "physicsy" to do. I met with Dr. Sam Finn, who studies gravity waves at Penn State, and he let me join his group. For Dr. Finn I've been working on a project creating data-analysis methods for gravity wave detectors. These detectors are notoriously very noisy, so actually getting useful information from them is no easy task. This work is very different from the work I did at Johns Hopkins. At Johns Hopkins, I was mixing solutions, running depositions, and wearing a lab coat. When I work on my project for Dr. Finn I type things. So I've worked on two totally different projects, but they were both fun and interesting in their own way.
So there's my academic career in a nutshell. Future entries will go into more detail about my work at Johns Hopkins and Penn State. I'll give some more detail about both the actual science (which is cool), what it's like to do research as an undergrad (which could be helpful to any aspiring science students), and how you can get started (or at least how I did). There will also probably be a liberal sprinkling of Blue Band anecdotes (because I like Blue Band, and any of those aspiring science students who happen to play an instrument should try out for it next year). I don't promise great writing, but I'll be back again every two weeks until the end of the semester. Hope you enjoy my ramblings, and maybe get something useful out of them.