Back to school, back to school…

4 09 2007

Today kicks off the fall semester here at Rutgers, and I just don’t know if I’m prepared for the overwhelming excitement that will be Soils and Society later this afternoon. As my friend John suggested, I could definitely get Darwin involved in the course by using his The Formation of Vegetable Mould Thhrough the Action of Worms, with Observations on Their Habits as the basis for a paper if I must write one (I think there are just 3 exams, unfortunately), but geophagy is interesting and I’m sure I’ll get something from the course.

I also have recently received some more good news; I am not going to mention the details as yet, but it looks like I’ll once again have the opportunity to teach other students about evolution this semester. I’m also going to try and organize some Darwin Day lectures for February (it’s never too early to start), so I definitely have a lot to do at Rutgers in terms of evolution this year. I might give Darwin’s Beagles another shot, although it seems that there just isn’t enough of an undergraduate interest at this particular university. Even if most students don’t care, however, I’m still having fun with it, and so don’t expect the science writing to stop anytime soon.

School starts when?!

29 08 2007

Note: Thanks to the kind comments of people here and a relaxing evening reading some T.H. Huxley I’m feeling much better, although I’m sure putting out this little rant helped too. I’m going to try to make the best of the position I’ve found myself in, and hopefully I’ll move on to better things after I get my B.S. (both meanings apply) straightened out. Thanks to everyone who’s stopped in to show me some encouragement and support during this rough journey.

I’m not less than a week away from the start of the fall semester, and I’m definitely not done with summer yet (hell, I didn’t even go and get my first Rita’s gelati until Saturday). Still, I really need to buckle down and do well this semester as I’m essentially out of “last chances.”

Some of you might remember that I was considering switching into Evolutionary Anthropology. It appears that I cannot. Rutgers was recently restructured to consist of the School of Arts and Sciences (Busch, Livingston, Douglass, and College Avenue campuses) and the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (Cook campus), and I have too low of a GPA and too many credits (121) to transfer into the program. Perhaps if things were as they have been for a number of years I could have made a case, but it appears that there’s a whole new set of rules and administrative B.S. and I do not have much hope for my appeal for a transfer. I stupidly painted myself into a corner academically, and now I don’t have much choice other than to finish up my current program and try to escape in one piece.

Indeed, the coming semester is not really going to be an enjoyable one, as many of the classes I have to take are basic courses that are required for students that I had not taken in my early years. This fall I’ll be taking;

Precalculus – I can’t put it off any longer; I must face the math demons and hope to come out in one piece. If I fail this course I’ll be prevented from taking other courses that are critical next spring and summer, and so the pressure is definitely on.

Computer Science 110 – Basic computers course on Excel, Word, etc. that everyone has to take. It’s not hard, but it’s mind-numbingly boring and I have little use for it. Still, it’s something I have to take care of.

Fundamentals of Ecological Modeling – I’m a few credits short of my requirement for ecological courses within my major, and this was the only one that fit in my schedule. The name just screams “Math!” at me though, and I don’t particularly have a good feeling about this one.

Soils and Society – I tried to take care of my “soils” requirement last semester, but I ultimately picked the wrong course. “Soils and Water” kicked my butt and now I have to take the easier version (which I wished I had found out about beforehand). I don’t think this one will be difficult, but I’d be lying if I said I was interested.

Living Primates – The one course I’m actually looking forward to. Even though I can’t major in Evolutionary Anthropology, at least I’ll have this one “fun” course to make things a bit more enjoyable and even out my GPA a bit (hopefully). I may have to drop this one though, especially if I’m struggling in more important courses or I need to work more in order to pay the rent.

I apologize for being such a sad-sack, but I simply am not looking forward to finishing out my degree. I need to have a degree in something, and past mistakes have led me down a path with no other choice. My wife opined that it would be wonderful if they just let me write a thesis and handed me a degree (you would figure I would have fulfilled the general requirements for some course of study by now), but such a fanciful notion will never come to pass.

What does this mean as far as blogging goes? I’ll still be on here, and I’ll still have something new up every day, but I don’t know how much I’ll be able to actually post. I actually usually don’t write during the evening as I read during that time, but even my reading is likely to be curtailed. I’m sure my attitude to this whole affair isn’t helping either, but in general I feel trapped into a course of study that doesn’t engage my interests during a time of year when I start to feel the effects of seasonal depression (I’m a warm-weather creature). Still, things as they are now are still better than the alternative of getting a minimum wage job at a retail store, and I’m not ever going to be happy or contribute anything if I don’t try and make it through this last year and a half of college.

Down in the dumps

17 07 2007

I don’t know how much I’ll be posting today; I finally got to look at my grades from the last semester (I couldn’t previously because of the hold on my account from my parking tickets), and I have experienced yet another, *sigh*, educational setback. I ended up receiving an ‘F’ in a course I was sure that I had passed, one that is only offered in the spring and that I need before I can take another core course that has no equivalent. I don’t know what I’m going to be able to do (I don’t even have an adviser at the moment, being that my newly assigned one wasn’t around all semester and then retired), and at times like this I just feel like giving up. It’s incredibly hard trying to go to school full time and working full time to make sure there’s a roof overhead, and I’ve had to skip class a number of times to make sure the bills got paid. Add that strain to the fact that at this point I’m simply not interested in most of the course material (and the ineptness of some of the professors), and it’s not surprising that I haven’t done very well at all this past semester. I don’t mean to make excuses, only to explain why it is I simply can’t concentrate on my schoolwork, which only ends up dragging out the painful process longer than necessary. I’m so close that I might as well finish, but I hit so many snags that it’s almost not worth the aggravation. Still, I’ll end up shelling out thousands of dollars, driving myself into debt, just to get a piece of paper that allows me to go on to spend even more to get another piece of paper before I can actually start doing anything constructive, and despite my love for science I’ve developed a pretty strong hatred for academia (at least at my own university).

Photo of the Day: Katydid (or didn’t she…)

13 07 2007


This is one of my most favorite photos, although I can’t say I know the species of insect depicted outside it being some kind of katydid (Family Tettigoniidae). Outside of the picture coming out well, I simply enjoyed walking out to College Avenue and sitting down with my camera and whatever Terry Pratchett novel I was reading that down, putting down the book now and then to stand in the middle of the bushes and flower beds next to the benches to take pictures of whatever arthropods I could find.

The Rutgers University Parking Gestapo

13 07 2007

Update: Compared to NYC parking prices, I suppose I should count my blessings…

I am starting to really hate Rutgers University. Outside of problems I’ve had with administrators, professors, and the “RU Screw,” I’ve just been fleeced out of $300 by the most evil entity within the whole of the Rutgers bureaucracy: Parking and Transportation Services. You see, since 2005 I have occasionally been late to class and instead of waiting for the slow and overcrowded buses (RU being so overcrowded that some students had to be put up in hotel rooms within the past year) I decided to drive to campus and park in the Cook/Douglass Parking Deck. There were plenty of spaces left open (so I wasn’t depriving anyone of a spot who had a parking pass), although I knew the risk of getting a parking ticket. Between Fall 2005 and Fall 2006, I received 3 parking tickets at $50 each (if you get a ticket in the city of New Brunswick it’s only $20) and decided not to pay them until I absolutely had to. No notices came, I was allowed to register for classes, and all seemed to be right with the world. I did receive two tickets this past semester, but I would have no problem paying for those being that the notice came during the semester in which I had been ticketed. I had a little reason to hope that I had been forgotten as I had heard that ParkTran forgives the first ticket each semester, but I was greatly mistaken.

Indeed, just before I was about to register for my fall classes I received a letter from ParkTran; the demanded $300, and until I could pay it there would be a “hold” on my account. I didn’t even have a spare $150, much less the total sum they wanted, and apparently they decided that they were going to hold all “offenses” of semesters past against me. Did I park in a mostly-empty parking deck without a tag? Yes, but it should be the job of ParkTran to keep track of their tickets and promptly inform students if they owe money, not hit them with a huge bill years after the fact. This week, however, I finally had enough money to pay them off, and my wife kindly went to the new office to try and get the fine reduced. She was told that students could no longer fight tickets nor get fines reduced, and we would have to pay the full $300. I was hoping that I would now be able to finally register for classes, but ParkTran being a bureaucracy, the hold on my account will not be removed until Tuesday.

[I’m sure others have their own tales of woe relating to the Parking/Transportation offices. Check out the Connie Willis story In the Late Cretaceous; I’m sure many of us could relate to Dr. Robert Walker.]

I know Rutgers has been short on money due to budget cuts and the like, but establishing a “Parking Gestapo” that hits students with such massive bills that cannot be fought or even reduced is inexcusable. The parking officers have been getting more and more rabid every year. It seems as if the administration decided that their entire deficit is going to made up from parking tickets, hitting students especially hard.

Between changing the name of my school from Cook College to “The School of Environmental and Biological Sciences” (the school had only been known as Cook College since 1973, mind you, a great dishonor to the memory of George H. Cook), budget cuts, and all the (for lack of a better term) B.S. that I’ve had to go through in pursuing my degree, I can’t say I recommend Rutgers. I worked so hard and long to get back in, but now that I’m here, I just want it all to be over.

No, I’d rather not be a physicist

9 07 2007

David Ng has put up a new post on the recent topic of biologists secretly wanting to be physicists or some other kind of scientist, only they never pursued physics because they were not particularly skilled at math. While I certainly don’t have physics envy (it’s more of a physics avoidance type of behavior), I do think those in certain fields of biology have more fun than chemists, physicists, microbiologists, etc. Of course I have a pretty big bias in this area, but I would much rather travel the world dressed up as a moose and study predator avoidance behavior, work on fossil sites, etc. than spend most of my time in a genetics/physics/chemistry lab. Perhaps if I was more adept at math I would have done better in the elementary physics and chemistry classes and I would have received more encouragement, but I certainly have no regrets about my current scientific interests.

While I wouldn’t count myself as a real scientist yet, I thought I would answer the little 3 question meme David put up anyhow, and you can check out PZ’s response as well.

1. What’s your current scientific specialty?

That’s probably the most difficult question out of the three; I don’t suppose I actually have one. While my major is Ecology & Evolution (and I’m minoring in Geology), what I enjoy learning about primarily falls under the general term of “Zoology.” Behavior, evolutionary history, ecology, physiology, anatomy, and paleontology all fascinate me, and I don’t think I’m particularly skilled in any one area enough to say it’s my “specialty.” If I really had to pick, I suppose I’m more interested in ecological evolution (especially extinctions), but that doesn’t seem to be easily distinguishable from what I just mentioned. I’ve been told over and over again by professors that I’m going to have to specialize if I want to have any sort of career in science, but regardless of what I may have to decide professionally what I love studying can best be embraced as Zoology.

2. Were you originally pursuing a different academic course? If so, what was it?

I’ve changed majors a few times, for varying reasons and with varying success. I initially entered Rutgers Cook College as a marine science major, but my math skills were nonexistent and I got placed into “Elementary Algebra.” This meant I had to wait a year to take Biology 101 and even longer before Physics and Chemistry (which were required for most of the marine science courses I had to take), and after I received an academic dismissal for my poor performance I gave up on marine science. I wanted to study sharks, whales, reef ecosystems, etc., but most of the courses focused on geology, chemistry, and physics of the ocean, and most of the professors/advisers I ran into in the department weren’t especially friendly. When I’d say “I want to study sharks” they’d reply “What are you ever going to do with that? No one studies sharks.” Telling them that such a response was exactly why I thought it was important didn’t help much.

After working in a Target warehouse for a semester, I decided to go back to Rutgers in the Environmental Policies, Institutions, and Bureaucracies major, being that it would allow me to study environmental science but without having to worry about a math requirement (plus, I knew someone in this major who never went to class, was rather daft, and had a better GPA than I did, and so I foolishly though I could do it). Much to my dismay, however, most of the courses were about government, law, bureaucracy, and learning how to work in an office building rather than any kind of field work (converse to what I had been told by an adviser), and so my lack of interest translated into poor performance and I was dismissed once again.

At this point I made it my goal to really figure out what I wanted to do and resolved to get back into Rutgers, no matter what (it’s rare to be admitted to the same college three times as an undergraduate, but I knew I could do it). In a year and a half I got my associates degree in 4-12 education from Union County College (at this point paying for college myself, working full time in addition to coursework) and was admitted back into Cook College. I had picked the Conservation Ecology option under the Ecology & Evolution major, but even once I knew what I wanted to do I faced discouragement. Visiting the woman who was to become my (temporary) adviser, I was told that I simply did not have the math skills to do well in science and I should consider EPIB instead if I want to be involved with ecology. Another meeting with the professor of the Honors program and assistant dean of academic programs gave me reason to hope, however; she said that it sounded like I had finally found the right major for me and had little doubt that I would be able to succeed at Rutgers. Her support was crucial, especially since encouragement from many of my professors and advisers past and present has been essentially nonexistent.

So here I am, nearly two years later, hopefully about to finish my bachelor’s degree, going on to do who-knows-what next. Most of my trouble in the past was following what I thought was right for me on the advice of others when I wasn’t sure; if I had merely waited a year or two, or got my associates degree first, I might have had a less troublesome time in college. It’s also sad to say it, but I have learned far more through my own studies than I have in the various courses I’ve taken over the past six years; I feel more like I’m merely meeting arbitrary collegiate requirements than doing anything actually productive.

3. Do you happen to wish you were involved in another scientific field? If so, what one?

Although I wouldn’t say I’m actually involved in any field yet, there is little out there that I wish I did not know something more about. Even in my attempt to gain a broader knowledge of how organisms work, it certainly would be enlightened by a better understanding of physics, chemistry, genetics, cell biology, etc. The problem is that such topics often do not hold my attention, and if I am to gain even a cursory grasp of any it is going to be a long, uphill struggle. I can empathize with Charles Darwin when he wrote;

I attempted mathematics, and even went during the summer of 1828 with a private tutor (a very dull man) to Barmouth, but I got on very slowly. The work was repugnant to me, chiefly from my not being able to see any meaning in the early steps in algebra. This impatience was very foolish, and in after years I have deeply regretted that I did not proceed far enough at least to understand something of the great leading principles of mathematics, for men thus endowed seem to have an extra sense. But I do not believe that I should ever have succeeded beyond a very low grade.

Indeed, at this point I have almost entirely convinced myself that I do not (and cannot) understand mathematics, and I can only imagine the horrors that will befall me when I have to take Precalculus this fall, as well as a year of physics and another semester of chemistry.

Updates, or lack thereof

4 05 2007

Sorry for the lack of updates today everyone; I had two finals (Behavioral Biology [or as I like to call it, “Anecdotes about birds and not much else”] and Biology 102) so I spent most of the day making a feeble attempt at studying. At least the Bio 102 exam had 85+ questions out of 150 on ecology and evolution, so that was easy (I’m just hoping I didn’t bomb the physiology/neurology/development sections). To relieve my poor brain I’ll be going out to see Spider-Man 3 with my wife tonight, kicking off what is to be the first of many nights spent at the cinema this summer, so whether I’ll have any tasty-tidbits up tonight is anyone’s guess.