Islam Khan

Possible Connections Between Inflaton and Dark Energy Within An Oscillating Reheating Framework
Washington State University
Hi! Tell us a bit about yourself – what stage of your PhD are you in and what’s your project about?

Hello everyone! I’m Islam and I’m currently in the final year of my physics PhD program. I should mention I’m an international student in the U.S. and I did my B.S. in physics from here as well. I do research work in a field called particle cosmology (interface between particle physics and cosmology) and my main project has to do with investigating the nature of the mysterious “dark energy” by better understanding what exactly happened during the very early universe. I’m talking about a time when the age of the universe was only a tiny fraction of a second! Having an in-depth knowledge of these fields of physics gradually gets me closer to the answers to the profound questions such as: “What’s the nature of dark matter and dark energy?”, “What’s the ultimate fate of the universe?”, “What caused the big bang in the first place?”, etc.

Islam presenting his poster at the American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting, 2019
What does a typical day or week look like for you?

My days (and I do mean every single day) start out with a mug of freshly brewed coffee. I usually have to teach astronomy labs twice a week and because all of my research can be done on my laptop, I can work from anywhere provided there’s WiFi available. You’d sometimes find me working in the library, the graduate study center, or perhaps one of the Starbucks in town. There’s quite a bit of grading to do which varies semester to semester. I’ve to attend my research group meetings once and department colloquiums/seminars once or twice a week. Being a member of the representative body for graduate students in my university and also a couple of student-run organizations take up some time as well.

What’s one thing that you’ve enjoyed the most during your PhD?

It’s difficult to pick a winner, but I would say I really enjoyed getting to meet and connect with so many wonderful peers and colleagues across many different disciplines, being provided with many opportunities that have helped me develop both personally and professionally, and last but not least, receiving superb mentorship from my PhD advisor. It’s not an easy job for any advisor to “train” a student into becoming a fully independent researcher and I would say my advisor has provided me with enough mentorship needed to accomplish that.

What’s been the most challenging part of it?

The first few semesters were definitely the most challenging for me. Right from the start of the very first semester, I had to juggle between taking 3 graduate-level courses, teaching 2 physics labs along with grading, and doing my own research work. Maintaining a 3.0 GPA was a requirement for assistantship and I had to figure out my PhD thesis topic in the middle of all that as well. Honestly, barely getting 5 hours of sleep a night and “surviving” the graduate program did take a toll on my health. Fortunately, I was done with most of my classes and exams within the first 2 years. I learned better time management along the way and was able to rejuvenate myself later through self-care.

Where do you see yourself 5 years after completing your PhD?
It doesn’t really matter to me where I will be working 5 years after my PhD completion, as long as I get to do research in the fields I’m passionate about. Hopefully, I am going to be an established researcher in my field by then. My plan is to work as a postdoc for several years after I graduate, and after that, I would like to work as a full-time researcher (or a research scientist) at a national laboratory, research organization, or science laboratory. From my experience, nothing goes as planned (in a good way) and I’m pretty sure life will take quite a few turns within the next 5 years.

What’s one piece of advice that you’d offer students that are thinking of doing a PhD?
Pursue a PhD only if you’re absolutely certain you’re passionate about the field and you’d love doing research work on it for several years. If you’re not sure about it, it’s best to do thorough research on the subject to get a better idea about the state-of-the-art research going on and see if you’re genuinely interested. Getting a PhD takes 4-6 years time which is a big chunk of our short lives. Many lose interest in the middle of their PhD programs which is not a pleasant place to be in. If you do decide to get into a PhD program, choose your advisor very carefully. How your PhD journey goes will mostly depend on your relationship with your advisor.

What makes your university a good place to study?

Washington State University (WSU) is a top-tier public research university with a very high research output! It is located in a college town called Pullman which is far from any major city. Some may have differences in opinion, but I think being in a slow-paced town has its own advantages for someone going to graduate school. Being in a PhD program can cause stress. A calm and quiet town far from all the noise makes any college town the ideal place for dealing with it and to keep going. On top of that, Pullman is in the top 10 safest college towns in the US, and the living expense for graduate students here is quite affordable.

Lastly, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I enjoy playing soccer the most and conveniently, there’s a soccer field right next to my apartment! I also love playing the classical guitar. We have a small band composed of mostly international grad students and we often have jam sessions over the weekends. I’m always off to the movie theater whenever there’s a new Sci-Fi, Action, or Marvel (which is obviously better than DC) movie out. During longer holidays, I usually take road trips to national parks nearby (or far away) with others and spend a few days there hiking as many trails as we can.

Islam’s band “Contraband 2.0”. Picture was taken after their performance at the International Mother Language Day 2020 event. Click on the image for their YouTube Channel!
Want to learn more about Islam?

Connect with him on Twitter, LinkedIn, ResearchGate and Facebook, and check out his website using the links below:

Twitter | LinkedIn | Website | ResearchGate | Facebook

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