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Posts Tagged ‘student life’

Dangerous Meat?

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

SteaksWhen I wrote about the costs of everyday things in France (like food) compared to a typical midwestern city last fall, I focused only money.  My main interest was showing how students and other physicists who come to CERN have to change their budget from what they might be used to.

Food overall is more expensive in France, but the cost of meat is an especially noticeable difference because it is twice or more as expensive per pound as in the US.

One of the reasons why meat is so cheap in the US was mentioned in the New York Times recently (The Spread of Superbugs):

A study by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that in the United States, 70 percent of antibiotics are used to feed healthy livestock, with 14 percent more used to treat sick livestock…Dr. Martin J. Blaser, chairman of the department of medicine at New York University Langone Medical Center, and a former president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, agrees that agricultural use of antibiotics produces cheaper meat. But he says the price may be an enormous toll in human health.

In that study by the Union of Concerned Scientists from a few years ago, they specifically mention a difference between Europe and the US:

Approximately 13.5 million pounds of antimicrobials prohibited in the European Union are used in agriculture for nontherapeutic purposes every year by U.S. livestock producers.

Basically, yeah, meat is cheaper in the US compared to France, due in part to heavy antibiotic use, but this may be leading to the development of bacteria immune to drugs we need to treat people.

Scary stuff.  Now if I could only figure out why other things are so much more expensive in France, like movie tickets and clothes…


If you don’t let yourself be happy now, then when?
If not now, when?

SmileyParticlePeople are bad at predicting the future emotional consequences of decisions they have to make or events that may happen to them. There’s plenty of science to back it up, and I bring this up because a recent post on how to pick grad schools reminded me of this.

We (everyone) get really stressed out when we try to decide things like what school to go to, or where to work, or live, or who to marry.  And we stress out as if doing one thing vs another would make all the difference between a life where we’ll be super-happy or a life where we will be utterly miserable.

This is often wrong, and is just one of several typical errors people make when trying to predict how they’ll feel in the future.

One researcher who’s really good at explaining why we’re poor-predictors is Dan Gilbert at Harvard.  His TED talk on happiness is pretty good and worth checking out.

We tend to think there are two kinds of happiness: the happiness you feel down the road after you’ve received exactly what you wanted (like admittance to a great school), and the happiness you feel (eventually) after you didn’t get what you wanted.  And we tend to think those levels of happiness are different.

It turns out, a few months or a year down the road, people who got exactly what they wanted and those who didn’t have statistically equivalent levels of happiness.  That’s really hard to believe isn’t it?  We tend not to believe the people who didn’t get what they wanted when they say they’re happy.  “Yeah right, you wanted to go to X, but ended up going to Y, and you think you’re happy?”

I used to not believe those people either, but such a position has become hard to hold on to.  Things we think are such a big deal, things that are just so important, turn out down the road not to have such a long term affect on our happiness as we thought they would.

I’m not saying one shouldn’t have preferences.  But please keep in mind as you make what you think are tough decisions, that no matter what school you get into, what research you pursue, or what job you get, or where you choose to live, or etc, – eventually you’ll be about as happy with one thing as you would have been with another.

Research shows that you’re a bad predictor of happiness – most everyone is – but it also shows you will do just fine in life despite that.  So don’t worry.



Make-up of a CERN Collaboration

Thursday, February 11th, 2010
Screen shot 2010-02-11 at 3.10.40 PM

Grad students working for the CMS detector.

The experiments at CERN are, in total, a collaboration of several thousands of physicists, scientists, engineers, and students. Here I show the make-up of just graduate students from just one of the experiments at CERN, the CMS detector.

People come from all over the world to contribute to these projects. It’s fantastic that so many countries and cultures are represented, and work with each other on common goals such as: recreating the big bang in the lab, studying these mini big-bangs to understand out the laws of nature that govern our universe, and then sharing these discoveries with people all over the world.

These are lofty goals, but you can be sure that whatever discoveries are made, with all the languages spoken at CERN, the knowledge will spread far.



Daily Grind

Monday, January 18th, 2010
Screen shot 2010-01-18 at 1.07.58 PM

The color scheme I enjoy coding in (and my favorite programming language).

What is the main thing that a graduate students in particle physics spends most of their time doing?

Here are the most common activities:

A) Working with pen & paper, staring at equations, using computers to help solve/simplify those equations

B) Building/fixing hardware, Running wires, Connecting cables, Soldering connections

C) Writing computer code, Debugging code written by others, Documenting code

D) Reading/writing papers, Attending meetings, Preparing/giving presentations

This list probably generic enough that it could apply to a grad student in any science field.  (I hope for sanity’s sake that nobody spends most of their time attending meetings.) (more…)


Learning French

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

From a grad student in particle physics, these are my recommendations for learning a bit of French.

Before You Know It

Screen shot 2009-11-17 at 11.22.21 AM

I’ve tried out several language programs, including really expensive ones like Rosetta Stone.  Out of them all, this flash-card program has been my favorite. With each card there is a picture and sound recording of someone pronouncing the word or phrase. It quizzes you on cards and repeats ones you get wrong.

The free version lets you download sets made by other people from the main site, and also comes with a handful of card sets.  The paid version gives you a few thousand cards and lets you make & record your own flash cards and upload them to the site for others. It cost me about $50.

(I should find a native speaker and create a useful set of cards for physicists who come to CERN…)


Les Nombrils


As a comic book about girls in high school, I do feel a little weird buying these, but they’re so funny and filled with a lot of French I never learned in textbooks or class.

This has been my favorite source to learn modern slang or just informal phrases and such.  Words I’ve learned include: mec for “guy”, biche for “girl,” hyper-top for “cool” (I think?), and caleçon for “boxers (shorts).”  A mini-jupe is a mini-skirt.

So if you’d like to learn informal French related to relationships, clothing, teenage life, or the like, check out these comic books.

Alright, I’ll admit it: I own the whole series.


Coffee Break French

Screen shot 2009-11-17 at 12.17.26 PMI download these podcasts and listen to these when I’m driving. They’re slow and clear and leave space for you to try pronouncing words and phrases yourself.  With this you can learn about simple things as well as more complicated topics like tense and grammar.

These are definitely more useful when you are alone and can talk out loud without looking weird.



Sunny Sunday

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

This weekend the weather has been playing tricks on me in New York. I intended to go camping upstate with some friends, but after a valiant attempt on Friday evening/Saturday morning, we decided to take our soggy sleeping bags and head back to Long Island. It literally rained all day, night and the next morning – which being from Colorado – I’ll never get used to. I decided to share this with you on a Sunday afternoon sitting in my apartment looking out my window at this:

A room with a view

A room with a view

The gods must be conspiring against me to make sure I get work done this weekend :).  So I thought I’d update everyone as to the status of the LHC. My email’s been a buzz with information. So far all the repairs have been completed and the entire ring is back at the operating temperature of 1.9 K. The schedule is still on to start circulating beams in mid November with low energy collisions soon to follow. Although we probably won’t be at the full energy this year, any collisions would be an amazing milestone.

There’s also a new LHC First physics Physics Website that you will probably want to check out. It will have the most up-to-date information. Happy reading on a beautiful Sunday!


Your Tax Dollars at Work at 2 AM

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

It’s two in the morning here in Geneva and I just got home.  While walking back, I had some ideas about how to understand the impact on track jets from tracking lower-energy particles, and how to better understand the efficiency of finding those track jets as a function of what part of the detector they hit.  So time to fire up the Internet and get back to work!  — Seth


Cost of Living Near CERN

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

Americans are becoming poorer!

Most graduate students I know are paid enough to live fine in France. I do occasionally, however, hear about a grad student who isn’t being paid nearly enough and is digging into savings just to get by.

That is why it is important to know how much it will cost for you to live somewhere before you agree to move there. If a professor (or boss) isn’t offering you enough compensation to move you should make them aware of this and negotiate a higher pay.

For reference to potential future students moving to France to work or do research at CERN, here are some costs to think about. (more…)


Bus routes near CERN

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

screen-shot-2009-09-27-at-93918-pmBuses and other transportation near CERN is operated by the Transports publics genevois (TPG).  Sorry, no English version.  Some vocabulary words to know:

  • Horaires et réseau = Schedule and map (routes)
  • arrêt = stop (like bus stop), and arrêter = to stop
  • ligne = line (like bus line)

Luckily, their site is well organized, and so there is a page for all the buses that stop at CERN.  By “all” I could just say, “both.”  At this point in time, there are only deux linges qui arrêtent au CERN: ligne 56 et ligne Y.

To ride the bus you must pay ahead of time at an intimidating machine (more…)


Where to Live Around CERN

Sunday, September 27th, 2009


The main site of CERN, where most offices are, is a mile long and straddles the border between France and Switzerland (Suisse).

Some nearby villages students/post-docs choose to live in include:

  • Saint-Genis-Pouilly, France – pop 7,000
  • Thoiry, France – pop 4,000
  • Meyrin, Switzerland – pop 21,000 (city on lower right of map)
  • Ferney-Voltaire, France – pop 7,000 (not shown)
  • Geneva, Switzerland – pop 190,000 (also not shown)

There are advantages and disadvantages to living in each country.  (more…)