Posts Tagged 'Grad School'

Killing Trees: The Never-Ending Quest for Scrap Paper

Early on in this blog, I wrote about reducing my carbon footprint, linking to a calculator that estimates your enviornmental imact.  One section they should have had: “Are you a physics grad student?  If so, we will increase your carbon footprint to take into account all the trees that you will kill doing homework sets this year.”

Physics homework sets are notorious for taking multiple pages per problem (although they’re not as bad as some of the math classes that I’ve taken).  And this is just for the final finished solutions — don’t forget the paper that I waste on the false starts and dead-end approaches to problems.  Another factor that contributes to my tree-killing is that I typically work through an assignment in a very nonlinear fashion: starting a problem, getting stuck, starting a new problem, hitting a wall, going back to an earlier problem, etc.  Because of this, I may end up with each problem on its own separate sheet(s) of paper.  I feel bad about wasting paper, but there’s really no other way to work through the problem sets.

Continue reading ‘Killing Trees: The Never-Ending Quest for Scrap Paper’

First Week of Class

So I’ve got the first week of grad classes under my belt.  Not that I had expected a huge difference from undergrad, but the classes aren’t qualitatively different.  Of course, there are significantly more students in my classes than at my small undergrad program where I had six people in my classes.

Taking notes

I’ve been struggling somewhat with the chronic problem of physics classes: Do you try to really understand what the professor is doing during the lecture, or do you try to copy down everything, hoping that you’ll understand it later?

Of course, in principle I should know, for example, where Lagrange’s equations come from and how to derive them, but I also know from experience that I probably won’t be required to reproduce this in homework or exams, but rather how to use them to solve problems.  And when the professor is tossing around all kinds of cross products and indices, and arguing why this or that term equals zero, it’s very easy to miss the forest for the trees.  I’d say that in many traditionally taught classes, it’s pretty much impossible to both understand what’s going on and to get everything in your notes.  Most students tend to opt for the latter, hence the addage that “Lecture is the place where the class notes are transferred from the notebook of the professor to the notebook of the students without passing through the brains of either.”

Continue reading ‘First Week of Class’

Rooting for the LHC

With the Large Hadron Collider coming online soon, people are starting to discuss what might discoveries might be made there and when we can expect results.  (Well, at least it’s starting to be discussed in the blogosphere as well as in more popular news outlets.  Experts in the field have of course been discussing these things for much longer.)  Sean Carroll at Cosmic Variance has the most interesting take that I’ve seen for a semi-informed audience.  He even gives odds on various discoveries that may or may not be found at the LHC.  It’s a very interesting and entertaining article, and I recommend that you read it, if you haven’t already.  So… time to start placing your bets!

I’m actually kind of surprised that I can’t seem to find any online bookies taking bets on the results at the LHC.  In addition to the odds posted on Cosmic Variance about what new discoveries will be made, there’s a bunch of other stuff to bet on: What’s the over-under on the Higgs mass?  When will it be found?  What will the doomsday prophets say when we’re not eaten by micro black holes?

Anyway, in spite of the lack of traditional betting on the LHC, many particle theorists have much more at stake on the experiments at CERN: the validity of their work throughout their careers.  With the new range of energies to be explored, the plethora of predictions that theorists have made over the last few decades will begin to sort themselves out.  With all this at stake, it’s only natural that each scientist is probably rooting for a spectacular confirmation of his pet theory within the next few years.

As a student preparing to enter the field of theoretical particle physics, the results at the LHC have a large amount of personal meaning for me as well. Continue reading ‘Rooting for the LHC’

Graduate Junction: The Academic Facebook

I first heard about Graduate Junction through a review from An American Physics Student in England.  Flip’s verdict was something of a mixed review, and he seems to be taking a wait-and-see approach to the site.  However, the concept seemed intriguing, so I decided to check the site out for myself.

Can this site graduate from a novelty to a useful tool for graduate students?

Can this site graduate from a cool concept to a useful tool for graduate students?

The goal of Graduate Junction is to provide an academic networking service along the lines of social networking sites like Facebook.  Each user creates and maintains a personal profile page including name, institution, research summary, and a list of publications.  Users can create and join groups, post links, publish notes, and send messages to other users.  In fact, there is basically no functionality here that is not on Facebook.  The main difference is what is removed: photos, pokes, applications, personal interests, the wall… anything that isn’t strictly professional.  So if this site presents nothing entirely new, what value can it have?

Continue reading ‘Graduate Junction: The Academic Facebook’