Sunday, January 07, 2007

Fall 2006

(This post has been backdated to put it the proper order sequentially. It was actually written sometime in early 2007.)

Back in the action. Funny how all the other students look so much younger than they even did last time. (What a difference between looking at them with a 33-year-old’s eyes in Spring 1999 versus my now-ancient 41-year-old’s eyes.) Oy vay.

Since I am technically a senior (those Temple credits again), I get a lot of senior-related mail (and I get to register for courses first!), such a graduate information announcements and such. I even got put on a listserv for postgraduate fellowship information, which they do for GMU’s “most accomplished undergraduates” (must be the 4.0 GPA). Thanks in large part to all those extra emails, I have become pretty psyched up about grad school and have begun to do prep work for it now already. Anything which keeps my enthusiasm active is good. I do not want to backslide into heavy fiction reading again or, even worse, into computer games.

The only bad thing about being back nearly full-time at school is that it cuts heavily into my physical hobbies – kung fu, bicycling, etc. I need to come up with a way to add workouts back into my schedule without giving up family time! I suspect this will eventually result in getting up at 6 AM (or earlier) in order to do some physical stuff then and still be back in time to get the kids up for school at 7.

Scientific American: We have been getting this for years, of course, although they target the writing for a very general audience. I may drop it next time the subscription comes up. There are publications I can read which are more appropriate to my studies.

Technology Review (MIT): Very interesting, but also not oriented towards hard science (although it reports on some of it).

Science: I joined the American Association for the Advancement of Science ( as a professional (need to be a full-time student for student access – bugger!). That gets me the weekly Science magazine, which definitely contains current, high-end research papers (most of which are entirely over my head) as well as online access to every issue of the magazine back to its first issue in July 1880 (funded by Thomas Edison).

PHYS262 – University Physics II (audit) – Instructor: Neil Goldman. I backed up a semester in Physics for fear of being totally lost. It was probably a good idea – in fact, backing up to Physics I would even have been a good idea if I wanted to lose yet another semester. The first exam went well. No dropping out now anyway, but at least it’s not for grade. The instructor is mediocre – while I do not actively dislike him, I almost certainly will avoid taking any class by him in the future. Second exam went poorly, for which I blame the instructor in large part. Due to conflicting schedules (Astrophysics journal review on alternate Thursdays) and my (now) dislike of the instructor, I am ditching all recitations of this class and will no longer bother to show up for exams. The last month of classes I pretty much skipped altogether.

MATH214 – Differential Equations (audit) – Instructor: Stephen Saperstone. Back for a third time with him! He sure looks a lot older than he did last time. Oh wait, so do I. Oh well. I still enjoy his teaching, although I hate some of the Java apps he likes. (Maple 10 rocks!) I started slacking on homework about 2/3 of the way through and due to a time crunch (he brought his last exam forward two days just as the last Astrobiology exam moved back a week to the same day, plus normal weekend/family duties), I decided to ditch the last two exams (because of the study time involved).

ASTR301 – Astrobiology (credit) – Instructor: Mike Summers. This was my only course for credit this semester and my first junior-level course (301). Mike is a good, personable instructor (and a scientist on three separate NASA missions or pre-missions at once – New Horizons, ARES and AIM) and he is actually generating some interest for me in this topic, which I did not even know existed as a science before picking courses for this semester. The hard part (maybe) is that the course is so much different than anything I have taken for a long, long time. No number crunching. No equations, theorems and procedures to memorize. Test questions are answered in sentence or small paragraph format (no calculators needed!). Only 7 students total in the class, which is also an unusual format for me – I like the feel of it. Biggest problem is the biology orientation of the course (unsurprising, given the topic) – biology was never really my strong point and it shows in how easily those chapters lose me. Grade: A.

Worked with Dr. Shobita Satyapal and her post-doc Brian O'Halloran to learn some astrophysics-related tools (CUBISM, SMART) which I will use next semester. Did some data crunching, but ultimately did not use any of that information.

After much course research and discussions with advisors Philip Rubin (physics) and Joe Weingartner (astronomy), I have come up with a course load for the remaining semesters here. I could conceivably graduate as early as Spring 2008, but that would require a vastly overloaded schedule, especially in Fall 2007 (15 credit hours, including a 9-hour lab section). Since I am not likely to be able to sustain that kind of workload, I have opted for a graduation target of Fall 2008, using 9 credits in each of the 2007 semesters and then 13 credits total in 2008. That should allow me to keep up my side of the family support without proceeding unreasonably slow in my coursework.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Spring 2006

(This post has been backdated to put it the proper order sequentially. It was actually written sometime in early 2007.)

I applied to GMU to enter as a Returning Student. Got accepted with no problem (sure, it has been over 6 years, but I also have a 4.0 GPA). Began studying some calculus to try to get back into the swing of things, but it fell to the wayside (no surprise). Continued wasting my life in computer games until May or June, when I gave them up (hopefully) for good. Unfortunately, this was just before the kindergarten school year let out, which kept me too busy for the rest of the summer to concentrate on studying. Heading back to school cold!

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Dark Ages (of my Physics education)

(This post has been backdated to put it the proper order sequentially. It was actually written sometime in early 2007.)

A 6-year hiatus from studies while I helped raise our kids. Martial arts hobby embraced. Far, far too many hours of my life lost in computer games. And then… magic! The girls headed off to 1st grade in Fall 2006, freeing up my schedule from 8:30am-4:00pm every school day! Back to school!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Spring 2000

(This post has been backdated to put it the proper order sequentially. It was actually written sometime in early 2007.)

I started this semester and then dropped out just before the deadline. We had moved into the new house, but were having a ton of trouble getting the contractors to finish things correctly (6 months after closing!). Also we were working on creating a family, which added to mental stress. Finally, none of the topics were particularly thrilling to me at the time (although all were required).

University Physics III (dropped) – Instructor: Indubala Satija (I think – not 100% sure). Not sure whether it was the subject matter, the instructor, or the home/house stress, but this class never jelled for me. I was definitely happy about my decision to drop.
University Physics III Lab (dropped) – No idea who was instructing this one. Dropped along with everything else that semester.
Differential Equations (dropped) – Instructor: Stephen Saperstone. I liked him enough to sign up for another of his courses. Although I eventually dropped, it was not related to his class.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Fall 1999

(This post has been backdated to put it the proper order sequentially. It was actually written sometime in early 2007.)

Jumped to sophomore-level courses this time.

University Physics II (credit) – Instructor: Maria Dworzecka (Physics Department Chair). Good instructor, interesting class. A, of course. I wish I could have her as a prof again.
University Physics II Lab (credit) – Instructor: Joseph Lieb. Not too fun, for all I like lab work in general. Incredible emphasis on error estimates and such which seemed to take far more importance over the rest of the curriculum (which, possibly, was the intent). A grade.
Analytic Geometry and Calculus III (audit) – Instructor: Stephen Saperstone. Good teacher, patient with the need to sometimes explain complex issues over and over. (Maple V rocks!)
Computer Science II (credit) – Instructor: Kevin Mayo. C++ programming. This was all new to me and very interesting. Probably my favorite course so far (oddly enough, since I am not a CS major) and Kevin was a good, fun instructor. If he was teaching the CS III course, I would probably sign up again. Since he is gone, I will let the CS course load drop – those projects take up massive chunks of time.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Spring 1999

[This post has been backdated to put it the proper order sequentially. It was actually written sometime in early 2007.]

Entered George Mason University as a, technically, senior in the Physics program (due to credits transferred in from Temple University). The courses I was taking were all 1st and 2nd semester freshman level, though.

University Physics I (audit) – Instructor: Robert Oerter. Lots of info I should have remembered from the last time I took it, but didn’t.
Analytic Geometry and Calculus II (credit) – My worst course at Temple (D). Don’t remember who taught it. Aced it this time.
Computer Science I (credit) – Instructor: Richard Carver. Okay class, but late in the day (4pm) and nearly 100% review for me. I dozed through much of it. Easy A.

Monday, January 01, 2007


[This post has been backdated to put it the proper order sequentially. It was actually written sometime in early 2007.]

Originally, I was intending (thinking it necessary) to get a B.S. in Physics, followed by a Masters in Physics or Astronomy and then maybe a Ph.D. in Astrophysics. I have since learned that Masters and Doctoral paths are not necessarily linear. They are two different paths to professional life (although some Ph.D. programs grant you a M.S. partway through – that is not quite the same thing). A Master’s degree is not necessarily less-prestigious than a doctoral degree (and for many jobs it is much more useful/valuable), but a Ph.D. grants a much-better chance at landing a research position or a job at a university (teaching or researching or both), my current goal. The disadvantage, of course, is that a Master’s can be pulled off in two years (or even one, if you like pain). A Ph.D. will almost never be pulled off in less than five years and usually even longer (average for astrophysics is 7 years, I understand). But even as a graduate student working towards a Ph.D. I will, by definition, be doing research, so it will be a good experience either way. Of course, the beauty of it all is that, although I do have family obligations to keep, I do not have to worry about income, so no needing to hold a steady job while trying to pull off all this graduate work. Even if it does not help me speed things up, it should reduce some stress. I also do not, technically, need to get a B.S. in Physics – I already have an engineering degree which is sufficient qualification to enter GMU’s (at least) grad program (along with good GRE scores, etc.), but I will probably stick with it at this point – it should get me good recommendations, if nothing else. Time will tell, since my earliest graduation date is Spring 2008 in any case (and more likely Fall ’08 or Spring ’09).