10 links every HEP grad student should know… and 5 they probably shouldn’t


“I grow increasingly convinced that the major reason faculty seem so damn smart is because when they were graduate students there was no Internet.”
-Navin Sivanandam, “Procrastination Vacation,” The Stanford Daily, 4 August 2005

  1. The arXiv (and alert service and eprintweb)

    You’re not a proper grad student (“postgrad” in the UK) if you don’t check the ArXiv religiously. In the olden days grads had to check the ArXiV manually. With the alert service and eprintweb, however, one can have a daily batch of new eprints delivered to your e-mail or RSS reader. It may sound trivial, but it’s the difference between having the morning paper delivered to your door and having to walk to a newspaper stand every day. (In the really olden days, by the way, researchers actually had to go to the library.)


    Whereas the ArXiV is a professional tool, SPIRES is more of a ‘professoinal playground.’ Sure, it’s a really great way to keep updated with upcoming conferences/summer schools and trends (in the form of top cited papers)… but it’s also a great way to find out all sorts of trivia about researchers, in case you were curious who your adviser’s previous students were and where they are now, for example. (To be honest I spent a lot of time on SPIRES when I was selecting a grad program.) Also fun: a not-so-updated list of review articles, a ‘playground‘ of random statistics, and really helpful bibliographic tools for papers.

  3. LBL PDG and Durham HEPDATA

    The Particle Data Group at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory publishes the Review of Particle Physics which is a rough collection of everything we know about subatomic physics: properties of particles, current experimental bounds on new physics, reviews on major ideas (experimental and theoretical), and all sorts of other handy information. They also publish a condensed “back pocket” version called the Particle Physics Booklet. Paper copies of each are (very graciously) available free upon request to researchers in the field, but all the data is also available on their webpage. The paper copy is nice to skim through occasionally, but it’s beginning to rival Misner Thorne Wheeler in volume and one should try to save a tree when possible (e.g. this is something your entire office can share). I’m less familiar with Durham’s HEPDATA database, which more phenomenological information regarding the nitty-gritty of experiments.

  4. Review Journals (RMP, Physics Reports, Annual Reviews, Living Reviews: Relativity)

    Good review articles are a beginning graduate student’s bread and butter. A review article is an introduction to a topic that provides an overview of the field and current research directions. It will direct a grad student towards important papers, point out major research directions, and package everything together in a way that is accessible for someone who is not an expert in that topic. Finding the relevant review articles in your field are a great way to get ‘up and running’ in your research. Ideally one’s adviser knows the relevant review articles for a given topic, but it doesn’t hurt to skim the above links. Who knows, you might even find a new idea you’d like to pursue. (Note to colloquium speakers: please include review article references at the beginning/end of your talks!)

  5. String Theory Wiki (and any similar sites)

    I suppose I could have grouped this in with ‘review journals,’ but the String Theory Wiki is fundamentally different and worth noting on its own. The wiki is a list of pedagogical string theory references that any member can update as they find other materials. Sites like these are gems for graduate students and do a great service for the research community. As the HEP literature grows, it’s unreasonable to expect one’s advisor to know all of the best references. Further, I’ve found that often active researchers in a field may not have an accurate idea of what beginning graduate students know and don’t know; and so might not be able to suggest the best introductory literature. (I should note that this mismatch is partially because high energy physics is taught differently today than it was just twenty years ago.) Wikis like this allow graduate students to help one another by building up a repository of references that are at the right level.

  6. Videos (SPIRES, CERN, SSI, Cabi’s links)

    As I described in an earlier post, recorded lectures and talks are a great way to keep up with physics even when you’re in the mood to passively sit on your couch with a bowl of popcorn. (And all grad students feel that way once in a while.) CERN’s database is especially nice because they’re very good at recording academic training lectures aimed at the graduate student level.

  7. Funding: (GrantsNet, fellowships)

    Grad students know — sometimes frustratingly — that money makes the world go ’round, even in academia. There are often cases where the NSF fellowship (announced around March) is ‘the difference’ in a gradaute school application. Later on, a fellowship can be the difference between spending your days grading and teaching versus and having a bit more academic freedom to explore topics. Unfortunately I cannot provide a comprehensive list of fellowships, and I’ve found that even the GrantsNet link above is somewhat limited. Even if you are all set with a departmental fellowship or one of the big external fellowships, it’s worth looking into smaller awards that can help fund conference travel or that you can append to the end of your fellowship period towards the end of your PhD. Some of the big fellowships available for HEP physicists (slightly skewed towards theorists) include: NSF, NDSEG, DoE Computational Science, Hertz. For encouragement, I should note that theoretical physics students have won each of the above awards in the past two years, even though some of the fellowship descriptions above may not sound ‘hep-th’ friendly. Sources for minorities: FNAL, GEM, Soros for New Americans, Xerox. For shorter fellowships, consider the LHC Theory Initiative and the KITP gradaute fellows program.

  8. Science Careers, Chronicles of Higher Ed. Catalyst

    It may be true that some people were ‘born’ to be scientists. It is almost certainly not true, however, that anybody was ever ‘born’ to be a graduate student. Talking to older students to get your bearings is an important part of navigating your graduate career in your department. A poor, but often still-helpful, substitute for that are the many “how to survive/thrive in/enjoy grad school” sort of articles that can be found online. One that I’ve found notable is Micella DeWhyse, who points out many of the trials/tribulations/subtleties of being a graduate student. What I like about her column: lots of informational gems for the uninitiated — e.g. the importance of communicating with one’s peers, balancing work and play, periodic doubts about grad school.

  9. Postgraduate Skills Record

    Developed by the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Department for Education and Employment, this is a broadly-applicable annual self-assessment that allows grad students to reflect on their progress/skill development and to take a broader view to plan the development of further skills. It’s been recommended as a helpful tool for writing CV’s and keeping a proper perspective of one’s graduate career. If you’re worried about ambling about graduate school for ten years, you might benefit from the structure this assessment provides.

  10. The Theoretical Physics Rumor Mill (and ‘Rumour’ spelled the other way)

    Unfortunately part of the culture of HEP theory graduate students is the feeling that there are way more talented students than there are faculty positions every year. Perhaps this is true. However, it helps to actually have some data on job prospects. The Rumor/Rumour Mill provides this, and usually it’s comforting to see that there are quite a few positions that are available each year. Maybe it’s still not enough for the number of PhDs who want to land tenure track positions, but it’s certainly not as bad as the chances of a high school basketball player making it to the NBA. “If the worst scenario for doing a PhD is that I make millions of dollars on Wall Street, then being a grad student isn’t so bad,” as one string theory grad put it.

  11. Bonus Link: Symmetry Magazine

    Ok, so this isn’t really one of those ‘must have to do research’ links. Symmetry is a bimonthly HEP community outreach publication that is available free online and via post. (I’ve been delighted to find that they post to the UK.) Each issue is beautifully laid out with a mixture of undergraduate/popular-level reviews of current and future research, commentary/editorial on the state of the field from an administrative/political perspective, ‘lifestyle’ articles about what it’s like to be a physicist, and other great leisure reads. This is the type of magazine that I’d give high schoolers who are interested in physics and that I’d enjoy reading on a plane. In terms of practical use, every issue is a good example of how to write about one’s research to a general audience. One might also be interested in Seed Magazine, though most of the print articles aren’t available in the online version.

‘Bad’ links for grad students…

  1. PhD Comics

    Yes, it is a comic about your [often miserable, but in a comedic way] graduate life. It’s a story about everyone’s graduate life. The comic by Jorge Cham is full of jokes about procrastination and nth year students with which nearly any grad student reader can identify. Unfortunately, this may be a Catch-22 since any grad student who reads this comic is likely to get sucked into reading the nearly ten years’ worth of comics available free online, leading to gross procrastination and nth-year status. The site’s ‘grad forums’ are also a timelike closed curve, but appear to be a nice place to commiserate when you’re feeling down. By the way, I do recommend their online store if you’re looking for Valentine’s gifts for a grad student loved one.

  2. Think Geek: Geek Toys

    I’ll tell you right now: your fellowship/RA-ship/TA-ship does not pay you enough to be able to afford any of these things. That being said, I have a family of Giant Microbes living on my window sill. I’ve also considered arming myself against officemates. But seriously: you’re a grad student and you can’t afford it. Get back to your ramen noodles and do some research.

  3. Genealogy of theoretical physicists (and Mathematics Genealogy Project)

    There’s nothing wrong per-se, about this page. In fact, you might even feel the urge to update it. It is, after all, pretty neat. Like PhD Comics, you run the risk of procrastinating away too much time on it. Even worse, however, you might read a bit too far into it. One might get the impression that all ‘really good’ theoretical physicists come from a ‘royal bloodline.’ This is not true, and one would be discouraging one’s self unnecessarily if you believe this. (See a previous post I made discussing the idea of ‘royal bloodlines’ in theoretical physics.)

  4. Any sort of online games or TV shows

    I was really amused a couple of weeks ago to find a ‘fellow American’ student in the CMS ‘Part III room’ playing a game called 2-minute football. “I’ve got 30 seconds to make 20 yards… but by examples class started a minute ago.” The lesson? Computer games are bad! When you’ve got down time, it’s not my buisiness to tell you what to do. But you certainly shouldn’t be tempted to play a ‘quick’ flash game while you’re reading the arXiv. Even worse are streaming television shows, which are now freely available on many network webpages (or for purchase via iTunes). These will suck your life away in 30 minute intervals. Just say no! Wouldn’t you rather go for a walk outside? Or read a paper… I mean a novel? And say, Professor Motl… why are you tempting us?? Don’t you want us to graduate some day? 🙂

  5. Any sort of blogging website (WordPress, Blogger)

    I understand that I’m being a bit hypocritical when I say this, but blogging and grad school don’t mix. Blogs like Quantum Diaries were really special and provided a meaningful glimpse into the lives of researchers (grad students included). And there are many current physics blogs by researchers that are similarly excellent and fun to read. And by all means, read them. These blogs do a service to the physics community by providing outreach to a broader audience. They can even be used as research tools (more on this in a later post). Unfortunately, the honest truth is that blogging doesn’t come off as a very professional activity for a graduate student who is paid to do research. (More on this in a previous post, “Dangerous Opinions.”) Even one of the most well known physics bloggers has said that “blogging without tenure” is a dangerous activity. Besides making it seem like you’re not devoting enough time to your research, you also run the risk of “foot in mouth” (see the comments section of that page) or even worse, doocing, a silly word for a not-so-silly problem. So, seriously, reconsider the blog. Be a good grad student, keep a light footprint on the web, and publish lots of good papers. When you become tenured and famous, then you can let yourself go.

    As for me, I’ll have to say that I started my blog knowing it would have a finite life. I don’t intend to continue my blog beyond my brief time in the UK, and certainly not when research picks up (in case I end up staying in the UK). So — to my future PhD advisor, don’t worry, I’ll be done blogging and will keep to the ten ‘good links’ and avoid the five ‘bad’ links mentioned here!


7 Responses to “10 links every HEP grad student should know… and 5 they probably shouldn’t”

  1. 1 robert


    It looks like you have grown up remarkably quickly.

    For a little while, your site let me lay back in a warm miasma of ‘what it was like when I was but a kid’; now you are sharper than a piranha, rather like my daughters. Go for it Flip; take no prisoners. Forget the ducks’ wakes, the mistletoe and the May Balls. Break on through to the other side.


    Sums are still fun; just go for it. I mean it. Rock on dude.

  2. Your last point is a particularly good one, although I do want to add something that you already know: that blogging as a student (when done right) can be useful as a means of clearing one’s head/getting one’s thoughts in order (at least, I’ve found so).

    Also, perhaps the experimentalists are at an advantage in that blogging could be the perfect way to get something somewhat useful done while taking data?

    That being said, at the end of the day, you’re right, and while my posting frequency has equilibriated to ~1 post/3-5 days (or so I’m trying for), I’ll probably quit once I hit grad school.

  3. 3 Alejandro Rivero

    Thanks for linking again to the genealogy! I had it time ago in a wiki at physcomments.org, now shut down, and the jump into the wikipedia was sort of troublesome, but finally the kids of the physics wikeproject did some help. I would like to encourage people to review the list and to check for mistakes. Also, the talk page can be used to add humbler descendent lines if they are not though worthwhile enough for a full entry.

    (BTW flip, did I meet you last November in the CMS? I mean, I was then an obvious foreigner with strong Spanish accent, and I remember someone carrying a copy of Zee’s book…)

  4. Robert — thanks for the very kind words.

    Sujit — indeed, it is a good point that writing out ideas in coherent posts forces one to have complete thoughts. I suspect that a well disciplined student could use a private blog as a sort of lab notebook.

    Alejandro — I believe we did meet very briefly in early December during the Part III seminar talks. (And that would likely have been me carrying Zee’s book.) You’d mentioned that the flights from Spain are a bit awkward because one arrives at Cambridge after everything has closed. 🙂

  5. 5 Alejandro Rivero

    OK that was 😀 !

    Actually the only fligth from Zaragoza to UK. A pity.

  6. 6 robert

    Hey Flip

    I was perhaps in a less than sensible frame of mind when I posted the above; the daughters were giving me strife, as youngsters are wont to do. Whatever, I have enjoyed your posts from way back. I did a PhD in theoretical chemistry, up in Lensfield Road, many years ago, having crossed over from the Oxford MSc (cf Pt III) when Charles Coulson passed away in 1973. After that, it was anything that might reasonably underpin a standard UK middle class lifestyle. (i.e the scientific civil service, pre Kelly, followed by an enterpreneurial adventure). Right now I’m rocking in the free world of comfotrable retirement, and relish the opportunity to catch up on any post standard model hep-th. So bear with my outbursts; you’re living the dream.

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