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


        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。


        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。



许偲艺 2016.2.15