The last time I posted on Hive was… 1.5 year ago… 18 months later, it is about time to give news.
My life deeply changed in February 2020, when I came back to France from Korea (i.e. one day before airports closed due to the pandemic). Getting busier and busier, I simultaneously became quite inactive on Hive, among others. Most my hobbies indeed faded out. It is sad to say, but there are only 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week, and I am too slow to rely on time dilatation to improve on this (yes, physics jokes cannot be avoided; this has never changed for those who know me).
I don’t know whether this post will be the first of a new regular posting activity, or just one post in passing. Ideally, I would like to write once a week about some interesting (at least from my standpoint) particle physics news, and even translate my posts in French for the French-speaking community on Hive. But life is often very non ideal… As a matter of fact, I started to write this post 2 months ago and only found time now to finalise it.
Anyways, here I am with a post a little bit different from what I used to write, and a bit more personal.
Working in a university during a pandemic
With the rise of COVID, life in a university has dramatically changed. We had to adapt not only the way lectures were given but also the management of the lectures.
In fact, here in Paris we were following the rhythm of the governmental announcements, of which we were made aware on TV like the rest of the population. That made the situation quite exhausting. We were indeed never able to plan anything. Being personally involved both in lecturing and management, I had to do and and undo things constantly for a year. As a side note, I even stopped counting extra hours and assessing the size of the mail flow, because the (exponentially large) numbers were not making humanly any sense anymore. This contributed largely to the intense fatigue that was mine at the end of July 2021, when I took a couple of weeks off to (however only partly) reload my batteries.
On the positive side (yes, the word positive can still be used in a reasonable manner), lecturing during COVID allowed for tests of new ways of lecturing. While everything was remote (this was a constant of the 2020-2021 academic year), it is clear that standard lecturing ways would not be appropriate. Personally, I suffered a lot from having to lecture in front of dozens of black squares on Zoom. I like to see faces of students (or at least a masked face, as this is the case currently). This is very important to get live feedback on how the course is received, and to adapt instantaneously. I always believed that lecturers needed to adapt to their students, and not the opposite, and Zoom-lectures challenged this.
On the practical side, together with a colleague we decided to create detailed material for our course (please guess what it was about; the image below can help). In this material, we were going beyond the course with anecdotes, interesting diversions, etc, so that it could be both fun and interesting to read from a student perspective. The idea was to allow students to learn by themselves so that we could use the course time-slots to discuss questions, do exercises and interesting tutorials requiring to think. This is traditionally called flipped classroom, and last year was a good opportunity to test it. I do not regret the move!
[Credits: Rob_de_Roy (Pixabay)]
In addition, we wanted to be as close to our students as possible. We created a Discord server dedicated to the course, and we were giving support to students 24/7. The students really appreciated such a level of involvement (from what they told us at least), so that I am quite happy of the achievements.
There is however a personal price to pay. This drained me a lot and contributed to a close-to-burn-out state at the end of the last academic year. Creating hundreds of pages of lecture material in last minute, releasing notes sometimes not later than a week in advance… can destroy especially as I was home-schooling my two little ones in parallel.
On the negative side, teaching administration involvement exploded (mostly because bad decisions were taken, out of my control). Through those tasks, I witnessed the unexpected. I discussed with students completely lost, depressed, who did not know how to cope with the situation. I even almost call emergency medical services after one live chat, being afraid for the student’s life. The psychological distress of the students is a real thing and I learned it the hard way.
The disastrous situation is that in most cases, there is nothing much to do, even if we wanted to. We however did the nothing much part, to ease students’ life as much as possible. Several thousands of e-mails later, the best we could do has been done. Most students were very happy with how we behaved and about what we did (except two out of 350)… but this contributed very extensively to the state of exhaustion I already mentioned several times in this post.
For the first time in almost 15 years ago, my body was urgently requesting a break... That is a weird feeling.
Scientific research never sleeps
Whereas teaching and related work took quite a lot of my time, I tried to maintain my scientific activities quite alive, pursuing research on all the different topics in which I am interested. For those we used to follow me a couple of years ago, those were the same topics I was usually blogging about back in the days. For the others, my research work feeds in three categories.
[Credits: Smithsonian Institution (public domain)]
- New phenomena at particle colliders such as the LHC at CERN or any of its potential successor. Here, the idea is to investigate how new phenomena could already be present in data (through their re-interpretation) and to make sure there is no loop-hole in the current search program (through dedicated analysis of given models of physics from simulations).
- Dark matter, which is where cosmology and particle physics meet. Dark matter has a strong impact on our current vision of how our universe works, but so far escapes direct detection on Earth. Similarly, there is no particle candidate for it. Therefore, it is quite interesting to work out different options and their implication in the light of current data.
- The development of numerical tools and methods for high-energy physics computations. The goal here is to address the developments of techniques and packages so that high-energy physics simulations could be run on simple computers that can be bought at the shop next door, and by anyone (without the need of a deep background in particle physics).
Of course, I could discuss the above topics in greater details during hours and hours and I have actually ideas for dozens of different new possible blogs (this is not really the purpose of this post). I wish I will be able to handle this, as already said, in a somehow close future. Who knows… Let’s see whether this gets more concrete.
I must admit that while my scientific popularisation work on Hive phased out, I started other outreach activities, mostly with high-school kids and the general audience, in particular when science days were organised. I probably cannot resist much to the need to share what we do, why we do it and why it is cool :)
Despite of the pandemic, almost somehow nothing (from the standpoint of scientific research) changed for a theoretical physicist like me who do not have to monitor any running experiment. The difference is at the level of how to squeeze research work between all the rest, which indirectly has a strong impact on the quality of life.
What misses me most was really meeting and chatting with people in person, and the after-work parts. It is interesting to note that many cool and super interesting projects started with a coffee, or with a beer late in the day!
What about Hive and STEMsocial?
Maybe is this the biggest question of the day?
I still follow what is going on with STEMsocial, even if my level of engagement dropped. I was still silently reading the conversations on our Discord server, and I am happy to see that thanks to a bunch of highly-motivated curators (@gentleshaid, @carloserp-2000 and @iamphysical) the project is still alive and supports the greatest STEM authors on Hive.
Curation and engaging authors is what I really enjoyed back in the days, and this will be the first thing that I would resume if I could. I am wondering how many of the people I enjoyed reading 2 years ago are still around (I already noticed @ancolie and @samminator are still there). Maybe I will figure out a more precise answer to that question in the next following days and weeks.
Going back to the topic, there are probably two items high on my personal list. At a second place stands the development of our d-app, that is in a disastrous state. But this takes probably a real developer to help. The associated (unpaid) job is of course still open. It has never been filled, in fact, so that the whole development ended in a do-it-yourself project… Maybe one day, I will be able to tackle this again, but for now I clearly don’t have the time. Note that having dedicated little help could speed up the process (the advertisement has now been done ;) ).
At the next spot on my list lies the organisation of STEMsocial AMAs. We started to set that up back in the days and this unfortunately never took off as we were all absorbed in a COVID blackhole. I think that having some live STEM session would be great, both on chain and off chain. But again, this requires a more serious and constant availability around, which I do not have for now… Any help could be welcome!
Finally, I will share some news about what I recently did (yes, I managed to do a few things!). The most important part is that all curation rewards until 31 October 2021 have been returned. I will finalise this update later this week. Better late than never (this is based on a manual script). I emphasise that 85% of the rewards are shared back with our delegators (and the team).
In addition, I turned off our witness. Being a Hive witness is a serious job for which time is mandatory. It is clear that no one in the team has that time at present, so that it is better to let more dedicated Hive users deal with running witnesses and nodes. Thanks to all of those who supported our witness during these two years. This was an interesting adventure. Maybe one day again, who knows.
I guess this post has become long enough and I will stop writing (or we will have to wait for another two months before I finalise it).
In short, my current desires would be to start blogging about science again, sharing fresh and interesting news about research in particle physics and cosmology. Like in the good old days. An ideal pace would be one blog post appearing in English every Monday, accompanied with its French version every Thursday. That sounds a bit too much for the time I have (even if this week is a bit better).
In parallel, I would love to contribute again to the STEMsocial community on the different aspects mentioned above, and in fact also to have a look at what the French-speaking users do at la ruche. Let’s see in a few weeks what will work and what won't.
I now tentatively write "see you next Monday" (maybe, let’s hope)!