(Props to those who caught the Jay-Z reference)
So I’ve decided that a few more specific details will make this blog better (at least it will make it more enjoyable for me to write). Because I wasn’t sure what level of personal detail I was comfortable with revealing, I never really introduced myself properly, I’ll take the opportunity to do so now:
I am a first-year grad student studying physics at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where I intend to get into high energy theory research.
I did my undergrad (physics and math) at Xavier University in Cincinnati, a small, Jesuit liberal arts college.
I moved to Minneapolis from my hometown of Indianapolis about three weeks ago, and I’ve spent the past two weeks in orientation/TA training at “The U,” as people refer to the University of Minnesota in the Cities.
The semester starts on Tuesday. I will be taking the standard course load: Statistical Physics, Quantum Physics, and Classical Physics. The Classical Physics course consists of about 10 weeks of mechanics before we switch over to the infamous Jackson electrodynamics book for the end of the semester and all of the spring semester.
I will also be a TA for the introductory physics intended for biology/pre-med majors. My TA responsibilities include two labs and two discussion sessions, as well as one office hour in our department’s TA help room. The TA training focused mainly on Minnesota’s unique approach to undergraduate instruction, which includes a strong emphasis on collaborative problem solving. Of course, in my first TA team meeting with the professor we’ll be working for, he told us that he deviates a fair amount from the prescribed curriculum, which rendered a fair portion of our training obsolete. Of course, I’ll have some amount of direct control of what goes on in my labs, so I’ll probably be operating on some sort of combination of the official doctrine and my professor’s philosophy.
Now that the TA training is over, I’m actually pretty excited for classes to start, so I can get down to the business that brought me to Minnesota in the first place, which is learning physics. I get into a “ridiculously good student” mode at about this team every year, where I really stay on top of my work, or sometimes even (gasp!) ahead of schedule. This usually doesn’t last all that long. For example, after my first class in my freshman year at Xavier, I went immediately to the library to read the first book of Plato’s Republic and take notes on the reading. I repeated this kind of studiousness approximately never during the rest of my undergrad career.
Well, this time’s gonna be different! (As if I don’t say that every year…) But this year, it’s manifested itself in the fact that I’m reading the first chapter of Goldstein’s Classical Mechanics before the first class. And even taking notes in the margins! My modern physics teacher recommended this study technique during my sophomore year, and I like the idea of it, but haven’t done it much in practice because my handwriting is somewhat large, and I’m not the neatest of writers. However, Goldstein’s book has extra-wide margins on one side, perfect for note-taking. I don’t anticipate taking my lecture notes in my book like one person in my undergrad class was fond of doing, but it’s a good way to remind yourself how the author did certain derivations in the book. Textbook authors like to act as though their derivations are perfectly logical and sensible to all their readers, but they are often so concise that it can take a fair amount of digging to figure out how they arrived at the result. And once you’ve figured it out, it’s good to make a note of it so you don’t have to go through the process again. Especially in grad textbooks, which will probably last for much of your career.
Anyway, it’s time to stop this procrastination and get back to my studious ways. I’ll try to keep up the posting level as the semester begins. Ambitious, I know, so we’ll see how that goes.