All entries for June 2005

June 29, 2005

Modular Thinking

Got an e-mail last night informing me of the new structure of the second year of my physics course.

The revamp, such as it is, appears to have been designed to alleviate concerns that many modules flew by too quickly (3 lectures a week for five weeks for a typical 6 CATS module). So now we'll be getting 7.5 CATS modules with 2 lectures a week for ten weeks.

This reform applied to the core modules has resulted in a relative decrease in the importance of the lab work + essay (now all in one "Physics Skills" module worth a still weighty 30 CATS), but a moderate increase in the importance of the Matheamtics modules (now worth 22.5 CATS total). That's good and bad news from my perspective respectively, but overall it's probably good news. The rest of the core has also seen changes from last year – the new Quantum Mechanics module is now worth a chunky 15 CATS (used to be 6) which should be interesting, and the Electromagnetism and Optics modules have been combined and reduced into one 7.5 CATS module (used to be a total of 12), which seems a bit of a shame. The Thermal Physics module completes the list, having merely been coverted from 6 to 7.5 CATS .

The optional modules are all 7.5 CATS, which means for a normal load I need to pick five of them. There are eight to choose from (unless you want to do outside options like Business studies or languages, and I don't), and while the full details of what each incoporates are not yet available, I'll post my first thoughts on each here.

"Physics of Fluids" – The new Intro to Fluids. Looks like a lot of partial differential equations, which I'm OK with. Moderate interest level.

"Geophysics" – As lectured by my personal tutor, Dr Bell, whom I like. Parts sound interesting, other less so. Unsure of what mathematical demands will be placed.

"Hamiltonian Mechanics" – Sounds fascinating if a bit mathematically dense. I want to take it because I find the weirdness appealing.

"Stars" and "Galaxies" – Two seperate modules here. I'm never quite sure whether I find astrophysics boring or interesting – it seems to osciallate wildly depending on precise topic and mood. Certainly some very fascinating questions are being tackled, but there seems also to be a strong (and necessary) tradition of extremely patient measurement and calculation which I admire, but also bores me to tears.

"C Programming" – No longer Fortran, it seems. I've a little experience with coding (in C++) and generally love all things computers, so this module seems a natural fit for me. If the syllabus is similar to the one for Fortran I shouldn't have much trouble at all. Definite take.

Then there are two entirely new modules (as opposed to the above options which are going to be moinor variations on the ones that were avilable last year). These I know nothing about beyond the module titles:

"Global Warming" – Ugh. I asuume this is a sexed-up name for a module that will give a basic grounding in the physics of weather and climate in general. Not really grabbing my attention off the bat.

"Physics of Electrical Power Generation" – Sounds profundly dull, but then many things in physics do before you get into them. Still, also not grabbing my attention.


Neglecting the two new modules, then, and assuming I take C Programming, I'm left with four modules to choose out of five – in short, I've got to drop one of:

Hamiltonian Mechanics
Physics of Fluids

I could do an overload and take them all, but I'm not sure that's so great an idea after my somewhat shaky perfomance in the first year.

Any other physicists out there puzzling over their new options? Any third or fourth years who want to reccomend modules to take or avoid? Course lecturers are also welcome to sell me on any of the above courses if they wish (especially the new two, which I know nothing about) :) .

Advice is greatly appreciated.

June 25, 2005

The last night of term at Warwick…

…is eerily quiet.

Most of my kitchen-mates already left either earlier today or earlier in the week, and now it's raining. Rarely has it been so quiet in Rootes.

This is mildly dissapointing, considering the revlry that greeted the end of the previous two terms, but it certainly gives room for quiet reflection.

What has my first year at Warwick brought me?

A distinctly mediocre set of marks for my first year – I'm getting a 2:2 at the moment. THis is entirely my fault, related to my failure to submit some of my assessed work for important lab modules, as wellas one or two dodgy exam perfomances.

Relatedly, it's brought me my first real feeling of struggle and failure in my academic career thus far (PE excepted). My record thus far in actual exmainations has been nigh-spotless: 10 A* and an A at GCSE, Four As at A level (and a B at AS-level). This is the first time I've noticeably screwed up badly at something that matters, in terms of my actual qualification.

Granted, this year only counts for 10& of my overall degree, and so it's probably not going to decide my final classificatin one way or the other. But nevertheless, they were real with real consequences, and in at least a couple of cases I fell well short of the mark.

I hope I won't sound too arrogant (and that I may even be in good company) when I say that this was new experience for me. What shall I draw from it?

Possibly it's a sign I've reached the limits of my potential – but I don't believe that. I didn't work hard this year. I know I can do better, if nothing else because I now I could (should) have actually submitted that assesed work.

Possibly it's a sign that I lack motivation. This I'm more willing to accept. I love my subject: I generally enjoy the mathematical side, absoloutely adore the theory, and get a kick out of experiements when they are exciting. I even enjoy writing.

What I can't abide is tedium: the unfortunate but necessary things involved in doing work. In the laboratories this year, that tedium was manifest in the reports and notebooks – while I was in principle happy to do them, the practice of going through the procedure of a good laboratory report each time was something I developed an aversion to.

That was silly. It's something I need to be able to work past – on general principles, the ability to handle the boring parts of life so that one can get through to the good parts is a skill we all need to develop.

Then again, I've often thought my tolerance for tedium was pretty high; I'm wildly pedantic, enjoy useless information, I actually like creating databases and spreadsheets to help me solve problems, to the extent that I'll use them even when they're inefficient or inappropriate. So I don't feel it's just the tedium of the process that got me down.

Definitely there were time management issues.My time keeping has been very shoddy this year. It directly ffetced my assesed work because nine times out of ten I would find myself doing the whole thing the night before it was due in.

Hardly an unfamiliar problem for the average student, but rather than just causing me to rush work, I think I developed an association between the work and unnecessary stess and tiredness, such that I actually began to rebell against doing it at all.

After my first missed deadline, having discovered that, not only had the wrld not ended, no-one had even seemed to notice, it got rather easy to miss others. This is another lesson, and a sobering one – I have to be the one who notices if I'm screwing up. The department and/or my lecturers are not going to notice for me.

WHat I need to develop then is neither quite enthusiasm for my subject (I have that in spades) nor motivation to succeed, but more an internal drive – a physical compulsion – to work, consistently, regularly and well, even when it's unappealing.

I've survived too long by coasting – on my "natural intelligence", my general inquisitveness, my happiness with scholastic institutions – that I never develped the tough outer shell needed to persit when the going gets tougher. That time has now arrived, and I must step up.

As deep down, I want this. I want a degree. More than that, I want a career. I want a future. I want, if not t have fame or notoriety, to matter in my field.

I don;'t merely want to be a clever person, I want to be a driven one, a sucessful one. I want to be great.

Let's make it happen.

June 2005

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