August 21, 2017—the day the entire country had been anxiously awaiting. Called "The Great American Eclipse", this spectacular natural event captured the attention of people from Oregon to South Carolina along the path of totality and many others. As one of the "others" not along the path of totality, I decided to take an adventure to find this mysterious total solar eclipse. So with a group of fellow grad students from the Climate and Space department at Michigan, we set off to Cookeville, Tennessee, home of Tennessee Tech.
The Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) chapter at Tennessee Tech hosted a weekend-long event for students in anticipation of the eclipse. We tried out solar telescopes for the first time and marveled at the sunspots right in the center of the sun. For a time where we are heading into solar minimum, we were lucky to have some active regions on the sun, both on the surface, and along the edge, just in time for the eclipse. An astronomy professor and a NASA heliophysicist from Marshall spoke to us about the features we might see during the eclipse, including Baily's Beads and the diamond ring effect, caused by the uneven surface of the moon. During totality, we might even glimpse the chromosphere, as determined by a faint pink color around the rim due to helium. Of course, with a large group of space students, we had fun with traditional activities such as watching Apollo 13 and experimenting with rocket powered Tinkertoy cars.
The morning of August 21 dawned clear and bright, with only a few scattered clouds—perfect eclipse viewing skies! After watching the launch of the SEDS weather balloon, we sat and waited anxiously for first contact of the moon to the rim of the sun. Finally, around 12:00 PM CDT, a yell went up, "It's started!" We all rushed out, shoved our eclipse glasses on our noses, and gazed up. Over the next hour, we watched the sun slowly disappear. Around 1:00, the light started looking odd, with a blue-gray tint. We didn't need our sunglasses for seeing things (excluding the sun) anymore. The temperature had also noticeably cooled. Our excitement grew, and our whoops and hollers did as well, possibly to the chagrin of our neighboring viewers. Suddenly, at 1:29, the light dimmed and the moon completely covered the sun. Many joyful exclamations ensued, most along the lines of "it's so beautiful" and "AWESOME". Glancing around, it appeared as if sunset had occurred all around us. We were able to see the faint pink of the chromosphere with the naked eye. It looked like a hole had been ripped into the sky. After a scant two and a half minutes, we hurried to put our eclipse glasses on again to see the sun emerge from the shadow of the moon. The sight was more exhilarating than I thought, and the features were so new, even though I thought I knew what to expect. Needless to say, I am looking forward to the next total solar eclipse in 2024!
Wow! As of this evening, I am officially finished with my first year of grad school as a PhD student. Looking back over this past year, it's easy to see where I messed up or could have done better (yay, perfectionist tendencies). So, let's go over what I learned, both from the good and the weird.
1. Grad school is hard
Yes, I'm aware that this is kind of obvious. Did I know what I was getting into jumping straight from a bachelors to a PhD? Not really. I thought I would be prepared for the work load since I had double majored, but it's a whole different ballgame. The first thing that threw me was that I only had 2-3 academic classes plus seminars. I was used to taking 7-8 as an undergrad and being constantly busy while I was at school. Now, I go to class for a couple hours, and then there is "free" time, in which you can do professional development events, work on the lovely homework sets, and, best of all, research the stuff you actually care about! As a grad student, it is so important to actually manage your time to get your schoolwork and research done even if you don't have set hours or meetings on campus.
2. A support system is imperative
This kind of goes along with the first point. As a new grad student, you're in that awkward position of being both a student and a professional. The older students and faculty have been instrumental in helping me survive this first year without going absolutely crazy.
3. Grad school is awesome
Where else do you get a bunch of students all together who actually want to be in school and are completely excited about all sorts of topics? It's great to be able to "nerd out" with my fellow students and have them actually understand what I'm talking about, or even better, teach me something new.
Anyway, that's all for now. Have a fantastic summer! I'm going to be eyeball deep in research, which is exactly where I want to be.
In order to actually start practicing writing in preparation for research papers, I'm going to give keeping a blog a try. Look for a real post in a week or so!