Happy Academic New Year, 2015

June 1, 2015 I was thrilled to start my 3 year tenure as an NSF Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow (NSF AAPF) at Caltech. I am therefore declaring June 1 as my official academic New Year. I’m treating this fellowship period as my shot to make a scientific difference, and here’s to the next 3 years. I have an structured routine scheduled, with time for professional reading, programming, calculating, writing, plotting, personal hobbies and free time. It’s a lot of work hours per week, but slightly more balance and much more focus than I was able to give in the few past years. I’ve set measurable goals in my research life and my life is in order to best attempt meet them. Said routine includes regular scientific blogging, both on a popular science and more technical level, so subscribe and stay tuned for updates.

As a professional retrospective, 2014-2015 was a busy year professionally to say the least. I published 2 papers in MNRAS (http://arxiv.org/abs/1408.2856, http://arxiv.org/abs/1403.3953). I also wrote a Ph.D. thesis which I defended successfully in September 2014 at the University of Zurich. The night I was celebrating, I got an email “The President invites you to join him at an event…” and just a few days later I flew to Washington D.C. to join my colleagues at Circle of 6 and President Obama and VP Joe Biden at the White House, while my Zurich friends helped vacate my apartment remotely.

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 8.30.30 AM

I flew back to Switzerland to finish packing up 6 years of my life, and a week later flew back to the US and moved to LA indefinitely.

During the Fall of 2014 I worked on numerical simulation infrastructure at SpaceX, infrastructure which will help design the Raptor engine which will take us (humanity) to Mars and back. At the same time, I travelled to talk security at DeepSec and iOS dev at Cmdrconf, in Vienna and London respectively. Early mornings and weekends, I developed the HWS and UCLA Circle of 6 collage applications, all while meeting with Open Whisper Systems and doing intermittent Signal development.

Somewhere in there, during that SpaceX paragraph above I also applied to fellowships and grants, during my mornings or weekends. Particularly for those interested in applying to astrophysics postdocs in the future here are the fellowships I applied to, along with application deadlines in 2014 which may roughly be the same in 2015:

SNF http://www.snf.ch/en/funding/careers/early-postdoc-mobility/Pages/default.aspx 9/1/2014
NSF Astronomy & Astrophysics http://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=5291 10/8/2014
JPL http://nasa.orau.org/postdoc/ 11/1/2014
Einstein http://cxc.harvard.edu/fellows/ 11/6/2014
Hubble http://www.stsci.edu/institute/smo/fellowships/hubble/announcement-of-opportunity 11/6/2014

Spoiler alert: I was rejected for all but the NSF AAPF for a personal success rate of 20%. To make things more exciting, I heard from NSF AAPF the very last. I did not apply to but may be a good fit for others so include for completeness:

Sagan http://nexsci.caltech.edu/sagan/fellowship.shtml 11/6/2014
Caltech http://www.pma.caltech.edu/GSR/fellowtheory.html 12/1/2014
Gruber http://www.iau.org/science/grants_prizes/gruber_foundation/fellowships/procedure/ 3/1/2015

In December I travelled to the CCC in Germany wherein I finished the group messaging support for Signal in my hotel room, largely skipping the conference talks but nevertheless managing to see some of my favorite people on the planet however briefly and in large groups. I remember a particular hour as peak busy absurdity, in which I walked to the Hamburg Miniature Wonderland, while taking an Open Whisper Systems meeting on IRC on my phone via text, having a phone conference call on the then-soon-to-be-submitted semi-classical gravitational collapse paper (still in review), and a conversation with Michael Schade on the side. I spent New Year’s in Morocco with my best friend Star.

I then travelled to the other side of the globe (see a theme here?) and spent January in Hawaii at the Winter of Code finishing Signal for Open Whisper Systems with Frederic Jacobs, and upping my surfing game with a bunch of amazing people. 

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With the crypto crew

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We launched Signal 2.0 with text messaging support to the public in Spring 2015. I accelerated the process of stepping back from my non academic software collaborations to more of an advisory role, and I sunsetted the iOS Encylopedia App I had worked on since 2009. I also scaled back my public speaking engagements that are not academic related.

After Hawaii, I moved my LA base from the Marina del Rey neighborhood to Pasadena, acquired a motor vehicle,

and started to setup shop at Caltech in February 2015. A day after I arrived at my Caltech office I found out the fantastic news that I was awarded the 3 year NSF AAPF Fellowship. Since then I’ve been laying the ground work for my Caltech Postdoc tenure, establishing collaborations, attending meetings to see which are the most constructive for my work, and kicking off several new major academic projects and collaborations. I’m very much looking forward to sharing my progress with the blogging and the scientific community.

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