Of course, I can’t really talk about those first days until I talk about my last days as a college junior, so I’ll be back-tracking a few weeks. Get ready for a bumpy ride!
This past week were my three final exams (and my one mandatory class discussion session…) which I feel I did really well on. Due to some poor grades following my MDRS absence, I needed pretty high scores on my finals to get the grades that I wanted, or close to the grades that I wanted. Right now, three of my grades are officially recorded, one more is pretty much determined, and the last one is completely up in the air. For the three official ones (MTH 320, PHY 440, and PHY 472), the finals for the first and third went really well. I needed high-80s/low-90s to bump up to the next grade-point level, which I achieved! PHY 440 didn’t have a final since half the class was labs, and I still got a reasonable grade in that one. Due to some poor semester planning and missing two weeks, this semester was far from stellar grade-wise, so I’m really glad that it’s now behind me. One thing I am proud of, though, is only losing two points out of three-hundred on my various papers and homework assignments for LB 334 (the practically determined 4.0 that’s not quite official yet…).
But the end of the semester went a little tough… Homework assignments and fitting in study time and working all took a mental and physical toll on me, which I’ll be slowly recovering from over the next few days. I enjoyed most of my classes most of the time, which was a nice change from the LB 145 and PSY 280 days of yore. Another academically-related ending is my Calculus Learning Assistant job. I graded final exams this morning, finally ending my involvement with that past employment. I won’t even need to worry about the transition to the Physics LA job until mid/late-summer when our sections are decided, which is pretty nice. One minor detail that I am looking forward to due to that change is the possibility of having former students in my class again.
I also gave two talks about my MDRS experience: the UURAF and the Briggs Symposium. I’ve attended both of these events in the past, although my presentations have always been as part of a class, so it was nice to be there presenting on my own accord. At the UURAF, which I was at between 0930 and 1130, I was off in a side room of the Union with the other natural science posters, which were only about another ten or so. Small group, but it was nice being out of the mob scene that was the main hall. For the most part, I talked with some of the other presenters, visited a few of my current (or, at the time current) students’ posters, and just hung out. When the judge finally came around, we talked for twenty minutes or so about how I was selected, what I actually did there, my thoughts on the future direction of American manned spaceflight, my plans for the future, and random things I learned while there. Since most of the judges are volunteers, I think the judge that came around to me was glad that my poster was muddied with technical jargon and unintelligible results, hence my 13/15 combined on Delivery, Comprehensibility, and Visual Aids (each being out of five). I also talked with a few former professors, some old classmates, and random people walking by about similar topics. My only regret is that I didn’t bring a copy of The State News that I appeared on, but hindsight is always 20-20, right?
About a week later, I attended the Briggs Symposium, which is similar in structure but used more for semester projects with only a smattering of independent research projects. I basically just hung out with some classmates and talked with former professors about what I did. My old Chemistry (LB 171/172) professors were really interested in the future direction of NASA, especially coming from someone with an “insider’s perspective,” while my Biology (LB 145) professor was more interested in understanding the finer points of general relativity and the issues with interplanetary travel and communication, especially with regards to the internet. This Symposium is much more relaxed since we’re not really judged (unless you count getting graded for a class as being judged…), plus everyone in Briggs either knows each other or can understand the stresses that they’re going through, so it’s really easy to just talk with each other without really needing an ice breaker (You wanted to burn the CFTR map in front of the prof after two weeks? Me too!).
The best part about both is that I now have two coupons to the MSU Dairy Store. I’m saving one for MST@MSU-2010, while the other will probably be used at some point next week while I’m out job hunting.
Blue Group from MST@MSU 2009
Speaking of job hunting, I’m still partially unemployed for the summer. I’ll be working at the MST@MSU summer camp for two weeks again with the same group of counselors, plus one new addition, which I am really looking forward to. But, for the other twelve or so weeks, I’ll have no job. The kind of bad part is that I’ll either need to run around downtown East Lansing all day tomorrow, or wait over a week before I can search again due to attending the STS-132 launch in one week. I’m sure that I’ll be able to find some job somewhere; it’s just the act of going out and doing it that’s a little delayed due to finals recovery and an extended absence from East Lansing.
But now this post is really jumping around, so let’s return to what has actually happened. Finals week started on Monday with my PHY 472 exam. I studied all day Sunday for it, plus a few times within the week prior, logging somewhere around twenty-four hours for Quantum Mechanics. I sat down in my seat, took out my pencils, and got to work on the exam. I blazed through the entire thing, then went up to ask the professor two small questions just to make sure I made the right assumptions. Once he verified that I had, I turned it in. “Woah, you’re already done? That was quick.” Yes, I was in fact done, and in seventy minutes. I didn’t need any more time, and based on my final grade (and the score I had calculated earlier that I needed on the final to get that final grade), I got a high-90 on the exam, potentially even a straight 100%. I just like finishing exams early, and when I’m confident about my answers, looking at them thinking, “I’m so good at this,” doesn’t get me a better grade, so why waste an extra ten or fifteen minutes?
Tuesday morning went similarly for MTH 320. I had stayed up until 0400 studying, starting right after getting back from the Quantum final, then I took a quick nap before the 0745 final. This final, however, was optional; the last day of class, the prof handed out our current grade, so we could either take it as is or take the final and try to improve it. Since my grade was much lower than I anticipated, due primarily to a string of poor homework grades that fell (you guessed it) during and after my MDRS mission, I decided that I would be taking the final.
. . .
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I was the only one there.
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. . .
The prof and I stayed in the classroom for about twenty minutes, me furiously writing proofs on printer paper, he working on a crossword puzzle, before moving to his office so that he could get some work done while I took the exam. We talked during the walk about how I was angry at myself for having the low grade at that point and why, he said that it was strange especially since I understood all of the information well when I was there, then I continued taking the exam. I was about ten minutes into the eleventh and last problem when he mentioned that I had forty-five minutes left. I worked on that last problem for the next twenty-five minutes before finally giving up. “I know what I needed to do,” I told him as I stapled the sheets together, “but I just couldn’t get the last one to work out.” But you did the first ten, he asked as I handed the stack over, which I answered in the affirmative. “I’m only grading ten, though, so which ones did you want me to grade?” I said, “Well shit, I’m an idiot. I was done forty minutes ago,” before telling him to lop the last problem off the record. Before that exchange, I was feeling a little badly about that grade, since I needed a 90 to bump the grade up, and dropping that problem would put me right on the cusp (and it’s good that it wasn’t counted, because I also did another problem completely wrong by proving the wrong theorem which put me right on the cusp). That walk home felt much better, and checking my grade yesterday and seeing that I had, in fact, bumped my grade up, was icing on the cake.
My final final was Wednesday afternoon and in Thermal Physics, the giant thorn in my semester among the less-sharp thorns. Unfortunately, I had no idea what grade I had going into the final, or at least didn’t know the exact value. I knew it was drastically low because the class just straight up sucked. Terrible professor, boring subject, unintelligible lectures and textbook, and ridiculously hard problems on the exams that were never covered in lectures, homework, the textbook, or furious Google searches after-the-fact. I don’t even know if there’s a sizable curve to help me out, but I would need a pretty big curve to save my grade. So, I studied for close to three total days on it, reading through the three-hundred textbook pages, all of my notes, previous exams and homeworks, close to four or five times each. I think it worked out, because I actually had an idea of what to do on all of the problems, but again, a miracle might be needed to save that grade.
And that was my finals week. I went back to my apartment, ate some Doritos and drank and Arnold Palmer, played some Legend of Zelda on my computer, and smiled. I was done with my junior year at Michigan State, and it couldn’t have felt better! I’m transitioning from three straight semesters of ridiculous courses and “my hardest semester yet” to my twenty-four total-credit senior year. How can you even worry about what happened over the past five months when the next fifteen will feel so good?
And now, I get to do this stuff for the summer. In there is a computer game I’m designing, some video games, a bunch of book I want to read, and a complete lack of due dates, exams, office hours, class discussions. I’m pretty excited…
…but it will have to wait a little bit longer. As I mentioned, I’m basically losing a week of the summer due to heading south for the Atlantis launch (which I don’t mind at all!), and once I return I’ll be (hopefully) working and studying for the GRE. Yes, I have two weeks to finish my preparation, which is primarily vocabulary anyway, then summer will really kick in. I’m just very glad that I don’t need to worry about an entire section (Math) of the test, which greatly reduces my stress level about it. It’s just all of that vocab memorization that’s the worst part. I can memorize equations and reactions and commands, but just simple words? My brain just has trouble thinking like that, plus I take Orwell’s words to heart, whether intentional or not. [Sidenote: when I finished that sentence about Orwell, this post’s word count according to WordPress was 1984 words…]
And that basically my life from the past few weeks and looking forward to the future. I know I grazed over a lot of topics, skipped some, meandered around, but I think I got everything out there… Just ask if something doesn’t seem right, or you want me to more deeply discuss my feelings about being the only student taking my math course final this semester or anything else.