Summer Opportunities And Beyond

A few weeks ago, my professor from last term approached me during a departmental tea. She told me that some people at a nearby (nationally recognized) physics laboratory asked her if she knew of any good students to do an internship over the summer, and she thought of me! I apparently was the best in my class last term, so she offered me the internship first. We had an informational meeting yesterday morning. I haven’t decided whether to take it yet (for reasons which will be clear later).

Meanwhile, I’m trying to finalize a tentative plan (even though a tentative plan is, by definition, not final) for what courses I want to take for the rest of my master’s program. The list of elective courses contains many courses in many other disciplines besides statistics, such as political science, biology, or economics (at the graduate level). Unfortunately, my background is quite focused on math and statistics, so taking an elective course in a different department would require a lot of extra work to get comfortable with the background material.

My current professor (for my difficult class) and I have been talking a bit over the recent weeks. He’s pretty close to my age (because he’s a genius who started college early and I’m old for a graduate student), so it’s really easy to talk to him. It also helps that he thinks very highly of me (because I didn’t fail his quiz as badly as everyone else). Because he used to be the master’s advisor, I asked him to help me make my tentative course plan.

After a brief look over my grades and course history (I made a spreadsheet), my professor said I could have applied for the Ph.D. program right from the beginning. From what he’s seen in me so far this term, he has a very good impression of me. He wants me to do research with him next term and continue over the summer, even offering to support me (using one of his numerous research grants) over the summer! He thinks I’m good enough to possibly get a paper submitted by the end of the summer.

My professor wants me to apply for the Ph.D. program (in the fall) and take as many first-year Ph.D. level courses as I can. That way, my last year in the master’s program would count as the first year of Ph.D. program. If I did manage to submit a paper, a letter of recommendation from my professor would basically be an automatic acceptance.

I thought I knew what I wanted when I came here, but now I’m not so sure. Having someone have so much confidence in my abilities as to offer me research funding over the summer means a lot to me. I want to believe that my professor is right when he says that I have what it takes to get a Ph.D., but I don’t know if I do. And even if I do have what it takes, I’m not sure if a Ph.D. is really what I want. On the other hand, I should keep my options open, right?

My current dilemma is that I have two great summer opportunities, but I can only choose one. A computational physics laboratory internship or a more theoretical research assistantship? The larger dilemma (which affects the summer dilemma) is that I don’t have a clear idea of what I should do in the long term. Should I stick with a master’s or stay for a Ph.D.? If I did stay, should I go into industry or stay in academia?

My professor from last term wants me to make a decision about the internship in about a week, so I have to decide pretty quickly. And I’m not known for making decisions quickly.


Failure Is Relative

I had a quiz last week in my difficult class. It was meant to be a way to weed out the people who weren’t supposed to be in the class (i.e., don’t have the prerequisites). I felt fairly comfortable with the course material up until that point (I even explained the class notes to my study group), but I still failed the quiz. It was pretty demoralizing.

Fortunately, failure is relative. I earned about 56% on the quiz, but a 50% was considered an A. My professor seemed to think that I did a “superb” job. He even said he was impressed by me.

I’ve talked to my professor outside of class a few times, so he knows how hard I work. He’s seen me helping another student too. He clearly has a good impression of me, because he’s mentioned (on more than one occasion) that he might have a research project for me to work on that would count towards my master’s degree! I’ve only been in his class for less than four weeks!

I actually have a small fear of doing academic research. Because of my experiences in math graduate school, I don’t have much confidence in my research abilities. I’m very afraid of not meeting my professor’s expectations. On the other hand, working with my professor would be a great opportunity. I wonder if doing research would be different this time around?

I Can Do This

Today was the first day of class, and what a long day it was! I’m still a little unsure of what courses to take, so I audited one of my options from 10-11am. I then had three classes back-to-back in the afternoon from 1pm to 4pm, followed by my choir rehearsal from 7-9:30pm. Rather than walk all the way back to my apartment during each break, I stayed on campus the whole day. I didn’t sleep very well (anxious about classes?) and my right shoulder has been sore all day (no idea why), so I was already exhausted near the start of my twelve hours on campus.

I don’t have much impression on how difficult my classes will be yet, as the first day of any term is usually all about class logistics, but my statistics class on data mining sounds intimidating. I have a feeling all of my classes , even the applied linear algebra one, will be challenging. What I have to remind myself (constantly, it seems) is not to become paralyzed by fear. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.

Side note: Yes, I chose to take applied linear algebra instead of real analysis. Linear algebra is directly applicable to classes I need for my master’s degree, since my program is meant to prepare me for finding jobs in industry. On the other hand, real analysis is a foundational course for theoretical/mathematical statistics that would be more suitable for staying in academia. If I ever decide to continue on for a PhD, I’ll have time to take real analysis then. Also, as it’s been nearly ten years since I took a linear algebra course, I can use the review.

The first rehearsal of choir was great. I forgot how intense rehearsals can be, but singing in a choir again really brought back a lot of memories of my previous choirs. Quite a few sopranos were initially confused when they saw me sitting in their section (something I’m used to), but the woman next to me was very nice and accepting.

Having been away from proper singing for a few years, my voice hasn’t built its stamina back yet. If I’m properly warmed up, I can sing a high A (A5) with no problem. Towards the end of the two and a half hour long rehearsal, I could barely sing the F (F5). I need to drink more water, less coffee (no small feat), and keep throat lozenges with me at all times. As my high school choir director used to say: “Singing is a physical exercise!”

It was a little disheartening for my voice to give out during rehearsal, but I know I’ll get better as I practice more. I can do this.

Course Planning

As the summer weeks fly by, the beginning of graduate school approaches. I have less than three weeks left before my big move. The reality of it all is starting to hit me.

I’m supposed to be enrolling in classes now. Not only am I expected to enroll in courses for the coming term, but my department also wants me to have a tentative plan for what I plan to take throughout my program. There are a few difficulties to this:

1. My department offers such a wide variety of courses that I can’t possibly take everything that I want to learn. Some are only offered during certain terms in the year, so I have to pick and choose my courses carefully, as choosing one may mean I will never be able to take another. I’m indecisive, so this is a big problem for me.

2. There is a math requirement that varies depending on prior mathematical background. Given my master’s degree in math, I will probably be expected to take the highest level requirement: an honors undergraduate level real analysis course. This is intimidating because I have little confidence in my mathematical ability (thanks in part to my advisor in graduate school) and because real analysis was always one of my weaker subjects as a math student (I got an A+ as an undergraduate, but I had an easy instructor). I would rather take the advanced linear algebra course instead, but I wouldn’t be challenging myself or learning anything I don’t already know.

3. I’m intimidated by reading the descriptions of some of the advanced courses. Because I haven’t yet learned the prerequisite material for many of the advanced courses, a lot of the descriptions sound very far over my head, and I get scared by them. I know this feeling is somewhat irrational, as I will have taken and passed the introductory courses by the time I take the advanced courses, but my confidence still wavers when I try to plan too far ahead.

Of course, I only need to come up with a tentative plan which will almost certainly be modified after talking to an advisor once I start my program. Still, I’d like to have a good idea of what I’m doing before I start so that I won’t sound like I’m completely unprepared when I get there.

Frosted Cupcakes And New Clothes

This week’s theme is self image.

While my grandfather stayed with my family for the last month (he went back to my uncle’s place last weekend), I ate more health consciously than usual. I also walked with my mom and him every day, so I got the semblance of exercise. Over the month, I lost about five pounds. Even though five pounds may not be very much (it might not be statistically significant), I felt good when I stepped on the scale.

I spent last weekend in Irvine with my sister. On Saturday morning, I went with my sister to her boogie boxing class. Boogie boxing seems like a variation of cardio kickboxing. I haven’t done a rigorous workout like that in a long time, so the class was very intense. How exhausted and sweaty I was afterwards was a strong reminder of how out of shape I am.

That afternoon, my sister and I went to the Orange County (OC) Fair. Fairs are possibly the worst place to go if you’re trying to stay away from large portions and/or fried food. My sister and I split a mountain of chili cheese fries for dinner and funnel cake with soft serve ice cream on top for dessert. I was so disgusted by our meal that I fortunately declined eating chocolate covered bacon, deep fried Twinkies, deep fried Snickers, and deep fried butter.

The next day, my sister and I were deciding what fun activity to do together. We both have a sweet tooth, so we had the great idea to make cupcakes! We made red velvet and pumpkin spice cupcakes and topped them all with a super sweet cream cheese frosting. So good but so, so bad. Needless to say, I gained back the five pounds I had lost over the last month in just one weekend.

A couple days ago, I went to the mall with my high school friend with whom I recently reconnected (the one who got me addicted to Verbotene Liebe). This was the first time we had met since we graduated high school ten years ago, but it seemed like no time had passed.

I wasn’t planning on buying any clothes, but my friend insisted that I try on some shirts that I don’t normally wear. I’m generally a T-shirt and jeans guy. My T-shirts aren’t form-fitting, possibly from influence from my parents or from an old wardrobe with clothes from when I was heavier, but my friend saw my loose clothing as a sign of low self-esteem.

Possibly stemming from being heavier in the past and/or my lifelong confidence issues, I use clothes as a way to cover my body rather than to accentuate my shape. I’m definitely not fat (I have an average BMI), but I tend to obsess over the fatty areas I do have (especially after the crap I had over the weekend). At least, that’s what my friend thinks, and she’s probably right.

Anyway,  my friend kept stressing that I should think more highly of my looks. I ended up buying a few button down shirts (both short- and long-sleeved varieties) that I can wear with my current T-shirts as a way to add a little style and fit to my wardrobe. Her hope is that I will go to graduate school wearing my new clothes and attract cute preppy college boys. We’ll see.

I’m not entirely convinced that my new clothes are my style, but I do like them. I usually think “that would look good on someone else.” But who knows? Maybe a change in my perspective and they will look good on me too.

Study-Free Weekend

I had a midterm on Friday. I wasn’t assigned any new homework for my other classes yet, so I had a rare study-free weekend.

I went to a party last night with one of my best friends from high school. The party was held at his coworker’s apartment. I had met the coworker before, so it wasn’t awkward being there, but I didn’t know anyone else. I was a little timid at first, but after enough glasses of sparkling wine and shots of vodka and rum, I was mingling with new people in no time.

Even if I’ve had alcohol, I usually don’t summon the courage to talk to gay guys. There’s something intimidating about them. But last night was different. I ended up having a long chat with one of the two gay guys there (excluding me). No, I wasn’t flirting with him. The other gay guy was actually his boyfriend (who was very cute). What’s interesting to me is that I didn’t feel nervous about talking to him. The fact that I wasn’t trying to flirt probably alleviated some fear, but I also just felt comfortable at the party. I wasn’t self-conscious at all.

I have noticed, though, that I generally feel more peaceful and self-confident lately. My perspective is far more positive than it was even a year ago. I think a large part of my new optimism is due to my best friend from elementary school, and the other part is that I’m studying something I love and am working toward something. It’s a good feeling.

Anyway. It was a good party. It reminded me of college. I haven’t been very social lately (besides tutoring students in my class), so it was nice to get out and meet new people.

GRE Jitters

In a frustratingly ironic twist after yesterday’s post, I woke up today feeling stressed out and worried about the coming week. I know that worrying never helps anything; it’s only a hindrance. I try to stay positive and confident, but sometimes my nerves get the best of me.

I bought a book today to help me study for the GRE. I haven’t had time to study for the exam at all, and I really only have today to study (until Friday night after my midterms). I wish my scores still counted (I took the exam six years ago), or that my master’s degree would let me waive the requirement, but no such luck.

My jitters today may have also been compounded by a conversation I had with my brother this morning. He’s having a rough time in medical school, and he feels like his classmates are outperforming him. I told him that it doesn’t matter what other people are doing. All that matters is that he tries his best; worrying and comparing himself to others will only make things worse and more difficult. After all the positive advice I was giving to him, I got to thinking about my own upcoming challenges. I need to heed my own advice.

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