Hodge Podge

December 4, 2011

It is now the last week of classes. This semester has absolutely flown by me. Easily the most difficult aspects have been breaking out of my old mental habits. For instance, I did undergraduate research. My mindset as an undergrad was classwork first and research second. So there were some weeks where I would barely touch my research due to exams or projects. Graduate school is not like this. My first priority is no longer classes but research. Or rather, that is what it will be once I pass my qualifying exams.

For those of you unfamiliar, the quals (as they are affectionately called) are exams that all graduate students take to prove that they are ready to begin studying for a PhD. The quals prove that you are qualified, by which I mean that you learned everything you needed to learn in your undergrad. Well, the kicker is that what your undergraduate institution thought was important may not be thought of as important by your graduate institution. In studying for the qualifiers, I realize how rusty I have become at some problems. My thermodynamics was particularly poor thanks to a totally non-standard course I received. In order to shore up my deficiencies, I have been reading and working problems. I never thought of myself as an autodidact, and I still think that it is a poor learning method. But sometimes you only have yourself and your books to teach yourself from. This can be particularly frustrating when you become “stuck”. Now that quals are getting nearer, I have formed a group of people to study with and this is proving very helpful.

Another mental habit that I had to kick was turning off my brain after a day of class for about an hour. I’d just watch something and while it was relaxing, it was not really rewarding. In order to break this habit, I simply put in the time to make good, rewarding content readily available. If you follow my twitter (logisticmiasma), you’ve been seeing some of the articles I read. Well, I’m going to just make this post ramble even more by doing a bit of a link round-up. My browser tabs slowly build up with interesting articles that I want to talk about but never get a chance to.

  • How a collapsing scientific hypothesis led to a lawsuit and arrest This article should help demystify science for people. There are often high stakes riding on a theory, and that is why every one tries to disprove theories. This article shows just how messy this process can be especially when someone becomes wedded to a theory. Then that person feels personally attacked when their theory comes under fire. Divisions can form and relationships and careers can get ruined. If you think I am exaggerating, Dr. Dan Shectman, who won the Nobel prize in chemistry this year, faced huge opposition to the idea of quasicrystals. (For more watch this video. Cut to around 6:05 for the ridicule he faced. Shectman was mocked, called a disgrace, and forced out of the lab.)
  • We are running out of time to prevent drastic climate change! Two interesting studies looked at this: one focused on California, the other was global in scope. Both reached the same conclusion that there are huge, but not insurmountable obstacles to dealing with climate change. The problem is that the more we delay, the more we will have to pay. “For every $1 of investment in the power sector avoided before 2020,” the IEA concludes, “an additional $4.3 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the higher emissions.”
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