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Flip Tanedo | USLHC | USA

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TASI 2009

For the past three weeks I’ve been participating in a special event for American theory PhD students: the Theoretical Advanced Studies Institute hosted by the Physics department at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

TASI 2009

My friends tease me for being in summer school, claiming that I must have really screwed up my first year as a PhD if they’ve banished me to take classes for a month. In reality these PhD schools aren’t remedial, but are quite the opposite: they’re pedagogical introductions to more advanced topics that active researchers should be familiar with.

TASI is the United States’ premier summer school for theorists. Europe has a few well-established schools of similar nature, including Les Houches, Cargese, and Erice. These schools leave behind proceedings (written summaries of each course prepared by the lecturers) which live on and are read by generations of future graduate students. The most famous examples are Sidney Coleman’s Aspects of Symmetry, a collection of insightful lectures from the Erice summer school in the 70s. These days it’s more commmon to also leave behind video recordings of lectures.

Given the well-documented lectures, why do students bother travelling to attend these schools in person? Besides the importance of being able to ask questions and discuss the lectures, schools such as TASI play a big role in a young theorists’ development since they are sort of a “debutante’s ball” into the field. They are a chance to be introduced to the wider research community outside of their own universities — especially the other students who will become one’s research colleagues for the rest of one’s career. To this day I enjoy hearing older faculty reminisce about meeting each other for the first time 30 years ago at their first summer school.

Beside the 5 hours of lecture per day, meals with other participants, 1.5 hours of student talks in the evenings, and all the associated physics discussions, we’ve been able to make time for our fair share of recreational activities. Two favorites are basketball and soccer… which can be a bit awkward when one is faced with the task of guarding one’s adviser!

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