Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Last few months as a student

Again I am in the transition period of my life, and this is a big one: the end of my student life. Technically speaking I am both student and research assistant and more importantly, I am paying taxes. So this semi-phase transition sounds less dramatic but it's actually not.

Very often a research project is led by a postdoc or a senior scientist and usually PhD student is focusing on executing the technical tasks. When the direction is well defined, you do the job quicker as you can feel day by day that you will reach there soon. Of course depending on which type of experiment, there are also many cases where PhD students are taking the lead.

My Postdoc Interview Experience

Finally my postdoc hunting season is over and it's time to share some of my experience. Usually to have a chance of promotion in the academic path, you will need to prove yourself in a field with different specialization than your current PhD. For example, in the field of experimental particle physics, hardware development-emphasized postdoc work if you have been working mainly in the software environment during your PhD work. But of course some of the work will still involved the current expertise that you have, so that you get to learn new skills and to polish and apply the previous skills that you have acquired. For these reasons, I have applied to the research groups working on physics different from what I am working on at the moment and also as diverse as possible in terms of the skills required.

There are about 4 topics coming up in my mind, which involved neutrino, neutron, anti-proton and muon particles. Quite wide isn't it? Each of them has different physics motivations and the similarity among them is that all of them are trying to answer the big questions about our universe - where is another source of CP violation, why neutrino is so light-weight, how symmetry are the matter and the anti-matter, and so on ...... Expertise that are required by the positions span from Monte Carlo simulation and offline data analysis to constructing an ion-trap and calorimeters. As diverse as the topics and the skills, the workplaces are also quite far away from each other, Switzerland, UK, Japan and the U.S. Even though staying at the same place will save you a lot of time moving around and settling down to a new environment, there are many unforeseen incident happening and in the end I will be going to the place furthest away from my current city.  While not mentioning which university and which group I have applied to, I would like to share some of the important things that I have learnt from my 4 postdoc interviews (2 face-to-face and 2 skype).

1) Keep your talk within the allocated time
I did a mistake during my 1st interview where I was a little bit slow in presenting my works.
Even though I managed to finish 1 of the projects and in the middle of the 2nd project I am involved in, this doesn't leave a good impression to the interviewers. Thanks to this experience, I did better or to say finished everything within the time limit and everybody was happy.

2) Never put any words that you don't fully understood on your slides
Usually there are not many people who is trying to test your knowledge about your field, but according to Murphy's law, anything can happen! I got a sharp question during my 3rd interview, well more than one question, and I wasn't expecting the questions to come in those directions. Luckily I managed to compensate it with my answers to many other questions but still it is destroying my mood. Thanks again to this experience, instead of taking them away, I have invested even more time trying to understand the concepts that I have been understanding only on the surface.

3) It's obvious but ask more about your future work or experiment
This point I believe will give a very good impression to your future boss/group that you are really interested to work in that project with them and you have done your homework. Usually the detail of an experiment is not fully covered in the publications and thus you should be able to figure out what are the questions to be asked. Asking about the schedule of the experiment is also very important as it shows that you are considering seriously the possibility of working in the group and incorporating the time schedule into part of your life.

4) Discuss with the people around you who you are close to (be it before the interview or after)
This is also extremely important to know what is the option of your colleagues regarding the future projects you are interested in. Since postdoc has the time limit and pressure to accomplish highly within 2-4 years, it is wiser to choose projects which can be done within the mentioned time span. As a fresh PhD graduates, very often it is difficult to judge where a given project can be completed within the allocated time. Consulting more senior members in the group will be the better idea and you need to be prepared that the opinions are usually 50:50 and you will have to make your own judgement. You are becoming an independent research now after all!

As a conclusion, don't be afraid of approaching people whom you are interested to work with. I have talked to more than 20 people since Feb this year and I get to know more about what's going on in my current field and also the other fields. Even if it doesn't work out for the 1st postdoc, you might be working together with them in the near future as a collaborator! So, make more friends and enjoy doing research!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Next destination

It has been almost 10 years since I left Penang to study abroad and now I am living in a place where I could never thought of 10 years ago. Osaka (1),  Kyoto (4), Tokyo (2), Zurich (3) are great cities that I have lived in, and now I am again at the moment of deciding which destination to stop by in the coming years.

From Osaka to Kyoto was a tough one. Most of my friends were going or at Osaka, and I have made a decision to go to Kyoto University for my undergraduate studies instead. For the exposure I had and the colorful life I experienced living in Kyoto International Student House, I have no regret. 

From Kyoto to Tokyo, I was quite sad to leave a place that I have been liking for the past 4 years. I lived quite near to the University, and the surroundings were full with Rahmen shops which are my super duper favorites. However, it is still too early to say which path would be better for my scientific career, ATLAS group of Todai or T2K experiment of Kyodai. Nevertheless, I am very happy with the choice now, as I have met many nice friends in Tokyo and also my current girl friend!

From Tokyo to Zurich, this was decided rather faster than I could imagine. I was worrying that spending too much time on computing and analysis would narrow my career path, and decided to have a look on some job platforms online. I must say that I was looking at the right timing as I have the job that I am working right now, which I enjoyed very much, and also thanks to a Swedish master student in my institute for her supports and advices during my application for the position.

So what's next? From Zurich to? Even myself has no answer. Be it US, be it Japan, be it Europe, there are mountains of tasks waiting for me for the coming months. Do my best! 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Happy New Year 2014

It has been 6 months since my last post and this shows how "busy" I was.

First of all, in July I was accepted into the Telejob group of AVETH and have been working in the IT team to support the job platform and Telejob website. Even though I am working as a researcher in Physics and aiming to continue in the academia, there is no harm to learn about the working environment of somebody outside of academia. The Telejob is like a small private business where everybody is coming from different background hoping to learn from each other on how to manage a business. This is certainly very beneficial for PhD students who are working most of the time in a small group and highly specific topics, to extend their social network and horizon. I have also learnt a lot from the IT team about PHP framework Symfony, JavaScript and also managing database using mysql. I am enjoying the work!

After spending a weekends with my high school friends in Venice, I was spending most of the time attending seminar, conference and workshops, from ETH to Linz in Austria and PSI. It was for the first time that I have presented something about my main project "Phase space compression of positive muon beam". I was quite nervous at the beginning, but managed to explain smoothly after several practices and discussions with other physicists.

After resting for several months, the season of Badminton is finally coming back again. The Swiss Badminton League is usually being played from September to the March of next year. Since last year my team was at the bottom of the table in League 3, this year we are demoted to League 4 and our target is to top the table and go back to League 3 again. Since I have stopped playing every week for quite some time, my first league game was quite rusty but somehow managed to score 2 wins in men singles and men doubles. And currently I am ranked high C3 after beating two C2 guys in December 2013 and January in 2014. B3 is my target this year and hopefully I am able to reach it.

In September when the semester starts, I have signed up for a course named Space geodesy. It was all about mapping the physical quantities of the Earth, such as gravity field, drift of the continents, etc. At the beginning I thought it was only about the GPS, but as the course going on, there were much more interesting stuffs being taught: different types of tides, different ways of measuring distance, orbits of the satellites, etc. It was really an eye opening class for me and I believe it will be of future use for me in my career.

We were happy to have friends visiting again in October, where we visited Rapperswil (3rd time!) by ship and Titlis for the first time. The lake view from ship was nice as usually, and the Titlis mountain was great as everywhere was covered with snow. We had Raclette party one night, and another dinner at the famous Zeughauskeller to show them some typical swiss foods.

In November I have attended an interesting workshop "2nd International Workshop on Antimatter and Gravity". It was held at the University of Bern which is just next to the train station, and I get to know many physicists who I have seen only their names before. The faces didn't match the names most of the time though.  I wasn't giving the talk but I have prepared the talk together with my boss so it was great to receive some feedback regarding it in preparing for my thesis defense. Since I am quite new to this field, it was quite a good chance for me to have a glance of whole field.

December was quite an eventful month for me as I have attended KIZUNA meeting for past Japan scholars to share experience and to exchange information, Annual meeting and dinner for Institute for Particle Physics, visited Google Zurich for the first time hosted by a Malaysian friend working there, Christmas dinner organized by AVETH and Telejob (plus year end bonus!), Telejob retreat to Mulhouse, France, and of course year end trip to Italy (Rome, Florence and Pisa) with my dearest one.

Oh, and not forget to mentioned about the new year eve party held at my flat with my student gang in Zurich plus their friends. The foods were great, the games were fun and the people were nice!

A few days after the new year came my first Ski in Switzerland in Sattel, and I managed to recall what I have learnt last time at Nagano in Japan during the ICEPP symposium 2010. Hopefully there will be more snows this year and I can ski until May to minimize the cost/use. :)