MJ

Michael Jura and me observing with Keck at the UCLA remote control room, 2012 Aug 02

Michael Jura and me observing with Keck at the UCLA remote control room, 2012 Aug 02

I personally like the Chinese version much better. I guess I still need to work on my English…

My Advisor Michael Jura

        My Ph.D. advisor Michael Jura passed away on January 30th, 2016. He was an amazing advisor and a great friend to me. He was one of the most important people in my life. Words cannot express my feelings.

        I first met Mike in the summer of 2009. I was a junior undergraduate in the department of astronomy in Nanjing University. I was very lucky to be selected for a 10-week research program (CSST: Cross-disciplinary Scholars in Science and Technology) at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). Mike was my advisor for the summer program and I had a great time working with him. It was my very first real research experience and I loved observational astronomy. Afterwards, Mike was very kind to write a lot of letters of recommendations for me for graduate school and I got into a few. I decided to go to UCLA for graduate school to work with him – I think that is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Everything went quite smoothly afterwards, thanks to Mike. I got my Master’s degree and Ph.D. in 4 years and now I am a postdoc fellow at the European Southern Observatory.

        Mike had a very sharp mind and he was always ready to discover new things. I enjoyed our lively and interesting discussions a lot. I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to work with him so closely. Not only did he teach me how to identify and solve a scientific question, he also taught me to have a clear picture of myself.

        The most important lesson I learned from Mike is to be honest about my mistakes. He kept reminding me “The only people who make no mistakes are dead people.” One time, we were making observing plans for the Hubble Space Telescope. We lost some precious observing time because I overlooked one issue. I was very upset but Mike was very calm about this. He said things like this happen and that is how you make progress.

        Mike always encouraged me to work on projects that interested me the most rather than forcing me into a topic. I like doing observation and often think about projects with different telescopes. Mike would bring me down to Earth and teach me to do some good order-of-magnitude calculations. He would insist on having a clear physical picture and a goal before writing an observing proposal.

        Mike also taught me to be proud of who I am. Ever since we started learning English in elementary school, we were asked to pick an English name. When I first went to US for graduate school, I also used my English name so foreigners can pronounce it. One time, Mike asked me, “Why don’t you use your ‘real’ name?” After that, I would always take time to teach people to pronounce “Siyi” because I want them to call my real name. When we started to write papers together, Mike had the idea that my Chinese name should be included so that all my friends in China would know that I wrote the paper. He took the effort to send these suggestions to the editors of different journals. Right now, all the mainstream astronomical journals (e.g. Astrophysical Journal, Astronomical Journal, Monthly Notice of Royal Astronomical Society, Astronomy & Astrophysics) allow the authors to display their names in their native language in the parentheses. I think our paper set a good example.

        Mike was always extremely patient and careful with all the projects we worked on. For my very first paper, we kept revising the manuscript and the final version ended up being version u (21st version). I was worried what would happen if we used up all 26 letters. For each version, Mike would give very detailed comments within 1-2 days. Sometimes, his comments were much longer than the manuscript itself. Because English is not my native language, Mike would also spend a significant amount of time improving the grammar and then explain them to me one by one. Mike often talked about a story to motivate me to work on my English. He said that he had a friend who also had a Chinese student. The student had to spend one extra year in graduate school just to improve his English.

        Mike often talked about Hofstadter’s Law, which says “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.” We always started to plan things as early as possible. For example, very often we were the first to finish writing an observing proposal (our proposal ID often ended up as 001), sometimes even before others have started working on it.

        Mike worked very hard. I often received emails from him at 2am about some ideas that he just had in the dream. However, he was very respectful about my own private time. He often encouraged me to go to the beach and enjoy the weekend.

        During our last conversation, Mike said, “I am having a lot of pains right now. Please keep me in your thoughts. I will need those to get through the day.” Mike, you will always be in my thoughts. I bet the world you are living in right now has no pains or mistakes, only peace and happiness? Perhaps you are up there with all the white dwarf stars?

Siyi Xu 2016.02.15

我的导师Michael Jura

        导师是2016年1月30日下午走的。过去的半个月,每每想到此,就心痛无比。好像瞬间回到了刚听到这个噩耗的时刻,一切都来的太突然,我还没有来得及说声再见,他却已经永远地离开了。

        最早认识导师是在2009年的夏天,那时我还在南京大学天文系读本科。我很幸运有机会去加州大学洛杉矶分校(UCLA)参加十个星期的暑期交换CSST (Cross-disciplinary Scholars in Science and Technology),当时他就是我的导师。十个星期的时间很短,却让我第一次真正体会到了做科研的乐趣,也让我体验到使用望远镜做天文观测是一件这么有意思的事情。后来,导师给我写了推荐信,我也很顺利地拿到了很多美国研究生院的录取通知书。之后我还是选择了去UCLA继续跟他攻读硕士和博士,我觉得这是我这辈子做的最正确的决定之一。学术上,导师对我要求很严格;生活上,导师对我也很关心。之后的一切都很顺利,4年的时间我就拿到了硕士和博士学位,现在我在欧洲南方天文台(ESO)继续做博士后研究工作,这些都离不开导师对我的教导。

         导师有非常敏锐的洞查力,总能看到很多别人没有发现的问题。他很风趣幽默,每次和他讨总有非常意外的收获。现在回想起来,导师不仅教会了我如何去发现和解决一个科学问题,更教会了我如何去认识自己。

        我从导师那里学习到的最重要的一课就是直面自己的错误。他总是说,这个世界上唯一不犯错的人就是死人。有一次,我们在设计哈勃空间望远镜的观测方案,由于我的一个疏忽,让我们损失了很多观测时间。为此,我非常懊恼,一晚上都没有睡好。第二天见到导师,他却淡然自若,还安慰我说没事的,只要你学会了,下次不再犯同样的错误就可以了,人就是这样进步的。

        导师从来不会命令我去做任何课题,总会鼓励我去研究自己感兴趣的问题 。我很喜欢做天文观测,总想着用世界上各种望远镜做有趣的观测。导师也会适时地把我拉回现实世界,教会我如何用基本的物理定律做量级估计,初步估算这个想法是否可行。只有有了清晰的物理图像和相对明确的目标,才是一个有意义的观测项目。

        导师也教会了我认识并接受自己。自从小学开始学习英语,我们就被要求有一个英名文。我刚去美国读书的时候,也用英文名,为了方便外国人叫我的名字。可是我的导师却问我,“你为什么不用自己的名字呢?因为那才是你真正的名字啊。”从此之后,不管别人发Siyi这个音如何难听,我都会耐心地去纠正,因为我想让别人叫我自己的名字。我们一起写文章的时候,导师也是第一个提议说,应该把我的中文名写在括号里,这样我在中国的朋友都知道这是我写的文章。为此,他还特地给天文中各个杂志的编辑写邮件,提出这个想法。现在,主流的天文杂志 (Astrophysical Journal, Astronomical Journal, Monthly Notice of the Royal Astronomical Society, Astronomy & Astrophysics) 都可以让作者的名字以本国语言显示,我们的文章也成了一个先例。

        工作上,导师一丝不苟,每一步的推导都会多次验证。还记得我的第一篇文章,一共改到了第u版(21版),我那时还担心如果26个字母都用完了要怎么办。每一个版本,导师都会很认真地阅读,并在一两天内给出很详细的修改意见。有些版本,导师提的建议的长度都已经大于文章的长度了。因为英语不是我的母语,最后的几个版本,导师非常仔细地修改我的语法,然后一句一句解释给我听。他说他的一个朋友有个中国学生,因为英语太差了,所以博士的时候多读了一年,专门用来提高英文。他为此来激励我努力提高自己的英语水平。

        导师经常挂在嘴边的一条定律叫“侯世达定律” (Hofstadter’s Law),大概的意思就是“做任何事情所花的时间总是比你预期的要长,即使你在计划的时候已经考虑到了侯世达定律”。为此,他总是教导我凡事要早做准备,不要临时报佛脚。每次写观测申请,我们总是很早开始准备,往往我们已经写完了,别人还没有开始。提早计划,你才有时间去慢慢细化你的想法,才有可能做出好的工作。

        导师工作很用功,对自己的要求很严格。经常半夜2点能收到他的邮件,说“我突然醒来意识到我们可以做这个…”但他从来不会对我有过分的要求,他经常让我注意休息,提醒我有空可以去海边走走。每次我要请假回国他也都会同意。

        在最后一次跟导师通话的时候,导师对我说,“我现在很痛苦,你有空的时候请多想想我,我需要这些来渡过难关。”导师,您一直会在学生的心里。希望您现在在的那个世界,没有痛苦,没有错误,只有宁静和快乐。您应该已经和星星在一起了吧?

许偲艺 2016.2.15