News from a particle physicist and university lecturer in COVID times

in StemSociallast year

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.


[Credits: CERN]


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)]

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.


And now?


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)!

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Reading from you is quite refreshing. The pandemic was a great reset. Many left and might never be back. Glad to have been able to hold the baton to keep the race going.

I am afraid you are right here. Many are gone forever. Although they may come back (look at me, although this is the second attempt and I do not know yet for how long it will last ;) Anyways, if we pursue building our project little by little, it will grow no matter what.

At least, I knew you were always somewhere lurking there on discord, checking things at intervals.

Yep. Teaching on Discord helped to keep connected in this way!

So happy to see you here @lemouth. I am sorry that COVID times have drawn on so much of your energy. Still, you are among the fortunate (still alive, still working, able to rebound).

Looking forward to reading your Monday blogs. My education continues....

 last year (edited)

Thanks for passing by!

Yes, I should not even complain. Many have lost so much and have been hit so hardly... And all of this is not over yet. We probably still have 2 or 3 years to go. I remember having once mentioned in our of your posts (dozens of months ago) that we are in the middle of 4 years of pandemic, if my memory is correct. I am still correct with such a prediction :)

I still hope to be able to write something on Monday (the pace is still non zero ;) ). I am currently debating with myself about what to write about: some recent research results (mostly the so-called flavour anomalies) or some general audience blurb about particle physics (inspired from my live sessions with adults and high-school kids). Any preference on your side?

Hey @lemouth,
Can't tell you how happy I am to see you here. I'm glad life (everything that entails) is lending you to us, at least temporarily.

I love your science posts. Ever since reading them I've paid more attention to news about physics and astronomy. However, it's also fascinating to get a perspective on how physics is perceived by your audiences. I'm a cross-cultural person. My formal areas of specialty are comparative literature, history and humanities. Of course I'm interested always in the cultural perspective.

So you see, whatever you write about will be a win for me. Hope you get the time and that new variant (yes, it looks like four years at least!) doesn't throw us back again.

Hope your family is well.

Thank you so much for such a motivating message! Definitely I will write about something. I still have a few days to think about it.

As said above, I participate since this year to outreach events with high-school kids (those were in fact speed meetings). What is really great is that some of the kids want to study more and become a researcher (not necessarily in physics), and some other are just uninterested in science. All of this is a nice exercise as we have one speech that needs to pass to all at the same time. Along these lines, the type of questions I get are varied (and therefore interesting).

It is the same here on STEMsocial and Hive. The questions that are risen are very interesting ones (and cool to be answered). Once in a while they even surprise me (if I remember well the good old days).

The covid pandemic really changed many things, but it has also created in us the ability to adjust more.

It is great to read your post again after about 1 year and 6 months. Welcome back sir.

It is sad to say, but there are only 24 hours in a day

Maybe we can propose to extend it a bit, maybe to 36 hours :)

 last year (edited)

Thanks for passing by! As you can see, I still remember you from the good old times ;)

On the practical side, I have tried to propose adding more days in a week and more hours in a day. But the planet itself refused to adjust its rotation relative to my expectation... Such a poor collaboration ;)

But the planet itself refused to adjust its rotation relative to my expectation... Such a poor collaboration ;)

Maybe if you ask nicely, the planet might adjust a bit.. who knows? ;)

Thanks for passing by! As you can see, I still remember you from the good old times ;)

I'm honoured sir

I am not sure it will little to the poor physicist I am. But thanks for the nice suggestion :)

The last time I posted on Hive was… 1.5 year ago…

That's quite some time.

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.

You are the only particle physicist on Hive that updates us about recent happenings in the field. It would be awesome if you can manage to post something, anything at all, every week.

Welcome back.

Thanks for passing by.

In an ideal world, I would post something every week. But writing such posts takes time if done seriously, and I would only do it if I can do it seriously. Anyways, I will try to write something for Monday. That is what week-ends are for, aren't they? :D

For now, I am still hesitating about the topic: some recent research results (mostly the so-called flavour anomalies) or some general audience blurb about particle physics (inspired from my live sessions with adults and high-school kids). Any preference?

The absentees returneth, both on one day :P

Time is a sore spot for me too, so I totally get you. We're all depending on you physicists to find a way to stretch time!

You're overworked, it shows. Rather, it reads. But you manage quite a lot with what limited time you have.

When you homeschool your kids, don't forget the non-physics subjects!

As said on Discord, I cheated as I started to write my posts two months ago. Better to start in advance at this game ;) Anyways, I am looking forward to read again something from you! ;)

An idea always starts at the coffee machine and every addition over a glass of beer!

It can't be easy for students to learn remotely, especially since not everyone has the chance to have the right conditions to do so (good material and environment).

 last year (edited)

One should never underestimate the power of the coffee machine and drinks ;)

It can't be easy for students to learn remotely, especially since not everyone has the chance to have the right conditions to do so (good material and environment).

That actually works both ways: it is sometimes tough for lecturers as well (I have witnessed some colleagues close to mental breakdowns last year). My fingers are crossed for the next semester and Omicron...

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.

Change is inevitable in the world in which we live and necessity is said to be the mother of invention. When standard lecturing ways was no longer appropriate, you found a way to still stay as close as possible to your students. That was creative of you and your colleagues

I would not really call it creative as the idea existed from elsewhere. But at least, there are options and they are worth to try.

I am more and more worried for the next semester, to be honest. The numbers are not so great... We will see, but maybe new strategies (or improved older ones) will be again in order.

You will find time for what you love to do, even if fleeting. I understand you perfectly because I have also done that. I hope we can see you here more. Winter has come, chances to just go to your car and travel are going to be less and less attractive, so here we are again :)
I hope you find your balance!

Thanks for your nice words. I may indeed be around as I completely stopped traveling since February 2020 (which was in my case more flying than driving).

In 2021, I only had one trip in Slovenia for a week, and then another one in Marseille for 2 days. I was also supposed to go to Bonn, but being at the same time a COVID contact case I was not allowed to cross any border (even with a negative test). In parallel, I also have new responsibilities locally, that are quite incompatible with any heavy traveling.

But all of this is definitely not that bad. First for the planet, and second for my body that starts to decay quite a bit... ;)

How are things on your side? Will you write something about how you spent these last few months?

My life changed a lot because of the pandemic, not all in the worse, in fact, but yes, the travels were also heavily restricted. Luckily, I got the vaccine early and I still managed to travel around here (Greece and Bulgaria and of course Romania). I still love science communication, so I am going to write about that, my life is not that important to other people :D
All my work was from home since it all started, had to leave the aviation job cause many governments redirected funds from aviation to the medical system, and I also had to almost suspend my consultancy work.
But I have found a similar job to what I was doing, at Ubisoft and I am having a blast. Maybe I can spread the word about STEM, here, too. Many passionate people around, that's for certain.
All in all, life is good. About decaying.. I know perfectly what you are saying. We will recover as the spring comes.
Cheers!

Wow what a change in your life. It is hard to me to see how similar the new job is relative to the old job. You may need to give more words about that, one day, either on chain, off chain or with a beer in a pub. Hopefully we will be able to share that beer soon again.

Definitely about the beer.
Well, I create visual display systems, tools, and integrate 3D resources in graphical engines. While the industry is very different, the software generally uses some common workflows and procedures. The theory is still the same, except I stopped dealing with simulating aircraft and airport environment and switched to simulating game characters, where I was needed.
In fact, the systems I use now are more complicated than what I was doing before, because I am now using next-gen systems, multiplatform like PC, consoles and new streaming tech like Google Stadia. But if you remember, I am not afraid to work and I love to learn new stuff :)
And Ubisoft is a great company with a great company culture and care for its employees.
So all is well, I am very happy about the change.

Glad to read all of that (especially that you are happy with the changes). Yes, I remember you are never afraid with new tasks and challenges :)

Cheers!

Wow, I could remember the day I was chatting you on discord server. You told me you are no longer active on hive but yet, you didn't resist from being an admin here and staying slightly very close to us on discord.

The pandemic was very much as everyone felt it in general.

But what can I say other than to tell you WELCOME BACK BOSS @lemouth.

I did not want to decouple, but I had somehow no choice (as explained in the post). Discord was the easy way to stay close and follow.

In any case, thanks for the nice wishes and I hope I will manage to stay around!

Alright sir..... Once more welcome

Hehe thank you one more time :)

❤️🙏❤️

Greetings dear @lemouth, good to hear from you again, no doubt teaching distance learning is a challenge, especially because everything happened suddenly because of the pandemic, but as we move forward we have acquired certain strategies that allow us to fully comply with our role as teachers.

Currently there is talk of a new strain of the virus, let's wait for new news, as far as we can see this will continue for a while longer.

See you later, have a great start of the week.

We indeed had to adapt, and we did (at some costs however).

At present life is reaching instability again. One of my collaborators from South Africa was supposed to depart today and stay in Paris for a month. This will of course never happen and I need to re-organise things (on the research side this time) once again. I am looking forward to the Christmas break ;)

See you soon and have a great week as well!

Good to see that you are back, I always enjoyed reading your posts

Thank you! I honestly do not know whether I am really back, but I will try (at least).

That's okay! Don't feel like you have to post all the time. Appreciate your posts though as I enjoy reading about current physics experiments.

Haha. I am not really saying all the time, which I won't be able to do. However, writing once per week seems a reasonable and manageable goal. The post of today is almost ready, but I write it in parallel to 20 other things being done at the same time... ;)

See you next monday @lemouth hehe

I wish I could do it :)

Of course you can.

 last year 

Good to know that you are still alive.

I am still alive. 2 months ago I remember we even interacted during my short passage around :)

Nice post ! take care of yourself and see you soon :)

Thank you! Hopefully I will have time to write a French version on Thursday :)

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