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Burton DeWilde | USLHC | USA

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Greetings, from Thesis Limbo

Hello, hello, hello! After a hiatus of unexpected duration, I’m back — with stories to share, topics to discuss, and photos to tag. 🙂

When last I wrote, I was preparing for a big life transition: from research, analysis approval, and wine at CERN to thesis-writing, job-hunting, and micro-brews in NYC. I felt ready to move on, but it proved… more difficult than anticipated. Of course. I spent my first six weeks as a guy on my very generous friend’s couch, working 14-hour days to fix a stubbornly problematic final result that wasn’t ready for approval, or publication. In the process I learned quite a bit about limit-setting and statistical inference (totally thrilling topics that I’ll regale you with next time, I promise), but before long I was at wits’ end.

In all seriousness, folks, I considered dropping out of my PhD program to join the disillusioned ranks of “all but dissertation” grad students seeking work in a tough job market. Scary stuff! From what I’m told, an MS in Physics is about as useful as a BA in English… (Just kidding, English majors!) Fortunately, we were able to work out a solid and defensible result, I took a much-needed break for the holidays, moved off the couch and into my own apartment, and pursuant to a number of New Years resolutions, I began to write my thesis. Crisis averted.


An office with a view...

Of course, writing a thesis isn’t easy, either. I solicited a lot of advice, but nobody thought to mention a useful and obvious starting point: an outline. It helps to have a plan! Especially one divided up into convenient and manageable chunks. After that, all that remains is filling in the blanks… which I’ve been doing for the past two months. 🙂

That’s not all I’ve been doing, though. The analysis I’ve worked on is a day away from its final ATLAS approval, but that’s after a seemingly endless series of comments, revisions, and approval meetings. (Anna recently wrote about LHCb’s publication procedure — yes, ATLAS requires a similar number of hoops to jump through. UGH.) My advisor has obliged me to re-do a study I did three years ago and stuff it in an appendix to my thesis, do a couple of future sensitivity studies for the main analysis itself, continue giving talks, reading papers, and attending meetings, present my results at an upcoming APS conference, and even change the title of my thesis. Dammit! What was wrong with “Leptoquarks: the Particles That Go Both Ways“? At the same time, I’m dealing with graduation logistics, updating my CV, thinking about (and training for!) a job and career post-PhD, and generally trying to become a real, non-student adult.

This is Thesis Limbo, less favorably known as Dissertation Hell. It’s a strange point in one’s life. But I’m working through it.

I’m lucky to have many friends around to keep me sane. Here are two of particular relevance: Daisy, who coordinates this ragtag group of physics bloggers, and Flip, whose ongoing saga of Electroweak Symmetry Breaking has enthralled us all.


Daisy at the Audubon Society, with Joe Physicist


Flip in my apartment, borrowing my books


– Burton 😛