Social Aspects of School

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ofey
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Social Aspects of School

Postby ofey » Tue Nov 16, 2010 10:38 pm

I am transferring to a do a dual degree in Astrophysics and Physics after many years of knocking about the undergrad system. My new school is pretty reputable and I feel confident about academics but after meeting with my advisors it was made clear to me the importance of meeting with professors and talking to them to find availabilities in research. Also I want to get involved in school physics and astronomy clubs and meet students. So my question in 2 parts.

a) I never had to really talk to my professors in previous classes since I didn't usually need much clarification on material. However I really want to figure out how to start building relationships with some of these professors to possibly work in their labs and/or get letters of recommendation. What are some tips to effectively due this, I'm really shy when meeting new people especially when those people are in somewhat of authority position.

b) I am going to 25 and taking classes with mostly 19/20 year olds this doesn't bother mean since I'm sure the people who are serious about physics will be more mature but how hard will it be for me to over come this. I'll be living of campus so I might have a hard time meeting people. I want to get involved in the clubs but I am nervous about just showing up entirely on my own when I am sure most of the people their will have some sort of pre-established relationships with each other.

Any tips at all help so much. Thanks!

The_Duck
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Re: Social Aspects of School

Postby The_Duck » Tue Nov 16, 2010 10:55 pm

For a), Getting involved in research is pretty easy, generally. You can just look through your department's webpage and email professors who look like they're doing cool stuff, and ask if you can work for them. Or drop by their office, or whatever. Maybe some won't really have anything suitable for an undergrad, but a lot probably do. Then if you do good work you a) have useful experience and b) can get a good letter of recommendation.

ofey
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Re: Social Aspects of School

Postby ofey » Tue Nov 16, 2010 11:14 pm

The_Duck wrote:For a), Getting involved in research is pretty easy, generally. You can just look through your department's webpage and email professors who look like they're doing cool stuff, and ask if you can work for them. Or drop by their office, or whatever. Maybe some won't really have anything suitable for an undergrad, but a lot probably do. Then if you do good work you a) have useful experience and b) can get a good letter of recommendation.



I appreciate your input but I'd still like to find a way to start building relationships with my professors through courses. Any suggestions in that regard?

negru
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Re: Social Aspects of School

Postby negru » Wed Nov 17, 2010 12:33 am

For b), just buy the younglings alcohol and you'll go from creep to god. Henceforth to be known as the liqueur daddy, pimp of intoxications.

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grae313
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Re: Social Aspects of School

Postby grae313 » Wed Nov 17, 2010 12:34 am

Hi ofey. Once you target a professor you may want to get to know better, think of a question to ask after class. It doesn't have to be about understanding the material, but maybe you can think of something to ask that takes the material a step further. Tell them you are interested in getting involved in research and want to know more about theirs. That's usually about all it will take and they will go on and on because professors love to talk about their research. This is good because you won't be on the spot to say much. Alternately, you can tell them what you are interested in and ask them if they know of any opportunities for you. Professors love to help, so you can get on their good side by making them feel useful.

Thinking of good questions to ask and dropping by office hours frequently will be a huge start. You'll immediately find it easier to form better relationships with them when your professors start knowing your name and saying hello to you in the halls, etc.

Many people find it difficult to get to know a new group of people. One way you can start is by finding out if any groups of students get together to work on homework. This is a good way to start getting to know people in a non-threatening and no pressure environment. You don't have to worry about keeping conversations going because everyone is working on homework. I had one person just approach me and ask if I would ever want to work on homework with them. If your department has a physics club, then helping new students get to know other physics students in the department is one of the biggest reasons they exist, so take advantage! GL!

ofey
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Re: Social Aspects of School

Postby ofey » Wed Nov 17, 2010 1:15 am

Well, I just emailed one professor working on some stuff that looks great to me and told them my situation. What kind of experience do they expect from you in these situations? Obviously, we can't really have any research experience prior unless you are some sort of child prodigy. I'm a little nervous when I show up and they are expecting a fresh faced teenager and they get a 25 year old scruffy dude.

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grae313
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Re: Social Aspects of School

Postby grae313 » Wed Nov 17, 2010 1:42 am

No experience necessary, and don't worry about your age. It's really not that different.

CarlBrannen
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Re: Social Aspects of School

Postby CarlBrannen » Wed Nov 17, 2010 2:04 am

ofey wrote:I'm a little nervous when I show up and they are expecting a fresh faced teenager and they get a 25 year old scruffy dude.


Don't worry. I intend on starting grad school in physics next year (at the best school I can get into). In two years, our ages will be in the exact ratio of 1 to 2. I will stand out. On the other hand there will be plenty of new grad students your age. For example, one guy I knew spent a few years as a lumber-jack in Canada before going to physics grad school and getting a PhD in small scale experimental physics.

You're going to be assigned a desk in a room with a lot of other grad students. They are going to talk to you. Some of them will be taking the same classes and even if you don't talk to them, they'll ask you questions.

Physics grad students (from what I recall) are very social. Often you will go as a group together to eat lunch. If you're near a beach, you will go together as a group to sunbathe or (on the west coast) to watch for the "green flash". People who have cars will offer you a ride when a group decides to go to the movies.

As far as socializing with the professors, again don't worry about it too much. Classes are going to be much smaller than you may be used to. It will be impossible to not meet the faculty. In addition, there will be a weekly "tea" where they feed cookies to grad students. At some schools, the grad students will be assigned the task of running these things. At many schools your attendance is mandatory.

In addition, research groups will have weekly meetings. Even if you're not technically accepted as a part of a research group you can show up at their meetings to get an idea what goes on there. For example, I dropped by the physics department at UNM and a professor invited me to sit in at their quantum information group meeting (which was the group I was interested in).

Now my memories of physics grad school may be somewhat dated. If things have changed, it would be because grad students are making so much money nowadays that they don't HAVE to socialize. But the people who show up at physics grad school will be intensely interested in physics. You will discuss thermodynamics and statistical mechanics puzzles over pizza -- not only because you're going to have to pass the qualifying exams, but because everyone will be fascinated by the subject.

Believe me, for once in your life you will be surrounded by people who are monomaniacs interested in the same subject as you. Grad school is like going to a 6-year Techie or comic-book convention (if you're interested in those things). You will have something to talk about with literally everybody you see and this will go on for years. You're going to have a blast. Don't sweat the social stuff.

Physics grad students are happy except for tough grades, unfair qualifying exams, mean or unavailable advisers, and the usual sexual drive problems of youth.

ofey
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Re: Social Aspects of School

Postby ofey » Wed Nov 17, 2010 10:54 am

Thanks Carl, although I am still an undergrad that advice looks very useful.

Just FYI I emailed a professor and already heard back that there will be opportunities for me to work with him in the Spring. Man! That was surprisingly easy!

CarlBrannen
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Re: Social Aspects of School

Postby CarlBrannen » Wed Nov 17, 2010 7:19 pm

After thinking about it overnight, there are ways to get the other grad students to avoid you. Every now and then someone who is a complete idiot actually gets into grad school. I'll leave it to your imagination how this is done. And there is the occasional person who's so obnoxious that even physicists ignore him.

Physicists are not expected to have much in the way of social skills. A typical example is Lubos Motl. He's a friend of mine on facebook and we regularly correspond. But over the years he's called me "mammal" and "Barbie" in reference to my inadequate math skills. (Uh, Barbie is a common American doll that once was shipped with a voice box that said, among other things, "math is hard". And I suppose that "mammal" indicates math skills below those of the primates.)

In explaining what physics grad school is like to someone who's never studied physics, an analogy I've used is that it's like a gymnasium that only jocks use, say the gymnasium that the football team uses. Everyone is (doing the physics equivalent of) working out constantly. Jocks always have something to talk about, weights, food supplements, exercises, sex. Physics nerds have equivalent topics, but instead of lifting weights while talking, their talking is the equivalent of lifting weights.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: Social Aspects of School

Postby WhoaNonstop » Thu Nov 18, 2010 2:14 pm

CarlBrannen wrote:Physics nerds have equivalent topics, but instead of lifting weights while talking, their talking is the equivalent of lifting weights.


Moral of the story: If you are a Physics nerd, talk while lifting weights. This way you can brag about muscles outside of your brain. ;)

-Riley

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HappyQuark
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Re: Social Aspects of School

Postby HappyQuark » Thu Nov 18, 2010 5:55 pm

CarlBrannen wrote:After thinking about it overnight, there are ways to get the other grad students to avoid you. Every now and then someone who is a complete idiot actually gets into grad school. I'll leave it to your imagination how this is done. And there is the occasional person who's so obnoxious that even physicists ignore him.

Physicists are not expected to have much in the way of social skills. A typical example is Lubos Motl. He's a friend of mine on facebook and we regularly correspond. But over the years he's called me "mammal" and "Barbie" in reference to my inadequate math skills. (Uh, Barbie is a common American doll that once was shipped with a voice box that said, among other things, "math is hard". And I suppose that "mammal" indicates math skills below those of the primates.)

In explaining what physics grad school is like to someone who's never studied physics, an analogy I've used is that it's like a gymnasium that only jocks use, say the gymnasium that the football team uses. Everyone is (doing the physics equivalent of) working out constantly. Jocks always have something to talk about, weights, food supplements, exercises, sex. Physics nerds have equivalent topics, but instead of lifting weights while talking, their talking is the equivalent of lifting weights.


Your description sounds a lot like Doctor Sheldon Cooper.

Image

CarlBrannen
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Re: Social Aspects of School

Postby CarlBrannen » Fri Nov 19, 2010 4:21 am

CarlBrannen wrote:Physicists are not expected to have much in the way of social skills. A typical example is Lubos Motl. He's a friend of mine on facebook and we regularly correspond. But over the years he's called me "mammal" and "Barbie" in reference to my inadequate math skills. (Uh, Barbie is a common American doll that once was shipped with a voice box that said, among other things, "math is hard". And I suppose that "mammal" indicates math skills below those of the primates.) ...


HappyQuark wrote:Your description sounds a lot like Doctor Sheldon Cooper.


LOL!!! Amazing!!! Let me use that cool link:
http://tinyurl.com/32r4pez

And isn't Sheldon a wanna-be doctor? I.e. a grad student?

By the way, I see Sheldon as a role model. We're both from Texas, weird as hell, and can be amazingly annoying.

schwiss
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Re: Social Aspects of School

Postby schwiss » Fri Nov 19, 2010 4:32 am

CarlBrannen wrote:And isn't Sheldon a wanna-be doctor? I.e. a grad student?


Nah, he has IIRC two PhD's and a Master's.




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