Grady Ballenger Series

Reflections on graduate school: work hard, sleep later

Dr. Sarah Caudill, Nikhef, the Dutch National Institute for Subatomic Physics/VIRGO/LIGO

As an undergraduate student excited about physics, graduate school seemed like the natural next step for me. I was eager to enter the fast-paced field of gravitational-wave astrophysics, to learn from top researchers, to travel the world, and to investigate difficult-to-solve problems. In this talk, I will reflect on my expectations upon entering graduate school and how those expectations evolved as I passed my qualification exam, defended my PhD, obtained my first postdoctoral research position, and finally played a role in the first detection of gravitational waves. I will highlight the ups and downs encountered along the way and how these influenced my path forward. Finally, I will summarize key questions that students considering graduate, medical, or law school should consider when deciding whether this is the path for them.

Sarah Caudill is currently a gravitational-wave scientist at Nikhef, the Dutch National Institute for Subatomic Physics, where she analyzes data from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory

(LIGO) and the Virgo detector. She is currently a Research & Development lead for searches for gravitational waves from compact binary coalescences, the hallmark search for Advanced LIGO and Advanced Virgo. Sarah guided detection pipeline development that led to the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics-winning discoveries of gravitational waves from binary black hole mergers.

Sarah has been a member of the gravitational-wave community for 12 years. While earning a bachelor’s degree in Physics from Stetson University in 2006, Sarah worked as a research assistant at the California Institute of Technology’s LIGO laboratory. She earned a PhD in Physics from Louisiana State University under the guidance of Dr.

Gabriela Gonzalez for her work on detection pipelines for ringdown gravitational waves using machine learning classification. For the last five years, she was a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Gravitation, Cosmology, and Astrophysics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where she joined the GstLAL search team, the first matched-filter-based pipeline to discover a gravitational wave in low-latency. She has co-authored dozens of publications as a member of the LIGO and Virgo Scientific Collaborations.

For her role in the detection of gravitational waves, Sarah has been interviewed by Discover, Wired, Vox, and Popular Mechanics as well as being awarded the 2017 Council on Undergraduate Research Fellows Award. With her collaborators, she shared the 2016 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for the detection of gravitational waves 100 years after Albert Einstein predicted their existence.

Grady Ballenger Series

How I tripped and stumbled through research: lessons and reflections

Dr. Michael Jackson, Dean, College of Science and Technology, Millersville University of Pennsylvania

My faculty-mentored research experience was the most transformative, influential, and memorable element of my undergraduate education.  The knowledge I gained and the skills I began developing during that period enhanced my education, assisted in my growth as a scientist, and in no small part helped shaped my career.  In this presentation, I will provide a cursory summary of my research experiences related to the investigation of stable molecules and free radicals using a variety of infrared and far-infrared lasers.  I will also discuss the agony surrounding my doubts and failures along with highlighting what my students and I did to turn those stumbles into successes.

Dr. Michael Jackson is presently founding Dean for the College of Science and Technology at Millersville University of Pennsylvania.  Previously, Dr. Jackson was a member of the physics faculty at Central Washington University, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and the State University of West Georgia.  He was Chairperson of the Department of Physics at Central Washington University from 2007 – 2013 and at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse from 2006 – 2007.  He earned a Ph.D. in Physics from New Mexico State University and a B.Sc. from the State University of New York, College at Oswego in Physics and Mathematics.

 Dr. Jackson’s service includes four elected terms as Councilor for the Physics and Astronomy Division at the Council on Undergraduate Research, where he has served in several capacities including as member of the Executive Board, Chair of the Physics and Astronomy Division, co-Chair of the Posters on the Hill committee, and co-Chair of the CUR Fellows committee.  He served two elected terms as President of the Washington Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers and an elected term as Chair of the Academic Department Chairs Organization at Central Washington University.  During Dr. Jackson’s term as Department Chairperson at Central Washington University, the physics program grew significantly, approximately quadrupling the number of physics majors and repeatedly producing double-digit graduating physics classes.  The success of the program has been recognized on the national level as a ‘rising’ thriving physics program.

Dr. Jackson’s research interests include the discovery of far-infrared laser emissions, the measurement of their frequencies, and their use in conducting high-resolution spectroscopic investigations of stable molecules and short-lived free radicals.  His research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA’s Space Grant program, Research Corporation, and the American Chemical Society.  He has co-authored over 40 publications, many of which included undergraduate student co-authors.  Awards that he has received include the Outstanding Undergraduate Science Teacher Award from the Society for College Science Teachers and the David Halliday and Robert Resnick Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Physics Teaching from the American Association of Physics Teachers.  He is also a Fellow of the American Association of Physics Teachers.

Grady Ballenger Series

All the World’s a Laboratory: What the Sciences and Humanities Can Learn from the Performing Arts

Jennifer Blackmer, Associate Professor of Theatre, Director of Immersive Learning, Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry at Ball State University

Students today are suffering from an advanced case of “hardening of the categories.” As the world evolves, forging interconnectedness, web-based learning and the idea economy, our educational systems clamp further down, forcing knowledge into standardized tests, FTE hours, state rankings and government funding.  As institutions across the country accumulate mountains of data on student successes, our undergraduates find themselves learning how to learn in the most rigid of environments. Their experience of the world, however, is anything but rigid. Can the undergraduate experience, in four short years, accurately respond to the world these students are about to enter? Should it? Is there a way to merge fundamental, systematic learning with practical, meaning-making experiences?

In this talk, award-winning playwright and Professor of Theatre Jennifer Blackmer discusses her work in collaborative playwriting with undergraduates, resulting in such science and history-based plays as The Human Faustus Project, Daughters of Trinity, and If You Don’t Outdie Me, and explores the deep connections between the scientific method, research in the humanities, and the process of making of art. 

Jennifer Blackmer is the 2015 PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theatre Emerging American playwright. Based in the Midwest, she is an Associate Professor of Theatre and Director of Immersive Learning at Ball State University. Her plays have been seen in New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Berkeley and St. Louis, and include Human Terrain (The Lark, Mustard Seed Theatre, 5th Wall Theatre, IAMA Theatre Company), Unraveled (Theatre Unbound, Nashville Repertory Theatre), Alias Grace (Illinois Shakespeare Festival) and Delicate Particle Logic (Indra’s Net, The Playwrights’ Center, Break-a-Leg Productions at CUNY Graduate Center, NYC). Unraveled was named one of the ten best productions in the Twin Cities by Lavender Magazine, and Jennifer was lauded for superior achievement in playwriting. Her work has been a finalist for the David Charles Horn Prize for Emerging Playwrights (Yale Drama Competition), the Fratti-Newman Political Play Contest, the Firehouse Festival of New American Theatre, the O’Neill National Playwrights’ Conference and a semi-finalist for the Princess Grace Award and the Shakespeare’s Sister Fellowship. She is currently developing Human Terrain as a motion picture with B Powered Productions in Los Angeles. Recent directing credits include the American premiere of Lost: A Memoir at Indiana Repertory Theatre, and numerous productions at Ball State University.