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University Life

February 17, 2015

I feel bad that I haven’t posted anything in the last two weeks.  I’ve had a lot of things in mind, but this semester I’ve taken a large load of “mickey mouse” courses (my adviser’s description, not mine), and they’re taking up all my time.  I’ve finished all the mathematics and physics courses that I’m required to take for my undergraduate degree, but I’ve put off my humanities, social sciences, and other things I’ve been dreading.  I decided to lump them all into one big pile and do them all at once.

It’s been a nightmare.  Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but seriously, I find them psychologically draining.  Take one of my classes I’m forced to take – an introduction to C++ programming.  I’ve won computer programming competitions and have spent the last fifteen or more years writing software, and they have me taking introduction to computer programming.  They won’t allow me to test out of it and I don’t know how else to get the stupid credit.  So I go to these programming labs where I sit in this big room full of students for hours and they go over how to do basic floating point arithmetic, while loops, and displaying text menus on the screen.  I can’t help but scream in my head, “Why am I here?”  On one assignment I used a function and the teacher’s assistant was freaking out.  “You’re not supposed to use that!  We haven’t learned about those yet. You can’t do that!”  I slumped down into my chair and just thought, “Whatever.  I don’t care anymore.  You want me to code this the long and hard way?  Fine.  This such a waste of time.”

For my humanities classes, I’ve just been taking whatever seemed easiest.  Another class I’m in is an introduction to psychology.  I haven’t learned a thing.  It’s mind-numbingly basic and boring.  We have a textbook and the teacher goes over these Power-Point slides which summarize things in the book.  Tests are multiple choice, rote memorization of bold-face terms.  So I make up these flash cards a week or so before each exam and cram my mind full of things, going over and over all the cards.  It really wears me down, but I’ve gotten 100% on everything so far.

I have to take an English class for my physics degree, and it’s proving to be my most difficult challenge.  Most of our grade comes from four papers we have to write and the papers are not really judged on content.  He seems to grade almost entirely on grammar.  He’s an expert on every single English rule and how things are supposed to be done. Needless to say, I don’t have any clue what he’s talking about.  The last time I took an English class was 1997, roughly twenty years ago.  He was going over my paper and was marking things, “You used the wrong injunction here”, “… ‘went’ should’ve been ‘gone’.  Didn’t you learn that in high school freshman English?”, “That’s not the proper antecedent clause in this blah blah blah.”  He might as well have been speaking Chinese.  He has these grammar lessons and I don’t have the slightest clue what he’s talking about.  Strangely, I got the highest score on his grammar test, which showed a bunch of sentences and we had to identify parts of them which were done incorrectly.  I guess I’m able to do so well because I’ve read so many books, but when I myself write, I apparently change “voice”, and do other things incorrectly.

We have a writing center and I took my first paper to those guys.  They went over it and thought everything was fine, but apparently my paper was a mess.  So much for them.  After the professor marked my paper all over, he looked it over and said, “Not bad.  That’s an 85.”  The score was just pulled out of the air.  I’ve managed to keep a 4.0 my entire time at the university, which I’d like to keep, so I’m working toward a solution to this grammar issue.  I need someone who really knows their stuff to correct my next papers before I turn them in.  It’d probably be more beneficial if I myself could learn all these grammar rules, but with all the other things I’m having to do at the moment, there’s no way that’s possible.

Another one of my classes is an introduction to philosophy.  After sitting through that course, I’ve realized that I’m not a philosopher.  If the things that guy talks about are philosophy, I really need to change my website’s header graphic.  For example, I don’t really care to get into extremely petty disputes about defining what is and what isn’t knowledge.

Let me paint you a picture of what that class is like.  First the professor went over all these definitions that philosophers have used over the centuries to define knowledge.  Then he gave an example of these farm workers who can look at baby chickens and tell with over 99% accuracy whether they’re a male or a female, but if you ask them to define exactly what it is about those baby chickens that tells them that, they’re at a loss for words.  So now the question: do they REALLY know the difference between male and female baby chickens?

The discussion begins.  This young teenager who sounds exactly like Matthew McConaughey slowly slurs out, “I don’t think he has knowledge.  I mean, there is a 1 in 10,000 chance he’s wrong.  We can never be sure.  He’s just really good at guessing.”  I turned around and almost fell out of my seat.  I gave him the benefit of the doubt and assumed he hasn’t thought this through. It might be a good idea to write up a simple arithmetic exam.  On it, I’d put 10,000 simple addition and subtraction problems, like 19-5 = ?, 14+2 = ?, 5+3 = ?, and so on.  Then he’d get 9,999 out of 10,000 correct, and then I’d stand up and tell him, “If we’re as strict as you are about knowledge, you haven’t proved to me that you understand arithmetic young man.  I think we need to send you back to grade school.  You’re just really good at guessing.”  If those chicken farmers were simply guessing, they’d have a 50/50 chance of getting it right, and that’s roughly what their guess rate would be.

These elective classes have me so busy writing papers and pointlessly memorizing things that I struggle to find time to blog.  It all really wears me down.  But the end is in sight.  If next semester I take a full load of mickey-mouse courses (lol, that cracks me up) like I’ve done this semester, I’ll be done with them.  It will have taken me five years to get a bachelor’s degree, but who cares!  I endured!  I won’t have to leave the physics building ever again.  I’ll need to take our most advanced physical mechanics course, the graduate level statistical mechanics course, the third tier advanced quantum mechanics course, and the very last advanced electrodynamics course.  That’s it.  I’ll be done.  That will be most every physics and mathematics course offered there, absent one or two which aren’t offered very often.  Then I’ll have a masters degree and I just need to write a PhD paper.  How long will all that take?  Depends on how much I can endure, but the end is near.

I didn’t know how much I had left, but I went to talk with my advisor and he was telling me how I’d pretty much taken everything they had there.  Then he told me about how it all worked and basically said, “Well we can’t keep you here if we don’t have any classes to offer you.  Some transfer students come in and we make them take our classes here before letting them graduate, but you’re done with them all.  You’re near the end, man.”

For my PhD paper, I’m going to do a big computational project, simulating something on a big cluster of computers.  I don’t know what yet.  That won’t be bad at all.   Then you will all have to refer to me as Dr. Summers!  Hah, that sounds funny.  Let’s just stick with Jason.

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