We're a little crazy, about science!

Day #146: Back to school!

Back2School

My photo, but not my school, just one I visited.

Tomorrow is the big day, back to school, back to classes. This means that any and all house projects will inevitably come to a screeching halt until spring break (most likely) and it marks the shift in blog posts from life outside the lab to life in the lab. There are a few things I like to do to get ready for classes the day before, so let’s talk school.

Grad school classes are a little different from my undergrad classes. For those of you who are in grad school, you probably know what I mean. If you’re in undergrad looking to grad school, be aware this will likely be the case. As with any experience, your mileage may vary.  The first week of classes tend to be extremely busy, sometimes we cover the syllabus, other times it’s read it on your own time.

More to the point, we jump right into classes. For me, undergrad classes had the first week sort of slow(ish). We may or may not have work the first week, but we went light. Grad school classes feel like you missed the first three weeks of classes somehow. Again, this may just be me, but while there is a linear progression in what we learn, there doesn’t ever feel to be a distinct beginning, you go into the class and are expected to have some prior knowledge.

We also don’t usually have a succession of classes, by that I mean a class that builds on another previous class. They are distinct modules with their own topic and style. Sometimes you need to review previous classes, but at the moment it seems like the prior knowledge I should have was somehow missed. This could be becuase I jumped majors, I went from mechanical engineering to biomedical engineering, totally not the same thing. This also might be due to switching schools, my masters and bachelors degrees come from the same school, so my new school may do things differently than my old one.

It’s also time to clean out my backpack. I travel light, a notebook for class, a smaller notebook for the lab, pens, pencils, and occasionally my laptop. That doesn’t mean that random papers or things don’t get tossed in, so I need to empty it and reorganize. Also, pro tip for those of you just starting; if you don’t, I would save your notes. I have a nice 4-5 foot (~1.5 meters for my metric friends) stack of notebooks. One notebook is one term, that’s my rule. So each notebook may contain several classes, or just one depending on the term, but they are labeled with the class notes in that notebook.

While I rarely turn to them for help, I do turn to them and when I do I’m glad I have them. That bit of advice is particularly prudent for those of you who are still in undergrad, where your classes tend to build off one another. Save your notebooks!! Also, find a note taking style that works for your class (not necessarily just one style becuase it may not fit the class). I TEND to use half the page for notes, the other half for diagrams, particularly important notes, or formula that we are given.

This isn’t always the case, in my stochastic processes class (basically fancy statistics) for example, I switched to using the full page for notes, then I would use the center of a new line for equations. This worked out well for the way the class was taught, I may use it again for this term, but more than likely my normal way of half the page for writing the other half for equations/diagrams will be what fits best for this class since it’s a controls class, specifically state space design for physical applications. It will be an interesting class, that’s for sure.

Now we’ve gone over my three big pieces of advice, clean your bag, save your notes, and take good notes. That’s basically all there is to my prep for classes to begin. Grad school is nice because we don’t usually have to buy books, so if you do need to get them, my fourth piece of advice would be to do so before classes start. In any case, I still have some house projects to take care of before tomorrow and I need to follow my own advice and get my things together for the big day.

To those of you starting classes tomorrow, good luck and for those of you who already started I hope the term goes well!

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