Life After Graduation

Preface

Everyone loves the feeling of finally being able to graduate—to finish what they’ve worked so hard to achieve. We like to pretend this is when things get easier, but it’s not. Life goes on.  That means making difficult decisions and preparing for the future. I decided to write this to summarize my plans to anyone who’s interested or curious about what comes next for me and how I got to this point in my life.

I summarize it at the end in case you aren’t interested in the details.

 

My First Year at Tech

I transferred in to Georgia Tech in August of 2012. Coming in, the information I had estimated the funds I need to be roughly $20k or so. That was way out of my price range. That was way more than what federal student loans would cover, so I managed to acquire a private loan from Sallie Mae. I lived on campus the first year. It wasn’t cheap. After my first year, I realized I didn’t need as much as I thought. The tuition and other costs added up to $20k, but the tuition itself wasn’t nearly as much. In fact, federal loans were enough to cover it. All I had to do was find the money for living expenses.

My Second Year at Tech

The first step was housing. Rent and utilities was about $850 a month. I moved off campus and saved about $325. Of course, I can’t save what I don’t have. That’s when I decided to do a Co-op. It wasn’t specifically for the money. That was part of it, but I also thought I’d value from the experience. I think I have. It turned 2 years into three, but I managed to avoid Sallie Mae Loans. For a time, I seriously thought this was my future(1). I became stagnant and was ready to settle.

My Third Year at Tech (Now)

That would be the easy thing—to finish school, and begin making a life. Well, it would be easy in the short term until I realize this isn’t what I want to do. If you know me, you know I love science. I love learning about it and talking about it. It really got me thinking seriously about what I want to do. I began college intending to be an Aerospace Engineer (AE). I loved math, science, and space; it was perfect for me. Unfortunately, job prospects aren’t great in that field, but it’s so closely related to mechanical engineering (ME) that I should do ME first then I could continue on to AE for grad school.

Except, as time progressed, classes got further from the science and deeper into the engineering. It was bland, and I really lost interest. I had gotten to the point where I realized I had no interested in higher education in engineering. Overtime, my hopes of working in the space field had just sort of faded away. It’s the sort of thing where the further away from it you get the harder it becomes to do. Then in September of 2014 I had the opportunity to see a number of seminars, or talks, on various subjects in space and planetary science.

It reinvigorated me. I knew if I really wanted to do it I had to at least try. I had to make an active decision to pursue this in some way, so I spoke to one of the speakers, a scientist from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). He directed me to a professor in the Earth and Atmospheric Science (EAS) department here at Tech. And I went for it.

I sent her an email. No reply. But, I had enough to keep me pushing forward. I contacted one of the advisors in EAS to discuss my interests and opportunities. I looked around at a number of Graduate programs at different schools before talking to her. I had come to the realization that I just wasn’t prepared for it. Half the schools with planetary science expect a background in physics that I just don’t have. I had no research experience(1.5). My GPA (at Tech) was a 2.81 (as a result of my lack of interest my grades had begun to fall(2)). I did not feel confident in my chances. I planned to go for a second bachelor’s degree: rebuild my GPA, create connections in EAS for recommendations, and get some research experience. I had a clear plan to get into grad school.

I kept to this plan until December or so when I realized I made a mistake. I didn’t even try to apply. Some say you only fail if you don’t try, and I guess that mumbo jumbo is true. Except, it sure as hell doesn’t feel like it. I received my rejection email today from the department. Now, I knew it was coming. Even given my subpar qualifications, I realized the planetary science group didn’t have the funding for anyone.  I only applied to Tech, and that was mostly because of the late minute change of heart. It was hard as hell to get everything I needed for the application. Like in the other areas, I just wasn’t prepared. That won’t happen next year.

After Graduating from Tech (Future)

As much as I would have liked to begin my graduate career next year, it is not going to happen, at least not officially(3). This semester I began doing research(4). I’ll continue doing that full time over the summer and part time in the fall. I’m already registered for a mix of EAS and physics courses in the fall. I am going to try and get the second bachelors by the end of next year, but it’s not that easy. My focus will be on graduate school, so that means getting the most out of my classes the research I’m doing without overwhelming myself with unnecessary courses for a degree I don’t even really need(5).
I’ll co-op part time, as my schedule allows, if my employer allows me to(6). However, it isn’t a priority. Research over the summer will be for pay (not great but better than none). This next year will still require some Sallie Mae though, but when I apply to grad school, I’ll be applying to the PhD program for at most places (as opposed to the masters program) because planetary science tends to be a PhD level field. This means, I should be funded once I get there(7). Then it’s all up hill from there.

I have a plan, and I’m fairly confident in that plan. However, things fall apart, and if this doesn’t work out… Well, those who can’t do, teach(8,9).

­Summary

I applied to the graduate program in the earth and atmospheric program here at Tech. I didn’t get in. I have to wait a year to reapply to grad school. In the meantime, I’m working towards a second bachelors in the same program here at Tech. I’m still graduating this May though with my first bachelors in mechanical engineering.

Notes

1I really like McKenney’s. I enjoy the atmosphere and the people I work with. I don’t want to make it sound like it has anything to do with them. If I were working in this field, I’d want it to be with them.

1.5Advanced science programs are research based. That’s what it’s all about. You need to show them you are capable of performing research.

2Maybe I’m incompetent, but I had begun to do worse in courses that were supposed to be easier. That is, easier than some of the courses that I had actually done rather well in. This also doesn’t include classes I took before transferring to Tech. This was all the core classes AKA the easy classes.

3Everything I am doing is to work my way into grad school, so in that sense, I am starting my grad school career. I don’t like having to repeat the undergrad process, but as bad as it is, I’m luck to still be so young.

4I’m working with Dr. Britney Schmidt. I’m really enjoying what I’m doing and with working with Professor Schmidt. Soon, we’ll begin our first paper. I look forward to that because having a paper published with my name out will look great, and because I’m interested in seeing the process take place. I’m studying fracture propagation in glaciers (specifically Helheim) , and later we’ll do a similar analysis of the Europa icy surface. There is so much more I could say about this, and I will with time.

5Some courses are more relevant to me than others. I need to focus on these rather than trying to juggle other courses that are less relevant. Plus, it’s important that my grades in the fall good to show that I am capable and serious about doing this.

6Co-ops work where you work full time for a semester then go to school for a semester before you return t to work again. You do this until you’ve worked at least 3 full time terms. You can work more if you like, but I have, and will only do, 3. I have explained my situation to my boss, and he has, up to now, allowed me to continue working part time. I think he’ll let me keep going, but I haven’t had a chance to talk about it first.

7PhD students are funded usually with a fixed stipend  ( a year sum, not very high); master students aren’t. Most programs let you enroll straight to the PhD program, and you can even get the masters along the way. Some require you to do the masters first. In which case, I’d have to find funding (loans) for that period of time.

8If I’m wrong, and grad school isn’t for me, I’ll reconsider what I’m doing, but then I think I’d try education. It allow me to stay within the science and to continue communicating it. That’s a “what if” sort of thing though.

9I’m updating this a few days later because I really should add that this is just a joke. I love my teachers. I’ve been so lucky to have had so many amazing teachers in and before college. Thank you to all of you, and I in no way mean to minimize the amount of passion and effort it takes to be a teacher. Thanks!

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The Magical Sensation that’s Gripped the Nation

Rays of light pierce the dark and sinister clouds that fly overhead, but light has yet to defeat all the shadows of the night. Everything is consumed by darkness, and formidable dangers lie in wait. Fierce waves crush one another as they work as one to reflect the structure that now lies in shambles. Hogwarts, as ubiquitous as the boy it houses, lies in ruin and is on its way to being little more than ash. Fear grips at my insides threatening to rip them to shreds.  The image says it all. The world-wide phenomenon that has managed to ensnare millions of fans is now coming to an end, and the fans are anxious to witness its grand finale. As I sit cross legged outside the theater, I am surrounded by fans screaming in unbearable anticipation for the upcoming movie that is now only hours away. There are movie props all around us, and the fans are slaving over the small indulgences, drinking in everything they have to offer. However, in all of their admiration of the giant posters, no one stops to think what messages might be hidden behind the mysterious exteriors. They are fans of all ages. Most of the fans are young adults, but there are people old enough to be my parents and others who are not even in their teens. Each fan has his or her own story. I first met J.K. Rowling’s magical world when I was eleven. I have grown alongside Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and as their journey comes to an end so does a decade of my life.

However, the story isn’t over yet. My attention leaves the horde of people around me and returns to the poster that so entices me. Though fraught with darkness, there is a bright patch of sky where the sun has begun to rise that catches my eye, but a dark shape blocks my full view. It is the focal point of the entire image, and it stirs a mixture of emotions inside me. It is the center of the magical world, so the depiction of Hogwarts burning to a crisp fills me with shock. Even though I have read the books, I was not prepared for this. It is far worse than I had ever imagined. Below the dying building lies its reflection as if it has to watch itself as it burns, knowing it is happening, but unable to do anything to stop the destruction. I wonder what caused the flames or if someone will ever bring order to the chaos. I look closer. I question whether there really are two figures within the flames about to battle, for I am convinced that they are there. It is the final showdown that everyone is anticipating. My initial shock and fear turn to uncontrollable longing to witness the duel play out. Will good triumph over evil, or will the dark wizard forever rule the world? The battle will decide it all. I am lost within the story, yet I force myself to concentrate more on the poster and the task at hand. I remove the magnifying glass from my mind’s eye, and I allow my gaze to focus on something far less discrete.

At the center of the poster lies the only text aside from a short phrase at the top of the page. The short phrase can wait. The center reads “Hp7” in the signature Harry Potter Font. The abbreviation does two things. It shows how large the Harry Potter franchise has become, and the producers realize this and use it to their advantage. The title makes a statement so bold that even people not in the target audience will be drawn to it. In addition to flaunting its world-wide reputation, the abbreviation limits the number of distractions from the overall illustration. The overwhelming image completes its message with the phrase at the top of the page. In contrast to the first film, which declared “Let the magic begin!” on its poster, this film proclaims “It all ends here.” Fear crawls up my spine and I’m covered in goose bumps. The phrase completes the message that the burning school began, for this is the beginning of the end.

All hope for triumph dies away, and I am left with fear. However, the glint of the sun rise still holds a bit of hope, and I grasp at it even if only to deceive myself that all is not lost. In the first film it is night in the poster, and we entered into a world blind to the evils that threaten us. Yet this light signals hope and the start of a new era. It is time for the long and cold night to end, so that we may live in peace.

We are lost in darkness, and the light is our guide to whatever lies ahead. The end is coming and there will be a new beginning, but it could be for good or evil. The image does a brilliant job at catching the attention of fans, but those who lack interest in the series will show little interest in the poster. Only a fan can catch all of the important factors within the illustration. The poster works to rejuvenate the interest for those whose attention has waned overtime, and it does so masterfully.

Written September 8, 2010 with slight edits on March 27, 2015 by Joshua Hedgepeth

Conversations with a Climate Change Denier

I hope he doesn’t read this. The first thing he told me was how much he hated the phrase Climate Change Denier, but it’s hard not think of him as one. He isn’t stupid. He’s an engineering grad student, and that’s not for the weak minded. He seems reasonable. He understands the fact of evolution, the age of the earth, and other things that many climate change deniers tend deny. Except, we’ve only just begun to delve into this beyond talking face to face. We’ve done some email correspondence, and I’ve sent my first round of rebuttals. If he ever gets the time we’ll see how he responds to the facts.

That is one thing that bothers me. If he, by chance, ends up accepting climate change is real does that prove he wasn’t a denier? Is mere ignorance justification? I can’t help but think not. Whether he’s denying the facts or has yet to be presented with them, he’s chosen to make a conscious decision to deny that it’s real. I don’t blame him because he is only human, and it’s likely its motivated by political or ideological thinking. There is no shame in admitting you’re wrong, so denier or not, if he’s willing to accept the facts then that is really all that matters. But will he? Only time will tell.

In the mean time, I want to share our conversation. I think it can be at least a little informational, but I’d love feedback if anyone is willing and able to do so. Because this is a learning process for myself too. I may get things wrong, or I may just do a poor job of defending it. After all, I’m not a scientist. However, I understand the consensus among scientists, and I am capable of at least a superficial understanding of the evidence.

I considered reformatting and reorganizing the email and response so it would flow better, but I’ve spent enough time on this as it is. I’ll show you what he wrote, and my responses will be italicized. Obviously you don’t have to read it all, but I appreciate you reading this far!

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Hey Josh,

Sorry for the late and (unfortunately) under-researched response. This is a really fascinating subject, and I have learned a lot in a short period of time. I can’t dedicate as much time to this as I would like, but here is a starting point:

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/12/26/co2-ice-cores-vs-plant-stomata/

You will probably be quickly repulsed by the rhetoric on this site, but try to look at the data.

This has taken me while to review and understand. The writers point seems clear though: the ice cap data and the planta stomata do not match. I found it difficult to understand, and I may be misunderstanding it. If so, try to explain it for me because just the link isn’t going to do. But this is what I got out of it: The stomata are a much more granular than the ice caps. It can offer snapshots that are closer in time while the ice caps are a much broader look that gives an overall average but that do not represent the short term variability. But it’s the overall view that we care about. The differences may arise from that variability.

Now, take that with a grain of salt, because I had a hard time understanding what they were getting at and at understanding other sources on the net. What I really took away from it though was that essentially it looked like a bad comparison (like apples to oranges). There are other sources of evidence to verify their accuracy. We have atmospheric data spanning back 50 years from infared recordings. Since the 19th century we’ve had chemical analysis of the atmospheric CO2 concentrations, and both of these match the ice cores. And there are other ways to calibrate the “paleoclimate thermometer” that the ice represents. They’ve compared independent measurements (figure 3 of paleo link). It can also be used to understand the atmosphere’s composition overall which in turn is testable in other ways.

I tried to correlate CO2 and temperature, but I’m having a lot of trouble finding accurate measurements for either. It seems like we only have about 100 years of temperature data and 50 years of CO2 to compare. Even so, it is difficult to access the accuracy of the data, and a strong trend doesn’t seem to appear (to my eye). Granted, I didn’t spend enough time trying to make an “apples-to-apples” comparison. I simply won’t have the time to do this matter justice (aka get a Ph.D. in climate science), which is why I try to keep an open mind. Here are my main concerns (and they are somewhat deep-seated):

1) Not enough historic data that is accurate.

We can study the effects of CO2 on temperature and infer their relationship. We also have a great deal of CO2 data. The deeper in the ice you go the further back in time you travel. Using these samples we’ve been able to track the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere back hundreds of thousands of years. What is more, we can study how much CO2 we are releasing, and we can make projections based on the current state of things and on what will occur if the current rates of pollution continue.

Also, climate is long term, but 100+ years of data tells us a lot still. Even so, there are other ways, like the ice caps, to analysis the temperature further back.
2) Failure of the models to predict periods of pause in warming while at the same time claiming that the models are more accurate (http://thefederalist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Climate-Model-Comparison.png)

Okay, we may have talked about this already, but the main issue with this claim is that they are essentially saying these models are failing to do something that they never were even created to do. It’s akin to saying if evolution is real, then how did life begin? It’s a non sequitur as evolution doesn’t claim to know how life started. Similarly, climate models don’t make year to year predictions. That sort of short time span is a look at the weather. The climate is much broader. We are talking two to three decades worth of averaged data. That’s what these models are attempting to do. And it’s worth noting that when using the initial conditions present in the past, they are able to accurately predict what has occurred since then.

I have other issues with this graph. One, there is no information given on how it was gathered or where it came from. I found the article it was posted in—I even contacted the author of it but didn’t get a reply (surprise surprise)—there was nothing providing a source. So, in that sense, it’s circumspect. We are unable to judge their methods nor the data. For all we know it could be completely false (at worse) or cherry-picked and misrepresentative of the whole.
3) Money (certainly goes both ways and I am skeptical of both)

This isn’t unique to Climate Change. Funding exists for all sects of science. I saw a video a month or so ago from a creationist who compared fossils to the crumbled up remains of sheet-rock to the fossils used in anthropology. She showed how unorganized and chaotic the crumbled remains were but how, if you try hard enough, you can find a pattern. But why would they do that? Where is the motivation? Obviously, they want the funding. The funding for their research biases them and leads them to infer things that just aren’t true. Now, you and I both know that’s bullshit. Or I assume you do; let me know if you don’t.

If you’re going to judge climate change based off of this you have to do it for every other discipline. If not, then you have to clearly define the characteristics that make it different. The process of scientific investigation and discovery is not perfect, but it is the best we have. And it’s been proven to work time and time again.
4) A desire to “do-good” before we know what we actually need to do. Those claiming to have the answer (e.g. Al Gore) scare me the most.
I want to touch on a few things here. First off, there was the question, earlier in our conversation, of whether or not anything could be done even if we found out it could. I still stand by the fact that there is. We can work to limit our output and begin to forgo our reliance on fossil fuels. Even supposing our measures did not work as examples and motivations to other countries it still does not prevent us from slowing down the process. It is also absurd to think that just because we can’t solve a problem at all there is no point in even trying.

But all of this is irrelevant in the question of whether anthropogenic climate change is real. It’s another side step. It’s as if, because it would feel that much worse if it were true, that somehow effects how real the problem is.

This knowledge is clear. You can continue to move that line a little bit further every time, but it doesn’t change the fact that there is a clear consensus among scientists and among scientific societies and organizations. We can quibble about the details later, but the first step is acknowledging that the problem is real. Then we can begin discussion on how best to tackle the issue.
I am in no way arrogant enough to think I understand the situation. I’ll argue that 99% of us don’t have a firm grasp on it. What is a great thing is for us to have this discussion, learn something, and try to enrich others. I can admit when I’m wrong, and will do so when I see enough evidence to convince me. However, at the present, I remain skeptical of the climate machine. My last point of clarification- I believe that the climate is changing, recently the trend has been warming, but I’m not ready to say that this is entirely caused by humans. Certainly we have an effect, but the real key is to try and quantify this.

To conclude, I must say the most persuasive piece of evidence for me is the consensus, and that isn’t even new. All that’s happened with it is that through the years it has become more and more extreme. It represents the view of the community at large—not just one person or group. It represents the overwhelming view of independent scientists and organizations.

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My first blog post: The story of my life

Well, I suppose this will be my first blog post; I’m probably doing it wrong. I don’t really know what to write about so I’m going to open up with a post about me and my life up to now.

I was born in Georgia on October 18, 1990. I grew up in Winder, Georgia, and I lived in the same house until May 2012. That was when I moved to Atlanta to begin school at Georgia Institute of Technology, but lets take a few steps back.

I have two sisters. One is 16 months older than me and the other one is 6 years younger. I went to County Line Elementary School until third grade when there was some sort of change in districts that resorted in me moving to Bramlett Elementary. It was a fun few years. That was until I failed 5th grade due to my less than acceptable work in history. That was a bit of a downer. I repeated the 5th grade, and it put me a year behind. The nice part was I knew a lot of the material going into 5th grade again despite the fact that I failed, so I did rather well especially in math. It also made it easier to transition into the next stage in my life.

After successfully completing 5th grade, I moved on to middle school. Except, that was the point in my life where I left public schools and entered private schooling at Hope Christian Academy (HCA). I can’t say that was the best thing ever. At the time, I loved it, but it was indoctrination at its best. It was a fundamentalist school–which entailed creationism (ie evolution denial and a young earth belief). It was supposed to help us (my sisters and I) learn better, but I don’t think it did. I wasn’t your traditional student, and their solution to that was moving me to, for lack of a better phrase, the special ed section. I fell way behind (but never failed). I was there 3 years, and I only left because we couldn’t afford it anymore. I hated leaving at the time (because the indoctrination worked so well). In retrospect, I’m so thankful I didn’t complete my schooling there. There is a lot more I’d like to say on the subject, but I’ll save it for another post.

So I moved on from HCA to Winder Barrow High School (WBHS). I entered in behind, but by the time I graduated in 2010 (at the ripe old age of 19), I had caught back up. Not only that, I’d made my way into honors and AP classes. Thus proving HCA was wrong. Granted, freshman year was a bit of an adjustment period, but I proved myself no different than any other student.

While at WBHS, I became very active in clubs, particularly DECA (the marketing club). I was also an officer in several other clubs, but DECA played a huge role in my high school career. I was an officer for 2 years and an active club member for 3. DECA taught me a level of professionalism that has been extremely helpful through the years. It also helped me learn how to branch out and connect with other people. Most importantly, I learned how much I love being active in clubs and group activities.

Obviously, that couldn’t last. As great as it was, I had to move on. And so I did. I had to decide what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I liked space, science, and math, so aerospace engineering seemed to be the most feasible option. I applied to Ga Tech and was rejected.My test scores (aside from math) weren’t anything special, and my GPA, while not bad, wasn’t the best. I was devastated. Although, I didn’t give up. That was when I applied and went to Gainesville State College (GSC), now the University of North Georgia.

I was disappointed at first, but I came to love GSC. It was the perfect way to transition from high school to college. Not to mention, it was way cheaper. It was around the start of college that I began to forsake any religious belief I had. High school had at least knocked the fundamentalism out of me. My first year at GSC was a bit of a transition, so I wasn’t very active in anything outside classes. Although, my first semester I took Calculus 1 (for the second time at the behest of my high school Calc teacher). As it was my second time taking it, I was already a master at it, and I did awesome. Because of that, my teacher loved me. It just so happened that she was the adviser for the math club, and she got me to check it out.

Before long, I was a club office once again. Naturally, that wasn’t enough. I soon became active in the Chemistry club (in that I attended the meetings). I later became the treasurer. Not long after that I became an office in the Engineering Club and the Physics Club. I have to say the latter two were my favorite clubs. It was around this time that I decided to change from Aerospace to Mechanical (at least for my bachelors) since they are so similar and mechanical engineering had better job prospects.

After 2 years, with all the core classes out of the way, it wasn’t too hard to transfer into Ga Tech. Once again, I didn’t do much with clubs. I had made a few visits to Campus Freethinkers meetings (the secular student alliance club at Tech). It wasn’t until last year (2013-2014) that I began going regularly. To be honest, it wasn’t really the meetings themselves that got me going. After the meetings, a few of people went to a local restaurant to play geek trivia. I loved it. Trivia doesn’t happen anymore, but it lasted long enough for me to become more active and eventually an officer of the club. We do other fun things to make up for it being gone.

But once again, I’m getting ahead of myself. In May of 2013 I began co-oping at McKenney’s Inc, an HVAC company. This has been an amazing experience. I’m really happy I’ve had the opportunity to do this. HVAC is a big step from aerospace, my original goal, but by this point I had nearly given up anything to do with space because I didn’t see myself being able to stand more engineering schooling. Plus, I liked McKenney’s. It is a great place to work. However, I just don’t think it’s what I want to do. I’m not passionate about it. I finished my third and last semester there in Fall of 2014. I am happy to say that they are letting me continue to work part time, but that’s with the understanding that I think I want to try something different.

I love science, and I love space. Hence my initial attraction to Aerospace. But I think I may of been focusing on the wrong side of space. I’ve decided to pursue a career in planetary science. I’ve applied to the grad program in the school of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences here at Tech and am awaiting a response. It’s a big change, but as time continues to progress, I’m becoming more and more confident that this is what I want to do.

That’s it. That’s the story of my life.

In the future, I am hoping to use this blog a way to delve deeper into the types of topics I tend to post about on Facebook. Although, I’ll probably do more like this post, talking more about specific areas in my life. I guess we will see how it works out. I think this could be a lot of fun. I just hope I don’t give up on it.