Monday, November 9, 2009

Transitioning from undergrad to grad

[updated Sunday 11.15.2009. Original entry written on Monday 11.9.2009]

Feeling a little burnt out from all this work right now. I guess it's good that Thanksgiving is coming and I'll get a break from school stuff. I've spent a couple of weeks now working on a project for the hydrology class that required coming up with a matlab program that solves a partial differential equation. It was officially due last Monday but only 3 people managed to turn it in. These 3 did not include me. My program is currently spitting out extremely unreasonable values. I think I need to tweek both my program and my understanding of the problem. The cool thing is that I've been working with someone else in the class and we've made very good progress cranking this project out together.

But seriously, Matlab has definitely taken over my life (in addition to my computer!). I feel kind of unprepared for this. I feel like I should have done more computational stuff in undergrad. But then again, a lot of people come into grad school without any experience with numerical methods or computational stuff. So I guess I've at least used the program before and 1.00 (Java) has helped with understanding how programming works.

This gets into a topic that I've been thinking about for a while: "How well has my undergraduate education prepared me for graduate school?" I don't know if I should be looking at this question in a general sense or more a more self-specific sense. None of my classes this quarter builds on what I have learned in undergrad. I'm taking all my classes outside of the civil engineering department. I think the general idea for graduate school is that you're supposed to learn, in more detail, in a field that you're interested in. But it hasn't really been the case for me so far. I think this quarter has been more about filling in the gaps and learning more tools that will help later on. So instead of individual subjects, I guess this quarter has really pushed me fall back on some "skills" I learned in undergrad that are relevant to grad school:

Math. I'm glad I took 18.014 and 18.024 because after having gone through a year of trying to do math, I really got a feel for theoretical math. I still can't do "real" math for my life but it has helped a lot in understanding finite element lectures. At the very least, I'm not sitting there wondering what those upside down As are! Two of my classes this quarter is very focused on solving partial differential equations with finite element and finite difference methods. I'm really glad I took linear algebra. I took that class for fun but I think it should really be required for civil engineering. I mean, operating Matlab requires some knowledge of linear algebra! So I guess in conclusion, I think I'm fairly prepared for the math I'm seeing so far, both theory and application.

Programming (Matlab). There was an attempt back in sophomore year to get us (civil engineering sophomores) to use Matlab. But I think they abandoned this idea after we all got extremely confused and overloaded with work. I don't know what they're doing now but I think it could have been more structured and we could have gotten more out of it. But we were required to take 1.00 which taught Java and basic programming things. I have to admit, I can't program Java at all anymore but I did learn how programming works in general. I think it would be 10x harder to learn Matlab without having gone through 1.00 or a similar class that teaches programming instead of just using the language as a tool. I mean, at the very least, I know that "x = y" does not equal "y = x". So I guess I'm semi-prepared in this category.

Geology. I have no preparation in this area whatsoever. Geologists are required to learn about engineering stuff like stress and strain. But engineers don't have to learn geology. For my field of engineering, I really need to learn geology. But there way that civil engineering programs are set up, there's very little time for this. Freshman year is general classes. Sophomore year is general engineering concepts. Junior year we get to learn a little bit of structural and geotechnical engineering. Senior year is where we get to take one or two advanced analytical, engineering classes but we also have to take senior design and project related classes. So I guess going to grad school is giving me the chance to fill in this gap.

Hydraulics, hydrology. I think that one fluid mechanics class back in sophomore year has held up pretty well for me. I also took a class in Cambridge and I think those notes will be useful at some point. I think I could have used more preparation here but there are also plenty of graduate courses in this area that assumes nothing more than basic fluid mechanics. Again, for this topic, grad school is giving me the chance to pursue an interest that I didn't have time for in undergrad.

So in general, I think my undergrad has given me a pretty good background to work off of. I've definitely been well trained in problem solving and thinking skills. I guess I've come a long way since graduating from high school. I've thought a lot about the high school to undergrad transition as well. But I think that warrants a separate post.

1 comment:

yalu said...

We look linear algebra together, so I'm interested in knowing - what do you remember from it, or is it just the familiarity with the subject (like matrices and eigenvectors?).