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Graduate Students Repairing Equipment

  1. Oct 3, 2008 #1

    I'm on the last year and a half of my PhD research. My project is mostly experimental, which involves ion implanting into ferrous surfaces for improves tribological properties. Unfortunately, the equipment (the ion implanter, Auger, SIMS, and XPS) breaks down once in a while and I'm finding a lot of my time being spent on repair work whether it be fixing a vacuum leak or repairing a circuit. I'm finding the time spent on repairing equipment is affecting my research progress. Don't get me wrong, I have a big interest in electronics and I'm a bit of tinkerer, but is it normal for graduate students to spend half their time fixing equipment? Thanks

  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 3, 2008 #2
    There is an old joke... how can you tell the difference between a theoretical physicist and an experimental physicist? Well, theoretical physicists spend their time looking for the sign error, and experimental physicists spend their time looking for the leak in their vacuum hose.

    OK, so it's not really very funny, but I think spending time fixing equipment is extremely common.
  4. Oct 3, 2008 #3


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    Consider yourself fortunate ... that kind of experience is going to be invaluable for any kind of science position in the future.

    Experience with instrumentation is a great asset , you can get your foot in the door to any field with expertise in this area.
  5. Oct 3, 2008 #4
    I'm an undergrad TA and spend half of my time fixing instruments.
  6. Oct 3, 2008 #5


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    Worse is if your project combines cryostats and software.
    Spend a week finding the leak, then a week cooling it down, then warm it up - repeat
    Then start on the software!!!!!!
  7. Oct 20, 2008 #6


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    If the equipment is required as part of your experimental apparatus, then yes, you're the one who needs to fix it. It's all part of troubleshooting and real life as an experimental scientist. Believe me, you're lucky when you can fix your own equipment. It's much worse when you use equipment that it beyond your own ability to fix and you need to wait weeks at a time for someone else to come in to repair it for you only to find they didn't do it right and something is still broken, or it breaks down again a week later.
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