Senior Fall : Classes

It’s 1:15 a.m. on a Wednesday. I have a lot ton of work to do and this is what goes through my mind: Should I sort these alphabetically? Or by credit? Alphabetically? By CRN (Course Registration Number)? The chronological order that they are scheduled in? The order I remember them in? Wait, what exactly am I sorting you ask? Oh, just the classes that at I’m taking this semester. This last option is very convenient and involves less work as I begin writing about them.

Fall 2016 has been by far one of my busiest semesters. Even my senior fall in high school wasn’t this bad. My mom only remembers me as a blur as I rushed from one place to the other. Both of us thanked our stars that breathing didn’t require special effort! But Fall 2016? It’s hectic and crazy, and I feel like I am getting more absent-minded by the lack of sleep and the to-do lists that snow-ball beyond control. And yet, I love very single one of my classes so much. They’re all physics or astrophysics. And I learn so much from my extracurricular commitments that I wouldn’t change my schedule even if I could. So here goes:

My schedule, and yes I have to remind myself to eat.

The Basics

Classes are numbered with a three-letter departmental prefix followed by a four-digit course number and a two-digit section number. So SPS 1020-01 (Intro to Space Sciences) is offered by the Space Sciences department. SPS is separate from the Physics department (PHY) when it comes to classes. However the entire department is Physics and Space Sciences. I know, it’s confusing, but you’ll get the hang of it soon enough. The number 1020 is the course number. It stays what it is. The CRN changes every year, every semester and with each section. Not so random fact: Almost all PHY or SPS classes have only one or at the most two sections, not counting General Requirements.

Optics Lab (PHY4021)

This is a senior level class, usually paired with Optics. We have more work to do than the introductory physics labs, so each individual lab is spread out over two to three weeks. Not only does this help me develop critical experimentation skills that I would need no matter which field I specialize in, but it also gives me practice in using LaTeX. That’s a great tool by the way, especially for researchers publishing papers.

Optics (PHY4020)

As mentioned before, this sort of goes in parallel with the Optics lab as far as the syllabus is concerned. It’s a very important class for Physics-related majors and my favorite because Dr. Zhang is awesome and I LOVE optics! Maybe because I have glasses? No, not really. I just love the ray diagrams, and this is one of the few places where we can actually “see” (excuse the pun) physics work. The equations predict a certain position where an image will be formed, and then, after several minutes of careful ray-tracing, it does form at that precise location in the diagram! I find any and all tangible means of experiencing physics or math work fascinating, and this is one of them.

Senior Seminar(SPS 4200)

This is the “Most Important Class” according to Dr. Batcheldor, and rightly so. This class nudges us to submit our petitions to graduate, update our resumes, prepare for grad school applications and practice research presentations. In Dr. B’s words, this class “helps us get ready to graduate.” And I love the fact that it gives me a breather from the rest of my physics-astro-math intensive classes. It is at 8:30 a.m., but Dr. B allows us to bring coffee, so all is well.

Astro I (SPS 5010)

I waited for this class ever since my first semester. We learn about the structure and evolution of stars, and it’s SO AMAZING!! Nerd-alert: The textbooks are huge and heavy with only scientific plots and tiny print. But it’s wonderful to finally be able to make sense of so many concepts and equations I only heard or read about until now. Dr. Petit structures it to be more computational, and I appreciate the Python practice I get. The exams are oral exams, which I haven’t taken in three years, so I’m actually looking forward to them.

ISRU and Mission Design (SPS 4201)

In Situ Resource Utilization and Mission Design is a Special Topics in Space Sciences class, and can be used as a restricted elective. It’s the first time that such a class is being taught. We learn how to utilize resources to their maximum capacity, just as the name suggests. Why is that important? Because when we go to Mars, or any other planet, we cannot carry enough supplies and resources to sustain a long stay or possible colonization. For example, we’d have to make use of Martian soil for agriculture; and my project in this class focuses on making more chemically accurate Martian regolith simulant than currently available simulants. Regolith is a fancy science-y word for soil or dirt. We want to make sure the simulant we have is as chemically accurate as possible so we can experiment with it on Earth and be fully prepared when we do go to Mars.

Fluid Mechanics (MAE 3161)

This is a required class for Physics/Astro majors with pipes, flow rates, densities, viscosity and forces. I love mechanics, and this is the only class outside of my department that I am taking. It enables me to meet new people and I enjoy hearing different perspectives from my friends in this class, who are almost all engineers. Another advantage of being in a small school: you always know at least two-three people in each class you take. And for a class of 20-30 people, that’s outside of your department with multiple sections: that’s a pretty big deal!

I’m forgetting one. I know, I’m taking 7.
Got it! Undergrad Research (SPS 4291)

I get three credits for doing research. Especially for those who plan to go to grad school, undergraduate research experiences go a long way in demonstrating research skills. It also gives you insight into what research is really like and helps you gauge if that’s what you really want to do. I work on understanding the architectures of exoplanetary systems using data from the Kepler space telescope. Basically, I’m trying to find a pattern among all planetary systems and hope to get closer to answering questions like: Is our solar system just like any other?

And if you want more…

Here’s the entire course catalog. If you’re a freshman or sophomore, I strongly urge you to look for interesting electives and see if you can add a minor or a concentration. It’s also a good idea to make a schedule of classes with your advisor for the entire four years. You’ll probably realize you can take a semester off for an internship, or add a major by taking two extra classes.The possibilities are endless!

Spring registration is right around the corner. Make sure you meet with your freshman year advisor or academic advisor and that they have ‘flipped the flag’ (clicked a button in PAWS on their end without which you can’t register). Make sure you know the date and time registration opens for you, and that you have one or two back-up options in case some classes get filled up before you can register for them. Most classes have waitlists, and there are a lot of adds and drops in the first two weeks, which is great! If you find you cannot take a certain class for some reason, you can drop it within the first two weeks at no extra charge, or you can add a class during those two weeks. I didn’t fully appreciate this until my second semester. It is a blessing, especially if like me, you think you can overload yourself and then a week into classes, you realize that the jump between 18 and 20 credits is pretty steep.



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