Thursday, March 24, 2011

If at first the answer is no... ask somebody else

Some of you, such as my sister, or my friend's dad, may have been confused by one of my latest Facebook statuses.

Why is it that I suddenly only have room for 3 classes which are neither major or graduation requirements in my schedule, when I haven't taken any such classes yet? Oh, yeah, because my adviser changed his mind about Mudd Engineering Clinic replacing thesis, so now its an elective which will "compliment" thesis. Wait...

Okay, so I know that a lot of you are confused by a lot of my Facebook statuses, but I honestly don't care that much... sorry.  But this one has a story behind it, and a happy almost ending, that I actually wanted to share.

When I started college, I did so knowing that I wanted to complete a major relating to Environmental Science.  I'd taken the AP course in high school, and my teacher told me I clearly had a passion for the subject and should pursue it (I did have a passion for it, he wasn't just saying.)

Over the summer, I figured out exactly what I wanted to do: sustainable design.  Well, not exactly, that's still horribly vague.  But knowing that I want to design things, as opposed to study the environment, or make laws... that's something I can actually base my choice of major on.

Luckily, the school(s) I go to just compiled all of the environment related majors into one: Environmental Analysis, which has a number of tracks.  (For those of you who don't know me or the school I go to, there are 5 colleges which are in a partnership, so students can take classes at and even major at a different college than the one they attend.)  Environmental Analysis is offered at all five of the colleges, but different colleges have different tracks.  Only one had a track relating to what I want to do: Environmental Physics and Engineering.

There were two problems with this.  I don't like physics (I like learning it, I don't like trying to apply my knowledge).  The school offering this track doesn't have any engineering professors, so all the advisers for it are physics professors.  See the conflict coming?

There are, of course, engineering courses offered at a different school that I can take to complete the major.  I will be completing my major without taking any more physics courses.  Engineering majors at the school which offers those classes do not write a thesis; instead, they do a project called "clinic" which is super intense and results in actually creating something, with a team of people, for a purpose or some customer.  I had heard that I could participate in clinic instead of writing a thesis.  However, my adviser was putting my major requirements in terms of a physics major: I had to write a thesis, even if I did clinic.  Also, I had to take a course which involves prepping for the Physics GRE and probably take the Physics GRE (remember, I'm not taking any more physics courses between now and graduation), and working on thesis.

It didn't make sense.  It was frustrating.  It was stressful.  He wouldn't budge.  I otherwise like my adviser, but something seemed strange.  But he wouldn't budge.

So last night I emailed the head of the department.  He'd initially told me that he didn't see why I should have to do both clinic and a thesis.  So I figured he could clear things up.

I was scared by an out of office email I got.  Apparently he wasn't.  He emailed me back this morning.  Having consulted with another department head.  Agreeing that trying to do both a thesis and clinic would be too much, and I could do just clinic if I wanted to.  Also telling me he'd be willing to talk to my advisor about the GRE prep course, if there were still issues.

Apparently, the right answers are there.  I just have to ask the right people.

(On an unrelated note, one of my professors wrote Economics for Dummies.
He's a nutjob, but still pretty cool. And yes, it was my Econ professor.)

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