Anti-Steve: The Week in Review, Feb. 26 – March 4, 2017

Parked on the tarmac at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, waiting for our gate to clear so I can finally go home.

This was quite a week. I touched down in Dallas on Saturday night after a very long set of flights from Geneva. It had been an excellent two weeks at CERN (my small cold aside), but I was relieved to be home. We even landed early… but in air travel, that is rarely a real prize. Our gate was occupied, so we waited. We pulled into the gate on-time, and just over an hour later I was home with Jodi. But, this is the life of a married pair of high-energy physicists, and so things are never quite as simple as returning to a quiet life at home.

A lovely breakfast, then goodbye

Jodi and I got up early on Sunday morning and had a lovely breakfast together at one of our favorite cafes before I had to take her to the airport. She’s spending 5 weeks working at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Washington state. It was difficult to say goodbye so soon after saying hello. We only had about 18 hours together (much of it asleep!) before I had to take her back to the very airport I had landed at the night before. As a colleague of mine said recently, “What a life.” Yeah. Well, it can always be worse. That came on Thursday.

J’s PhD Thesis Defense

Jeff presents his PhD thesis to the department and his committee, the second-to-last step in the process of earning the PhD in Physics. Photograph by Pavel Nadolsky.

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were occupied with working with my senior graduate student, J, to make sure he was ready for his PhD defense on Wednesday afternoon. His external defense committee member, a professor from Stony Brook University in New York, arrived on Tuesday night. The defense was Wednesday afternoon. It lasted 3 hours, 90 minutes for the talk (with questions) and then 90 minutes for the closed session with the committee. He passed!

The committee gave him a bunch of feedback on the written thesis, and so the last steps before graduation in May are to complete the edits to the thesis and submit it to the graduate school. This part is always extremely bittersweet. J is an excellent scientist, and he’s pursuing job opportunities outside the physics community; it’s a real loss for our community that he’s going to take his research to areas beyond physics. I hate it when students move on to the next stage, but of course I want students to do that. That’s the bittersweet part. It’s great to see them succeed, but it closes a big chapter in the life of a faculty member every time a student makes it to the next stage. You want them to move on, but you never want them to leave, either.


On Thursday, I was helping out J’s external committee member before he gave a colloquium at the department. We were about to walk into the Apple store near campus to buy a video adapter for his Mac when I heard a crash and a thud. My mind pictured two cars colliding, so I turned to see what had happened in the street. A pedestrian lay in the street, bleeding into the road. The car that hit them was at a stop next to them. Someone in the Apple store called 911. I urged the store staff to find towels and I went to stop traffic in the street, which was relentlessly trying to pass the accident scene within feet of the victim. People tried to stop the bleeding. The victim was moving on the ground, but I remember no sound coming from them. The driver was completely distraught.

Paramedics arrived a few minutes later and began treating the victim. A fire truck blocked off the intersection, but reckless drivers whose lives must have felt so much more important than that of the victim kept slipping past where she lay on the street. Unable to do more to help, the rest of us kept out of the way on the sidewalk. When the police arrived, my colleague and I asked if they needed a statement. The police officer just needed to know the basics – which way the pedestrian was walking, what way the car was turning. After that, the police officer was satisfied and we went back to the department.

That was a much worse thing than saying goodbye to Jodi on Sunday. I just hope that poor pedestrian was okay.

13 hours

That’s how long I slept on Friday. After being jet-lagged, stressed, and sleeping very poorly ahead of J’s thesis defense, and with all the excitement of Thursday. Friday morning was spent waiting for a small work crew to show up and remove an old shed on our property. Turns out that wasn’t scheduled correctly. While waiting for them to arrive later, I had to fix the back gate in our yard. The wheel bearings had failed on Monday morning, trashing the gate and forcing me to leave it open all the time. New wheels arrived on Thursday, and I had to buy a jack to lift the gate, but I had it all fixed by the time the shed got cleared. I ran an errand in the afternoon, expecting to then go running when I got back home. But I started to get so tired on the drive home I decided a nap was in order.

Two hours later, I awoke. I was groggy and disoriented. I hadn’t meant to sleep that much, or to hit a REM cycle and go deep. I watched TV for a few hours, then went to bed again. I woke up again at 7am the next morning after 11 more hours of sleep.

It was needed.

The week ahead

I’ll be off to see Jodi at PNNL this coming week, just for a short time. Then I’ll be heading back to Argonne laboratory. It’s a crazy month. And it’s only going to get crazier.

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