Design a site like this with
Get started

How to Install MESA, the Modules for Experiments in Stellar Astrophysics

A comprehensive guide to installing MESA on an Ubuntu 18.04 OS.

Note: The following guidebook was intended for Ubuntu 18.04 users. Although much of the procedure will still apply, please keep this in mind when installing it in your own operating system. πŸ™‚

Step 0: Get a Glimpse of What MESA is About.

My personal research in the past and present hasn’t really involved stellar astrophysics, so it wasn’t until my graduate level Stars and Planet course that I stumbled upon MESA. As with anything you add onto your computer, it’s best to obtain some basic understanding on what it is prior to embarking on any installation procedures.

For the purpose of this tutorial, we can proceed with the following knowledge:

MESA, the Modules for Experiments in Stellar Astrophysics, is a toolkit used in computational stellar astrophysics to better understand stellar structure and evolution.

So it does cool star stuff. Neat!

Step 1: Head on Over to the MESA Website.

Click over to the official MESA homepage located at

The website includes information about the motivation for its design, an outline about the code’s capabilities, several guides on how to get started, and a ton of helpful resources in case everything goes awry.

Step 2: Join the MESA Mailing List.

Note: This step is completely optional.

MESA developers encourage users to join the MESA mailing list before beginning to use the software. An integral portion of the available MESA documentation was brought to be by the experiences of community users. If you join the mailing list, you’ll be the first to know about latest releases and MESA-related news. More importantly, through the mailing list, you can always reach out to the community if you run into a problem. And once you become an expert, you can help new users by answering potential queries. πŸ™‚

You can join the MESA mailing list at

Step 3: Check the MESA Map and Add Yourself to It!

Note: This step is completely optional. But who wouldn’t want to do it?

Map of MESA community members as of July, 2019.

The MESA community is a tightly-knit one and they encourage new users to add their location to the MESA Map. To do so, shoot an request via email to Frank T. His information is located under “Check the MESA Map” at

Surprisingly, he responded to my request less than an hour after I submitted it. Looking forward to seeing an extra push pin on the map in the future update!

Step 4: Verify Your Operating System Meets the Basic Requirements.

Taken directly from the Prereq & Install page, the basic requirements are the following:

Mac or Linux operating system (Windows users may want to try MESA-Docker)
64-bit processor
20 GB free disk space

Ensure that you meet all of these requirements.

Step 5: Install the MESA Software Development Kit (SDK)

To install MESA with minimal fuss and issues, its best to install the MESA Software Development Kit (SDK) first. Please note that it is only compatible with Mac and Linux.

First, visit the MESA SDK homepage at

The website details the SDK compatibility requirements and prerequisites for your particular operating system. As I am using Ubuntu 18.04, it was necessary to install the following packages:

libx11-6, libx11-dev
zlib1g, zlib1g-dev

Installing these packages was as easy as typing the following line into my terminal.

sudo apt-get install <PACKAGE_NAME>

Most of these were already installed with my Linux distribution, with the exception of tcsh. Still, it was important to verify that these necessary packages were indeed present in my operating system.

Now, lets move on to installing the SDK itself.

The latest release is available in the format of a tarball at the MESA SDK homepage. Download the tarball to your machine. Depending on your internet connection, this can take quite some time! Use these extra minutes to do some productive tasks like cleaning up after dinner, responding to that one email you’ve neglected for 4 months, or maybe laying down on the floor to alleviate some stress in your vertebrae.

Once it is downloaded, open up your Terminal, and go to your home directory, or wherever you wish to place the package.

Extract the package using the following command.

tar xvfz <PACKAGE_NAME> -C ~/

Then, activate the C shell by typing the following in the terminal.


And set the path to the SDK using the following command, where <PATH> corresponds to where you extracted mesasdk.

setenv MESASDK_ROOT ~/<PATH>/mesasdk

In the same C shell, initialize the SDK through.

source $MESASDK_ROOT/bin/mesasdk_init.csh

This simultaneously checks for compatibility. If everything is going well, no errors should arise!

Then, verify that SDK is installed properly by executing the following.

gfortran --version

If all is well, you should see the following message.

GNU Fortran (GCC) 10.2.0
Copyright (C) 2020 Free Software Foundation, Inc.

Unless you’d like to repeat the setenv and source commands every single time you activate the C shell, locate your “.cshrc” file and add those two lines. For me, the file looks something like this.

My .cshrc file, after including the setenv and source commands.

Alternatively, you can also set and source these environments in your “.bashrc” file. This is the way to go if you are planning on installing MESA using your bash terminal rather than your C shell. My edited “.bashrc” file looks like this.

My .bashrc file, after adding the corresponding set ups and initializations.

Phew. That was a lot, but very well worth it. We’re now ready to install MESA.

Step 6: Download, Unzip, and Install MESA.

The latest MESA release is available here. The zipped file itself is ~2 GB large so it might take some time to download as well. After the download is complete, go to your bash terminal (not C shell!) and unzip the file using the following command:

unzip <PATH>/<MESA_FILE>.zip

Please note that once unzipped and installed, the package is around 20 GB! So make sure you have plenty of space before proceeding with installation.

Unzipping should have created a new mesa-* directory. Switch to that directory and run the following command:


Wait patiently for a few minutes. Close all the Stack Overflow tabs, you wont be needing them anymore. Breathe deeply. And finally, sigh in relief when the following message appears:

The best message you’ll ever receive.

Final Thoughts and Resources.

A big thank you goes to all of those who contributed to the available resources and supporting documentation for MESA. Most of this tutorial is a condensation and expansion of the incredibly well-detailed guides found in the official MESA and MESA SDK homepages, linked below. I hope this mini guidebook facilitates the installation procedure for new users like me. πŸ™‚

Disclaimer: In no way am I associated with MESA or MESA SDK. Opinions expressed throughout this blog post are entirely mine.


The Best All-in-One Productivity Program

The Hyades is an open star cluster, currently torn apart by gravitational disruptions, nearing the end of its life. Don’t let your motivation get torn apart by diverse productivity efforts. Stay grounded and remain focused with Notion, an all-in-one productivity program.

Hi, everyone! Welcome back to my blog. ❀ First off, I want to thank all my subscribers for following my weekly posts. I really appreciate your support! And secondly, this post is inspired by the co-creator of Nano-Planets, a rad individual in my research group. Stick around to the end for a poll!

But before I reveal my all-in-one productivity program of choice, let’s talk about the Hyades star cluster.

The Hyades star cluster, located only 150 light years away, is the nearest and most well-studied star cluster. (Credit: ESA/Hubble)

The Hyades is an open star cluster located a mere 150 light years away. From Earth, it is visible as the distinct V-shape of the Taurus constellation in the night sky during Winter and beginning of Spring (can you spot the horns of the bull in the featured image?). According to sky mythology, the Hyades are the half-sisters of the Pleiades, who were cast away onto the night sky to keep them away from the romantic pursuits of Orion the hunter. The gods, fearing Orion knew no bounds, beamed the Hyades into the night sky as well.

According to recent results, the Hyades are “falling apart and will soon die” (Crosswell, Science News). Stars are departing the cluster, leaving never-before-seen leading and trailing tails (shown below in green and blue, respectively). Already, more stars exist in the tails than do in the cluster. It is estimated that the 680-million-year-old Hyades only has 30 million years left before it loses its mass entirely. This is about equal to 3 years relative to the lifespan of a human.

The distribution of stars in and around the Hyades cluster. The dense red center is the cluster itself. As the cluster revolves around the Milky way, some escaping stars travel ahead and lead (green) while others lag behind and trail (blue). Credit: S. RΓΆser, E. Schilbach and B. Goldman/Astronomy & Astrophysics 2019

Open star clusters, as the name implies, are groups of stars that formed together but are loosely gravitationally bound. As such, close encounters with with neighboring clusters or molecular clouds, supernova explosions from the most massive short-lifetime stars, and even their own orbital motion around the galactic center have the potential to break these clusters apart.

Back in the early years of my undergrad, I was super eager about trying out all of the note-taking and productivity methods out there. My main focuses were, of course, self-improvement and learning new material in an efficient manner and so I allocated my efforts into four or five different styles of organizing my life at a time. Some efforts were fruitful, and led the others, while other efforts were minimal, inhibited my productivity, and eventually trailed off. Instead of reminding me of my focus, my lose commitment to a myriad organizational tools ripped apart my motivation.

That was until I found Notion. Notion is an all-in-one workspace that allows users to write, plan, collaborate, and get organized. Through Notion, one can take notes, add to-do lists, track and manage projects, and much, much more. The beauty of this program is that it is fully customizable and can do anything that the user desires, all in one place. Free from the distraction of switching from one application to another, Notion users are guaranteed to remain focused on their goals and aspirations.

So let’s outlast the torn-apart Hyades. Here’s why you should use Notion.

1. You can Create and Separate Different Workstations

Workspaces are completely isolated “virtual desktops” where you can organize information about pretty much anything, and it will remain confined within that section. Since I like having instant access to everything I need, I personally only use one workspace, called “Diana’s Notion” where I keep everything that is personal to me.

If you instead would like to create an additional virtual desktop to share with others, ie a workspace that anyone in your team, class, or leadership board can access, you can do so in just a few clicks. Setting permission for workspace members is effortless. In addition, members of one workspace cannot access a different one unless it is public or they are invited. πŸ˜‰

2. It is an Organizational Superstar

Notion provides all the tools to get organized. When it comes to organizational styles, there is not one magic method that works for everyone. With Notion, you can design your own dashboard and build the platform that works best for you. There are also plenty of templates out there to get ya started. πŸ™‚

Let’s take a look at my homepage. When I originally designed it, I wanted a landing page that had absolutely everything I needed to access on a day-to-day basis. And so, I scoured the internet to find some inspiration, and in the end I based my main page on a synthesis of few templates that I found online.

I included a toggle section for my Goals and Aspirations to function as a daily reminder of my motivations. A Quick Reference section is for pages that I like to access randomly but frequently. Then, my tasks are separated into three categories: things I want to do Every Day, main goals I would like to complete This Week, and my Weekly to-do list, which breaks down exactly what I need to do to fulfill my weekly goals. I also like to track my Readings and Ratings (pls don’t judge the low number of books, O.K.). As part of this “12 Week Year” regime that I am currently following, I also included my 12 Week Objectives. Each of the items in that particular table links to its own individual page where I track my progress towards that specific goal.

Notion gives you all the tools to organize your life and remain organized, while simultaneously giving you all the power to set everything up. πŸ™‚

3. It Can Work as a Research Journal or Personal Journal

Since I am still going through the pages of my physical journals, a little disclaimer: I have not yet used Notion as a journal but plan on switching over soon!

I love this particular setup inspired by Reddit user /u/ia1987, and will probably use it with some slight modifications for my journals in the future. ❀ For some tips on categories for the research journal table of contents, don’t forget to check out my entry on “How to Keep a Research Journal”!

In case you would like to find a specific term in your entries (or the entire workspace, for that matter), Notion has a Quick Find feature (shown in the upper left) that almost instantaneously points you to the page(s) containing that term.

4. You Can Program it to Do Things via Formulas

RECORD SCRATCH. Yes, that’s right. Just like one would do in Excel or Google Sheets, but better, in a Notion workspace you can add a formula property that automatically calculates your desired result. I will not go into the details of how to program formulas and functions, instead I point you to the following official Formulas Documentation.

As you may have noticed, I am trying to learn Dutch and one way to memorize specific Dutch words and corresponding definitions is through spaced repetition. I wanted to design a page in which I could easily add new words, categorize them by my level of mastery and, accordingly, the page would automatically display “Today’s Words” via a spaced repetition algorithm. If I categorized a word as Level 1, I would see it again in 0 days. If it was Level 2, I would see it again in 1 day. If it was Level 3, I would see it again in 3 days, etc. Notion let me do just that. Now, my Dutch for Dummies page displays newer and more difficult words more frequently and older and easier words less frequently, allowing me to efficiently learn and retain the Dutch vocabulary.

5. It Knows LaTeX.

Game. Changer. Anywhere in your workspace, you can add and display beautifully formatted mathematical symbols and letters, expressions, and equations using LaTeX. Equations can be inserted either inline or in their own block by either the backslash command or the double $ sign, typical to any LaTeX editor. It’s perfect for note-taking! So far, I’ve been using this feature the most throughout my Statistics practice.

6. It Recognizes Programming Languages

Whether you’re learning a new programming language, creating an archive of code snippets, or documenting your research scripts, Notion code blocks make is easy to display code in nearly every programming language. Notion automatically supports the proper syntax and coloring of the selected language. I can already imagine how beneficial this feature will be when I transfer my research journal onto Notion! πŸ˜‰

7. It’s Free!

If you are a student or educator, you can access the nearly infinite potential of Notion’s Personal Plan absolutely free of charge. Notion’s Personal plan allows users to create unlimited blocks (ie., lines of information), share their workspace with unlimited members (pls share them w/ me) and synchronize across unlimited devices. There is also no file upload limit. The Personal Plan comes over forty block types (ways to add information), over fifty built-in templates, and the functionality to build wikis, create notes, and develop databases. So, what are you waiting for?

Undoubtedly, the possibilities with Notion are endless. But the best part about it is that everything is there and ready to use in one single place. The all-in-one functionality of Notion makes it impossible for any productivity efforts to either trail behind or go astray from your main goals and aspirations. Unfocused productivity will only lead to a dilution of motivation. Instead, cluster your productivity with Notion.

Note: In no way am I sponsored by Notion. I am just super super excited about this program, and simply wanted to share it with you. πŸ™‚

Welp. Thanks for sticking to the end! I’ve been considering adding some perks exclusive to subscribers, and I was wondering which ones you would be the most interesting in receiving.

Here are some ideas:

  • Weekly reminders of what is visible in the night sky.
  • Productivity quotes.
  • Study and organizational tips.
  • Other. (Please specify!)

I would love to hear what you think. ❀

How to Keep a Research Journal

Are you starting out your very first internship this summer? Are you beginning a lengthy project with faculty members at your home campus? Are you months or even years into a research project and would like to revamp your research notes? Then, this post might be for you!

Keeping a meticulous research journal changed my life.

When I first started out in research, I had no idea what I was doing. I attended my very first research meetings without a single note-taking device. Discussions would go in one ear and exit the other. Although I was already aware that my memory was pretty disastrous, no other thing confirmed this more than recalling zero information only a few minutes after exiting my advisor’s office.

And so, I began to keep a research journal.

After many trials and many more errors, here are some steps I continue to use to keep and maintain a research journal. πŸ™‚

The first step to starting a research journal is finding the perfect journal. There are plenty of options out there and if you’re reading this then you might already have a journal of your own. This is a journal that you will carry wherever you go throughout the duration of your project. So select one that you really like!

It should be sturdy enough to survive angry shoves into your backpack when it’s the end of the day and you still can’t figure out how to format the axes in your subplots.

I’m personally using a basic, Environotes Recycled Spiral Notebook. Although I am not married to the brand, the notebook itself possesses a set of features that I really appreciate. For one, the pages are sturdy enough so that my pen ink does not bleed through. It takes a powerful and clumsy hand to accidentally tear out a sheet. The back and front cover are super thick and strong. Despite its light blue color, the front cover rarely shows scuffs or stains. And more importantly, the sheets are made of sustainable sugarcane fiber, so I feel a little less bad about writing so many notes.

Please note that this is only the notebook I use. Choose a notebook that you will enjoy using. πŸ™‚

Yes, I know. This isn’t your fifth grade English class. Still.

The first page of my research journal is dedicated to a Table of Contents (TOC). The main purpose of a TOC is to give the writer and reader (in this case, probably both you!) an overview of the journal entries. Before I added a TOC to my journals, I used to spend countless minutes flipping through my notebooks trying to find an old note or parameter. Including a TOC in your journal makes it infinitely times easier to locate specific entries and refer to them at a later date.

Table of contents are semi-annoying to maintain on a day-to-day basis, so I usually update them at the end of the working week. Doing it at this time helps me take in and review the amount of work I’ve already done and formulate plans for the following week. πŸ™‚

Don’t forget to number all your journal pages afterward!

Here’s an example of what my current Table of Contents looks like.

Tiny Summary of Contents
An Introduction to Interferometry
Fundamentals, Questions for Advisor, and Applications

The next section of my research journal is dedicated to an organizational legend which details the structure of each journal entry. Thinking about and solidifying the structure early on reinforces consistency throughout journal entries. Some of the things that I include in each entry are the date, a to-do list of the day’s activities, and upcoming group meetings.

This is the perfect place to define color-codes for notes and symbol keys to give your journal additional context when you’re doing a quick flip through. For example, questions I have for my advisor are bubbled in gray highlighter, tasks are accompanied by a box to check off once they are complete, and productivity timers (which I also log) are prefaced by a double slash “\\”.

So far, the best note-taking method that has worked for me is the Cornell note system. The exact format is as follows. Each journal entry comes with a date, a Title (it’s OK to save the title for last!), a thin left column, a thick right column, and a Summary.

The thinner left column (30% of page) is reserved for main points, objectives, and questions. Here, I also like to jot down the bigger picture or motivation for the work I’m doing that day. The much thicker right column (70% of page) is reserved for additional information on the topic, the steps I’m taking or have taken to accomplish the objective (ie., an infinitely long table of all the trials I’ve done in an attempt to obtain a result), and the answers to questions I’ve posed.

At the end of the day, I include a brief summary on what I’ve accomplished, what remains to be done, and how the day’s work fits in to the main purpose of my research project. This gives me a chance to reflect on the journal entry’s contents and evaluate how much progress I’ve made.

My research involves a ton of trials, and sometimes I can spend hours on end tailoring a specific parameter to best match preexisting data in the literature. During days like these, it is easy to lose motivation. Without a concrete sense of how much I worked, I tend to feel like I haven’t really accomplished much.

And so, I decided to keep track of how much time I work. Logging your productivity is incredibly easy if you’re already implementing productivity techniques like the Pomodoro Method. Besides quantifying the amount of time I’ve spent seriously working, jotting down the length of my work sessions helps me keep myself accountable and procrastinate less. Since I already wrote down that I will work for 45 minutes in pen which I obviously cannot just white-out, I’ll simply convince myself to continue working until the time is up.

At the end of the day, as part of my entry summary, I tally up all the timers I noted and write down the time I spent working. Little work sessions add up. πŸ™‚

Maintaining a well-documented research journal can be perceived as tedious, but it is absolutely essential for both early-career and established researchers. It’s never too late to be mindful about your work, implement more efficient note-taking techniques, and keep a re-vamped research journal. πŸ˜€

I got a few questions about electronic ways to chronicle research progress. Although this post is primarily intended towards physical journals, I am planning on doing a post on some programs I use to keep up with research! Subscribe below to be notified when the post is published! πŸ˜‰ ❀

How to Read Any* Scientific Paper

One’s first encounter with a scientific paper can be intimidating and even a bit scary. Although there is no perfect way to read a publication, here are some techniques that have worked best for me, featuring an example!

*But primarily those in Astronomy and Astrophysics.

One’s first encounter with a scientific paper can be intimidating and even a bit scary.

I remember my first time. When I first began working on planet formation, my research advisor invited me to participate in the group’s biweekly journal clubs. Advanced undergraduate students and Master students alike were invited to present the results of a relevant scientific paper within 15 minutes or less. Since I had indulged in public speaking throughout high school and during my first few years of undergrad, I immediately signed up to be one of the next speakers. It was only 15 minutes – how hard could it be? Little did I know that the more difficult aspect of presenting a journal article was not the public speaking part, it was understanding the article well enough to explain it to a scientifically literate audience.

But don’t fret! The art of effectively reading of scientific literature does have a significant learning curve initially, but the more its done, the easier it becomes.

Here are some techniques that have worked best for me, featuring an example of a recent publication by my summer advisor, Dr. Mario Flock. πŸ™‚


Titles are typically neglected, as scientific literature is more frequently referred to by the author(s) and year of publication. But the title not only helps identify what the publication is about, but it also should help you, the reader, determine whether its a worthwhile read!

Is there anyone you recognize? It’s good to begin taking note of names and what specific individuals are working on within your field. Who knows, you might run into a few of these names in your next conference. One of them might slip into your interview for a PhD position when you’re already super super nervous. In cases like these, becoming familiar with author names and their work is integral in building and expanding your professional network. You might even get a chance to sit in one of the author’s PhD defense!

Abstracts are like those movie trailers that reveal the entire plot in 2 and a half minutes. It’s that super dense chunk of text at the beginning of every article that somehow manages to condense a 10-25 page paper into 500 words or less. They can be a lot to digest. These paper synopses usually contain four key pieces of information: the motivation of the work (why they did it), the methodology (how they did it), the results (what they found), and a conclusion (what it means).

I highly recommend taking your four favorite highlighters (or four different colored pens) and highlighting the four different sections of the abstract. Once you identify the inspiration for the study, the execution plan, the key findings, and conclusions, the remainder of the paper, which is formatted in the exact same way, will become a lot easier to take in.

And don’t forget about those keywords at the bottom! If the authors could describe the paper in a handful of words, these are the words they would use.

That’s right. The conclusion. Whether you completely forgot that you were supposed to present another article this week, or whether you spent the majority of your day working on beautifying your plots rather than reading the article your advisor wanted you to read before your next meeting which is coincidentally in five minutes, or whether you have all the time in the world and are just an article aficionado, the next thing to read is the conclusion.

Reading the conclusion immediately after the abstract further cements what the paper is about. It summarizes the bulk of the work, presents the most important findings, puts them into context, and sometimes discusses potential future steps. Once you’ve gotten a comprehensive understanding of the subject of the publication, you can now move on to the next step!

The introduction provides extensive background information and the main motivation for pursuing this project. Whilst reading the introduction, don’t be afraid of words or terms you’re not quite familiar with. Instead, look them up! It is likely that the background and motivation of this work will be similar to those of other works in the same field, so it’s best to become acquainted with this material early on!

Typically, this section includes a million references from previous work in the subject, which, if you’re already familiar with other publications, serve as an additional way to place the project into context.

The Methodology section of a publication is usually the most difficult portion to understand, especially if the article involves a niche subject, a ton of technical terminology, or is heavy on the theory side. It serves as a very detailed instruction manual on the project and includes all the specialized techniques that were used. But don’t worry. When you’re just starting out, this section is okay to skim. πŸ™‚ At the same time, this section is useful in case you would like to replicate the results or follow a similar routine to obtain your own results.

Now, let’s move on to the Results. This section of the publication provides the data the authors deemed useful to obtain their conclusions. Similar to the Methodology, the results can be quite dense and may be difficult to understand for the beginning reader.

Numeric results are often presented in graphics, plots, or even tables in an intuitive manner for (relatively) easy interpretation. In every publication, there are typically one or two “money-figures” so take some time to identify these as they are the most important results and contain most of the study’s findings. Once you’ve done so, focus on deciphering what quantities are represented in the figures by taking note of the axes, legends, and figure captions.

The Discussion section of any publication is where the author attempts to piece the puzzle together. Instead of simply presenting the data like in the Results section, here the author will explain what their results mean, the significance of their findings, and how these findings support their conclusion.

It’s important to keep in mind that the discussion section is primarily the author’s interpretation of the results. It’s O.K. to draw your own conclusions!

As this section may include future steps in much more detail, its the perfect place to identify yet unanswered questions in the field and which avenues are yet to be explored. Who knows, one of these “prospective future works” might turn into your next research project. πŸ˜‰

You’re almost there! Now that you’ve read through the majority of the work, revisit the conclusions section. Reread this section and ask yourself whether these concluding remarks are adequately supported by the rest of the paper. Also, do these conclusions correspond to your own conclusions of the work? And more importantly, what are the implications of these findings?

Whoo, you did it! You read a scientific paper! (Sorry to all ya non-n00bs out there.) If you’ve followed these steps and still have zero clue what the paper you’re reading is about, that’s alright! Scientific papers sometimes require multiple reads. Not only that, but every blooming scientist has their own way of approaching publications. A way that might work for me might not work for someone else. I hope that these techniques at the minimum lead you in the right direction, and that you apply the ones that best work for you. πŸ™‚

Have any additional tips? Comment them down below!

Thank you for reading! If you’d like to stay up to date with the latest blog posts, make sure to subscribe down below! ❀

Fighting Against Academic Burnout

Think you’re experiencing academic burnout? Here are some ways to fight against it!


I’m so glad you made it. πŸ™‚ If you were here during the early days of this blog, you might’ve noticed a few changes around here. Things are a tiny bit brighter, the entire blog is hosted in a new site, and I finally got myself a neat header! The semester is finally over for us here at nondescript university and I’m so happy that we all made it! This Spring also marks the culmination of a very important epoch in my life. Keep on the look out for a post on this in the near future! πŸ˜‰ I know that classes are finally over for the most of us, but I still would like to continue this series on Academic Burnout. Who knows who might need it in the upcoming months (I know I probably will!). So, let’s begin.

Earlier this year, astronomers captured a stunning image of a violent battle between two stars. After investigating data from the binary system, it was concluded that the larger companion had neared the end of its life. It had swelled up into a red giant, puffing out its outer layers. The dying star grew so large that it began to swallow its much smaller companion. The lower mass star began to spiral in. As it did so, it released polar jets of heated gas. While the two stars eventually did not collide, the proximity of the two stars triggered an immense outburst which disfigured the gaseous jets into tremendous arcs (pictured below), ripped apart the older star’s outer layers and left its core exposed.

ALMA catches the beautiful outcome of a stellar fight.

The battle against academic burnout is incredibly analogous. Like the red giant star, we are weathered by time and sometimes academic burnout makes it feel as though we are nearing the end of our prime. In an effort to conceal the collapse of our personal drive, we puff out our external layers and engage in menial, time consuming tasks to at least maintain the illusion that everything is normal. Academic burnout, dense and poignant, is eager to hit when we’re most vulnerable and least self-aware. A collision isn’t necessary. Even a close encounter with academic burnout has the potential to rip apart our sense of motivation.

So don’t let academic burnout win. Recognize it and fight against it. And here’s some ways to do it.

Four Ways to Fight Against Academic Burnout

  1.  Recognize Symptoms and Don’t Ignore Them! 
    First thing’s first, familiarize yourself with the symptoms of academic burnout. If you’re finding yourself more and more demotivated, are struggling to keep up with coursework, or feel overwhelmed by the material and immediate deadlines, recognize that this mentality is a serious one that can only spiral into worse conditions if left unattended. Don’t ignore these feelings. They are completely valid and require immediate attention. Burnout is a sign that something needs to change.
  2.  Ask yourself, “What do I value most?”
    When we feel out of touch with our own personal values, it is easy to simply follow Newton’s First Law of Motion. A mismatch between the things you do, the way you act, and the things you value most leads to distress, unhappiness and an ever-increasing lack of motivation. So break free from autopilot and mechanical routines and take some time to acknowledge what’s really important to you. Need help identifying your values? Here’s a helpful exercise that helped me!
  3. Learn how to say, “NO.”(And recognize your limits.)
    Oof. I personally struggle with this one the most. I owe this tip to Jordan E., a fellow Cal-Bridge scholar. She mentioned that as a woman of color in science, she was often asked to participate in a multitude of events geared towards promoting diversity in STEM. When it comes to causes we are passionate about, whether its promoting inclusion in the field or our own subject of study, its often difficult to say no to additional commitments. Signing up for too many things leads to an unmanageable workload. Setting boundaries is healthy. Say no and prioritize the things that really matter.
  4. Find your “Off” switch and actually switch “Off”.
    Throughout my undergraduate career, remaining “switched on” 24/7 was often preferred and even praised. But this is obviously unsustainable; long stretches of strenuous mental activity will ultimately lead to burnout. On the other hand, studies suggest that psychological detachment from work, i.e., “switching off”, ultimately protects and even improves long-term well-being and work engagement. So once its time to clock out, check out of productivity mode and check into the rest of your life. πŸ™‚

Academic burnout, although difficult to escape, does not last forever. While stellar burnout signifies the end of a star’s lifetime, the gaseous remains of supernovae go on to form new stars, composed of heavier and more complex elements than ever before. The end of the world is often a sign of a new beginning.

Identifying Academic Burnout

Do you feel emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted by the ever-increasing, excessive, and continual stress you’re experiencing in school? You may be suffering from academic burnout.

Hi everyone! (Including OG fans of the previous Aiming for Apogee, rip <3.) It’s time to finally continue the Academic Burnout series I had planned a millennium ago. Note: This post in particular is a repetition of what was in my previous site, with some minor additions/edits.

I’ve gotten incessant messages and even some very mean in-person comments (you know who you are) asking if I had actually succumbed to the very thing I was writing about. The answer is yes and no. While I did place some things on hold (like this blog), I am happy to say that I have continued to remain productive, both personally and professionally. πŸ™‚ Now, without further ado, lets talk about Burnout.

But first, let me briefly discuss the life and death of a star.

Eventually, even stars burn out.

Star Wars Episode III

Stellar formation begins with the development of a rotating clump within interstellar clouds of molecular gas. Eventually, as this clump accrues matter, it becomes massive enough to trigger a gravitational collapse and form a protostar. The protostar continues to attract matter and contract until the incredibly high temperatures and densities of its core trigger nuclear fusion. Finally, a star is born.

Because stars have a limited amount of hydrogen to fuse into heavier elements, they consequently have a limited lifetime that depends on the mass of the star. Surprisingly, more massive stars have shorter lifetimes and less massive stars have longer lifetimes. (Thank goodness our host star is kind of tiny relative to the other much larger stars in the universe!) Once the star exhausts all of its hydrogen fuel, it begins to increase in size, become redder, and lives the rest of its life as a red giant.

There are two scenarios that mark the death of a star. Less massive, “ordinary” sized stars like our Sun continue to expand into red supergiants. Eventually, the red supergiant will no longer have any fuel to support its structure, and it will gravitationally collapse and expel a shell of bright gas.

Cat's Eye Nebula, NGC 6543 - Hubble Telescope, NASA


            Rudy Pohl
The Cat’s Eye Nebula, a shell of bright gas expelled during the death of a star.

More massive stars like to go out with a bang. Once their hydrogen supply is exhausted, they continue on to using helium as fuel. The helium is fused to form carbon, which is then fused to form oxygen, which is then fused to form neon, which is then fused to form sulfur, which is finally fused to form iron. At this point, the core of the dying star has continued to gravitationally contract. The core is so dense that nuclear forces repel or “bounce off” in-falling material. This core “bounce” triggers an incredibly powerful, energetic, and luminous stellar explosion, a supernova. Can you spot the supernova explosion in the header image?

The remnants of Supernova 1006, first observed by Chinese astronomers in 1006 AD.

But what do stars have to do with anything?

Well. Like stars, humans burnout, too.

Unlike stars that can do nothing but succumb to the physical processes that govern them, we have a choice to identify burnout and do something about it.

Academic burnout is often mistaken for normal academic stress and is thus often neglected. The difference between regular academic stress and academic burnout is that stress refers to a period of emotional, mental, and physical tension, whereas academic burnout refers to emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion induced by excessive and continual stress.

As the assignments, midterms, and papers pile up, so does one’s stress. Quickly, tasks become too overwhelming to even begin. The stress never really ends and instead, like chia seeds accidentally left inside a water bottle for a week, it flourishes, which causes one to lose the drive, passion, and motivation for pursuing a specific academic and/or career path. Without a doubt, burnout drastically reduces motivation, saps any remaining energy, and even lowers one’s sense of competency as previously “simple” tasks become increasingly more difficult to do.

If you resonate with any of the above, well… you may be suffering from academic burnout. Considering its negative effects on an individual’s goals and aspirations, burnout is not something that should be taken lightly!

Not fully convinced? Here are some questions to ask yourself to identify if you are suffering from academic burnout.

Emotional Well-Being

  • Are you overly sensitive towards small issues like comments or constructive criticism? 
  • Are you having difficulty engaging in activities or hobbies you previously enjoyed? 
  • Do you feel bored all the time? 
  • Do you excessively overthink things?  

Mental Well-Being (Academic)

  • Are you making more mistakes that you typically would? 
  • Do you find it difficult to think of new ideas, ie., subjects for papers or class projects? 
  • Do you feel incapable of meeting deadlines? 
  • Are you lacking motivation to attend virtual classes or begin assignments?

Physical Well-Being

  • Are you tired all the time, regardless of how much sleep you get? 
  • Are you stress eating?
  • Does your body feel tense, in particular in your jaw or shoulders area? 
  • Are you experiencing headaches? 

 As I’m writing this, I am now realizing that perhaps I have a worse case of academic burnout than I thought!

But nevertheless, there is hope.

If this is something you’re currently experiencing, please let me know down below in the comments. We’re all in this together.

Anyways, I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of this lack of motivation! Tune into my next post, where I’ll angrily discuss ways to fight back against academic burnout. 😠

My Morning Routine

“A good morning routine sets the tone for the rest of the day.” Here’s what I typically do every morning as well as some ideas to help kick-start your day!

21 Day Hero says it best, “[A] good morning routine sets a tone for the rest of the day.” The benefits of establishing a morning routine are countless. Starting the day off with a series of simple, fulfilling steps increases relaxation and reduces anxiety levels. Most morning routines have a very defined beginning based on when the individual wishes to wake up (ie., at 7:30am sharp). A consistent sleep schedule leads to better rest and, as a result, heightened performance, mental acuity, motivation, and general energy levels. Including exercise in your morning routine gets the blood flowing and releases endorphins that trigger an overall positive feeling in the body. In the long run, morning routines reduce stress, promote motivation, and contribute to better health.

So, what do I do in the mornings?

My Morning Routine

Step 1: Wake up at 6:30am. As soon as I hear the alarm clock, I must get out of bed! Otherwise, I’ll simply stay in.
Step 2: Use the restroom, brush teeth, put hair in ponytail, etc. I don’t think you need to know the deets.
Step 3: Make the bed. I am 87% less likely to crawl back into bed when it is neatly made.
Step 4: Make breakfast and coffee, refill my water bottle.
Step 5: Eat breakfast while reading a book for 20 minutes. To those of you who know me personally, I am still semi-anti-breakfast, so I typically only eat something sweet and light like granola with various fruits. It takes the body ~20 minutes to acknowledge that it is being fed, hence the time minimum.Β 
Step 6: Exercise for 15 minutes. Aka, stretch and do light yoga on my mat. There are some days where I’ll do an entire 50 minute exercise routine, but these are very rare.Β 
Step 7: De-clutter my room. A cluttered room leads to a cluttered mind! Cleaning makes me feel refreshed and ready to start a new day without worrying about the literal and metaphorical mess of yesterday.Β 

Notice how checking social media isn’t in my routine! Unless it’s an absolute emergency or if I’m contacting loved ones, I leave my phone across my room and avoid it while I go through my seven steps. Similarly, my laptop remains untouched. As an introvert, looking at notifications as soon as I wake up makes me super anxious so I postpone reading them until I am at a more relaxed, social, and energetic state. πŸ™‚


Thinking about establishing your own morning routine? Here are some things you can do every morning to kick-start your day!

  • Wake up early.
  • Exercise: get your blood flowing by working out, stretching, going for a walk or run, or doing yoga.
  • Process e-mails or do some work: I personally like to keep my routine work-free, but getting something done early on can increase motivation throughout the day.
  • Meditation: calm your mind and set the mood for the rest of the day.
  • Gratitude practice: write a note of gratitude, journal, visuale your productivity throughout the day, look at yourself in the mirror and remind yourself that you’re amazing, pray.
  • Read: a book, magazine, newspaper, astro-ph Arxiv article.
  • Listen: to a podcast, TEDTalk, some music.
  • Spend time with family: help children get ready, enjoy a cup of coffee with significant other.

The best morning routine is one that suits you. So – make it your own!

I would love to hear about your morning routines in the comments below. ❀

Image Credit: Samantha Cristoforetti, ESA/NASA

A Restart

Welcome to a new beginning.

This blog was created in an effort to chronicle my journey throughout academia and, more importantly, to capture my productivity both as a student and alien human being. Through this blog, I will monitor my professional development and personal growth (with some tangential anecdotes about cats, books, and random space facts sprinkled in). Join me (once again) as I aim for my very own personal apogee. 🌠

Image Credit: Bartosz Wojczynski