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Archive for November, 2008

 

Tivoli is more fun then graduate applications.

Tivoli is more fun then graduate applications.

One of the challenging aspects of applying to graduate school is not the application or the tests or the overwhelming sense of unknown (it could be a variable sense or even a mild perturbative feeling) rather the keeping it all organized. At first I tried to keep everything in individual folders but soon found that a lot of information is not a document but text.

For keep ideas organized, especially for my personal statement, I used a FreeMind, which I mentioned before. The other two important organizational tools has been my mail client (Apple Mail, but Thunderbird would also work) and a note organizational program such as MacJournal.

Within my note program I found it best to organize two ways: the first is a file for each University and the second is for each requirement. For instance my Personal Statement file has what each University needs for its personal statement and related notes. For the University files I list all of the e-mails I have sent and notes of professors that I want to contact. 

Luckily my program also has color coding of the files for easy recognition for what needs to be done.

Overall these programs have helped in organization and from there they have helped in the entire process.

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Fireworks are needed for every holiday.

Fireworks are needed for every holiday.

Today I met with a Teach for America recruiter to talk about the program. After half an hour he convinced me to apply to the program. He argued that if it turns out that it will not work out for me then I will find out in the interview parts of the application so I should then fill out the initial application.

This worked for me but he sealed the deal when he said that there are no letters of recommendation required.

I know that at least one of the Universities I am applying to allow deferment of acceptance for Teach for America, it also happens to be the university I want to get into the most. So my ideal situation now is to get into both this university and Teach for America. 

I loved participating in the Chemistry Outreach program at UCSB as it had a direct effect in inspiring fifth graders to pursue science. I can imagine doing the same thing on a more in depth level, I personally never had an inspirational physics teacher prior to college. I mean I had a good teacher who taught us and made it fun, but if that was my only exposure to physics I would never have thought of majoring in physics.

Now I get another application to fill out between now and the end of the year, but no letters of recommendations for this one.

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A majestic creature standing tall on his perch.

A majestic creature standing tall on his perch.

I feel that my life right now could be summarized through this comic.

Contacting professors has always seemed like a hard thing to do for me. It is not so much what to ask but rather how to approach the e-mail. My first consideration is to the fact that I am someone they have never met e-mailing them out of nowhere. I should mention I am referring to e-mailing professors are other universities to ask about their research. 

Sometimes the e-mails are to get your foot in the door so to speak, to be able to have your name recognized when they are sifting through mounds of graduate applications (I do hope they organize them by mounding). But I have found that asking about research really helps learn more about what is offered at the school and what is available for me as a new graduate student.

An example: I was really interested in the University of Washington’s Space Propulsion Research so I e-mailed the lead investigator about it. Turns out that they currently do not have funding for the project so the current graduate students are getting by on TA’ships more then research. This let me know that I should look at other opportunities at the school to see if I still want to go there (incidentally I still do).

Nevertheless it is awkward. Coming up soon I need to ask for letters of recommendation, always awkward if they are coming from a professor who you are not in at least weekly contact with (like a class).

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Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a great medieval town in Germany.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a great medieval town in Germany.

One aspect of study abroad that is never fun for anyone involved, at least not anyone I know, is grade transfers. It is like getting normal transfer grades except with a large body of water and a cultural divide between Universities. As I was a in a study abroad program directly through my school (University of California Education Abroad Program is awesome) my grades were relatively painless to transfer over. Painless in that I only had to contact half a dozen people, meet several advisors, get a few add codes and have a lot of patience to get my grades over.

So when I started filling out the graduate school application (surprisingly easy aside from the personal statement part) all asked to list all schools attended. No problem I just list UCSB and Edinburgh University. Then in the transcript part they want all official transcripts from all schools attended. This caused a little concern.

If I needed to I could get official transcripts sent but I do not know the cost or if I can even access them anymore (my Edinburgh e-mail address has been deactivated). Besides the grades already appear (slightly modified) on my Santa Barbara transcript so they would be the same grades twice. Worried about this I realized that this is the exact question I should just ask the graduate admissions advisor at the schools I am applying too.

As most of the schools I am looking at are a time zone or two off from me when I checked my e-mail this morning I found responses from almost all of them (5/6ths). Essentially they just need the transcripts from Santa Barbara as they hold the grades.

So if you have studied abroad and are worried about official transcripts from study abroad schools, if they are on your home school transcript that should suffice.

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Dolphins

 

A few dolphins jumping in the sunset.

A few dolphins jumping in the sunset.

I actually managed to finish and leave lab today before the sun had completely set. I don’t think there were any dolphins jumping but I feel that there could have been.

So here is a photo of some dolphins swimming right off shore.

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Some cities have all the good ruins.

Some cities have all the good ruins.

Over the past few weeks, especially since the end of the Physics GRE, my spare time has been spent working on my personal statement. I feel that the personal statement is one of the hardest parts of the application process, not because of innate difficulty, but because it is the only part that can be tangibly changed while applying. Other parts such as the GRE, letters of recommendation, research experience and transcripts are all cumulative events that are difficult to wildly influence towards the end. But the personal statement can be changed dramatically until it is submitted.

Getting started was the hardest part. I found some resources online about personal statements in general. I went to a career services class on writing personal statements and I tried to gleam some information from the prompts themselves. To be honest these things sort of helped or will help when I am finalizing but none really sparked me into writing. Then again this is not something that can be dived into without any sort of preliminary work.

The best way that I brainstorm is with web diagrams, writing something down in a circle then branching off of that with more words until a web of ideas form. At least it helps when I have no idea what I am doing. Luckily I found a neat free application to help with this called FreeMind. It is open source and runs on all operating systems and has really helped me organize what I want to write about.

To start I created branches listing what I am interested in studying, what skills I have, my experiences and then structural features of my personal statement. Once I wrote this stuff I collapsed those branches and never really looked at them again (well once just now). I sections filled with questions from various personal statement resources from Career Services at my school or the internet. Just the questions, no answers to any of them.

I also asked one of my professors for his advice on personal statements as he was on the graduate admissions committee. He did say that personal statement do not matter that much, but other sites online (like physicsgre.com) have professors giving the opposite advice. But talking to a professor really did help. Essentially he said to show in the statement several things: I am ready to do research, I enjoy lab work, I know what I want to study and how this department fits with what I want to research. The things is to show that the writer is on top of things and not just randomly applying in order to put off real life.

Once I organized all of the advice and tips I started writing. Not the personal statement though. I mentioned that I some advice sites list questions to help getting started (I forgot where I found mine otherwise I would link to it), I answered all of those. Or at least all of them. Some I did answer but it was more of a venting thing then a real answer. Answering these questions help in that they let you start to find your voice for the personal statement. Since I already write a bit (this blog and journals) I already know what my voice reads like so it was not much of a problem. But if you are unused to writing, especially about yourself, then answering these short snippets will help.

Finally I wrote my first draft. To get started I did the whole thing as a free write where I kept on writing. In between solid paragraphs I wrote comments or just superfluous statements about the process. The key to a free write is that it is much easier to correct and edit then it is to create.

I have not gotten past the first draft, I need to give it at least twelve hours to brew. The next step is too start correcting, filling in gaps, transitioning and structural work. Once a readable draft is ready I will send it to a lot of people to look over, critique and edit. Since every school requires something different I will then edit, alter and adapt my one good statement for the schools.

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Looking up Eiffel.

Looking up Eiffel.

As an alternative to graduate school I have been entertaining the idea of applying for Teach for America instead of or prior to graduate school. I know that at least one of the graduate school I am applying to (University of Washington) allows acceptance to be deferred for two years specifically for Teach for America. 

Since I have been unsure about whether I want to apply or not I signed up for more information from one of the many recruiters going from class to class asking if anyone is interested. Next week I am doing what I think is best for someone unsure about it, I am meeting with a recruiter. He is not actually called a recruiter but in essence that is what he is.

My major concern blocking me from applying is I do not know if I would actually be able to be an effective teacher. I am fairly decent at public speaking, I really do like teaching and I enjoy helping people with their physics and math homework. It is just that the people I am helping want to be in school and want to learn this (for the most part), I really don’t know if I could keep the interest or attention of a high school class.

Hopefully I have a good meeting that lets me decide if I want to apply or not. I mean another application cannot really kill me, right?

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Sainte Chapelle in Paris.

Sainte Chapelle in Paris.

I received my fifty free photos from Shutterfly earlier this week including the one above of Sainte-Chapelle. The quality is very similar to the other two services, mainly because I am only getting prints sized at 4×6 instead of larger poster prints.

Unlike the photos from Snapfish all of the ones taken with my Olympus point and shoot were cropped down to fit the format while those from my Nikon D60 are already in the format. A plus though is that the photo name is printed on the back. The default name is the file name followed by the photo date. If desired this can be overwritten to something else. Below this one like is Ordered at Shutterfly.

The photos are printed on Fujifilm Crystal Archive paper instead of Kodak paper. I am sure there may be some difference in long term color retention or fading between the two but I do not have the means to test this.

As with Snapfish the photos can only be uploaded as non-RAW/TIF formats. I assume iPhoto also has this restriction but as it is integrated into the service this step is avoided. 

The delivery time was just one day later then the Snapfish photos and as they were fast so were these.

For both services there are many websites dedicated to coupons, a quick google search for Snapfish Coupons or Shutterfly Coupons leads to many sites with various discounts. There are not that many for iPhoto.

The first set from Shutterfly was completely free, even the shipping cost me nothing. So if you are wondering how your photos would turn out with the different services, try Shutterfly as it will cost you nothing except the bandwidth to upload the photos.

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I feel that clouds make the sunset.

I feel that clouds make the sunset.

Today my friend mentioned an effect where the currents in the Pacific Ocean create a depression in the middle where all of the garbage collects. I looked it up and found out it is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I wonder if it will grow to the point where it will form an actual floating landmass capable of supporting significant weight. If not I would not be surprised if it became beneficial in the same way decommissioned scuttled ships act as artificial coral reefs. Or it may just be a huge blight on the seas.

Oddly enough the Santa Barbara Channel has enough natural seepage to be considered a huge disaster if the same amount came form a man-made source like a big tanker, in spite of this the channel has a huge biodiversity for the small area. To be fair the channel has had a long time to come to equilibrium while the trash island is relatively recent.

Now for the settings for my above tonemapped photo (single RAW, not HDR): 

  • Strength: 100
  • Saturation: 50
  • Luminosity: 0
  • Light Smoothing: High
  • Microcontrast: +6

Tone Settings:

  • White Point: 0.808
  • Black Point: 0.250
  • Gamma: 1.01

Color Settings:

  • Temperature: 0
  • Saturation Highlights: +1
  • Saturation Shadows: 0

Smoothing Settings:

  • Micro-smoothing: 2
  • Highlights Smoothing: 21
  • Shadows Smoothing: 22
  • Shadows Clipping: 0

Admittedly these settings are not markedly different then the other photo which actually surprised me once I looked at them.

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Flower Gradient Poster

 

The final poster using all of the photos.

The final poster using all of the photos.

After I received my prints from Apple my neighbor told me about another photo printing service Snapfish. What made me interested was that they offered fifty free 4×6 prints for new users. Another service, Shutterfly, also offers this though I do not have my photo from them yet.

I took the idea of the fifty free prints and combined it with my suitemates idea of making a gradient poster from nature shots. And from this the poster above was born. I recognize that it is not perfect but it is my first attempt at this type of poster.

About the Snapfish experience compared to iPhoto print services. The first thing I noticed was that I could not upload RAW photos but had to use jpeg, likely a bandwidth issue. As I was ordering the photos there was the option to have 4×6 photos cropped or to have some of my photos printed on 4×5.1 paper at a full frame. I took the smaller format to prevent unwanted cropping. For this I could have cropped them myself but it did not seem worth it.

One part of Snapfish I did not like was the shipping policy. I am rather math inclined but their shipping pricing system is a little strange or just poorly explained. I paid $3.44 to mail the fifty photos through USPS. Unlike iPhoto these arrived quite promptly. I ordered on a Thursday and they arrived the following Monday. That did impress me.

I find that the color rendition is a little better then those I received through iPhoto. I had one overlap photo (the sunflower) and it came out with a little brighter yellows. Similar to iPhoto they were both printed on Kodak photo paper. The backs of the Snapfish also had Snapfish followed by a serial number and print date on the back. I assume that the number is to allow tracking and possibly (if they were smart about it) reprints. Especially if the photo was given as a gift.

I should be getting a set of photos from Shutterfly sometime this week or next and I will see how they stack up to Snapfish and iPhoto. Eventually I will order a poster or two to see how they turn out.

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