Humans of Physics IV: Shirin Ermis

This is the fourth installment of Humans of Physics, a project which searches to show how we scientists are just like everyone. Dispelling some stereotypes is probably a good idea, from time to time. 

For me, the cliché is true. Every morning I get woken up by the birds. It’s actually a chime but it still feels good and I congratulate myself for having found it on my phone every morning. It’s seven, I try to roll between my sheets as long as possible without falling back to sleep. Usually the fool-proof way to do that is to put on a podcast of yet more grueling news. I’ll start with the short German one. Then if I need more time, the English one. At some point around twenty past seven I will crawl out of bed, do my morning stretches, get dressed and go downstairs to get breakfast. I’ll balance the warm bowl of porridge and the tea upstairs to my room. While clutching the cup I will try to keep myself motivated for long enough to write a little to do list in my diary. I will make sure my workout, watering my plants and going outside is on there as well as all the work stuff. Sometimes I will drift off at that point, either too excited to focus or too bored to be bothered. It’s usually videos on Youtube on why polar bear numbers are rising in some places in the Arctic or pictures of London on Pinterest in anticipation for my master’s that I will start in October.

Focus has never been something that I found in my bedroom but since the pandemic hit in March, I was forced to make it work, for better or worse. I try to work in two-hour chunks, sometimes I take extended breaks in between my pomodoros. I will start to sing Christmas carols on the top of my lungs to lose the building sense of frustration when nothing is working, or I will go out to cuddle the family dog when I am too excited. What helps me stick to my desk is the pot of tea I will cook after my breakfast tea. I always stay where the tea is. My work is concerned with the comparison of ocean temperatures and currents in the North Atlantic in hope to find out more about how ocean currents change over time. I try to crunch numbers produced by climate models, I put them into plots and maps of the North Atlantic which I will spend forever to make as intuitive (read: pretty) as possible. I look up how to make a certain type of plot in online forums, I look for bugs in my code.

By the end of each two hour slot I will be severely exhausted and by the second or third slot I will definitely need a break. My preferred way of getting out of my head at the moment is a run through the fields near our house. This usually also means more time for podcasts: self-help ones, those about the latest science or long interviews are all great for running. The evenings are now a strictly work-free regime. I will read, watch Netflix or have two-and-a-half hour discussions with friends over facetime. By eleven I’ll be back in bed, still devoted to science in my sleep by giving the free computing power of my phone to medical research that uses artificial intelligence.

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Shirin is a student researcher at the University of Heidelberg and will start her MSc in Physics at Imperial College London this autumn. Her research focuses on the interconnections between ocean temperatures and currents in the North Atlantic and how likely a “The day after tomorrow” scenario actually is.

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