Class of ’09

This a page for the graduating majors to give parting thoughts and advice (light taunting allowed) to other majors and/or faculty. Let us know your short plans, jobs hired to, schools you will attend, contact info (gmail, hotmail,…).

Slide show of the Class of 2009 graduation
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12 Responses

  1. Well, I took a break from the blog for a while to take care of life and such for a little while, escape physics and look: Dr. Ochoa is making fun of me and everyone has already written a good sized book on their thoughts and suggestions… well, maybe a pamphlet, but that leaves little more for me to add, but here we go.

    -STAY POSITIVE. I cannot stress this one enough. No matter what is going on, keep looking up and keep going. Things don’t always look great, whether it is a class, REU opportunity, grad school, or whatever. Just keep smiling and going, and things tend to work out. Failing a Pfeiffer test sucks, but it happens and you need to keep going and working. You will get rejected from schools and REUs, you won’t do great on every assignment, but don’t stop trying and working.

    -Think outside the box. Carole might hate me for this, but don’t let the rules of the school limit you. If you want to do something, then do it! There are a lot of requirements and set ways you are supposed to do things, but sometimes you want to go beyond that. Talk to the professors about what you want to do and, while always being courteous about it, keep pushing for it. Use the AP credits if you want, take a research before junior year, take classes you want to, try to find ways to fill requirements. This is your education that you are paying for: if you really want it, go for it!

    -Watch for awesome opportunities! Carole sends some things around once in a while, but you need to actively seek stuff out if you want it. REUs, Co-op programs, special programs like Microgravity University, fellowships and awards like Goldwater or grants from things like Phi Kappa Phi; these are everywhere!! You just need to keep looking and asking.

    -Reiterate: do research. Don’t just sign up for it, DO IT! If you get to write a paper, make sure you do it. If you can go to a conference, go. Take every opportunity that you can, and go with it.

    – We have a career center to help you with writing resumes, essays, cover letters and such. Use them.

    – Be nice to Carole: she controls your life.

    – The more your professors know about you, the more they can put into a letter of recommendation. If they only see you in the classroom, they can’t write that much, because they have a bunch of other students there too. The practical part aside, the professors are actually real people to (image that!) and hold conversations and such. Just take your lunch from Brower once in a while and move it over to the physics department conference room. You’ll be surprised you will laugh over the craziness going on in there and the fun you can have getting to know everyone.

    – Talk to the upper-class majors. Talking does not simply mean listening to them speak, nor just reading this blog. Initiate conversation! Ask questions. Get to know them. Even if you don’t have anything to ask now, get to know them so you are comfortable asking later if you need. It is much nicer to know that you can send an im or text over to one of your senior physics friends about the bug your fortran program has rather than spending all night working on it. Most of us actually really enjoy answering questions and helping, especially since someone else helped us before, so don’t be afraid to ask!

    – The tutoring center is awesome. If you need help, go. If you don’t need help, go be a tutor and help others. That way you’ll realize that maybe you really did need help. No matter what, you will learn a lot more about physics and be better prepared for the GRE, teaching, or whatever career path you take.

    – Yes, it is sad leaving TCNJ, the friends you have lived with for four years (at least) and the professors/faculty. It is also exciting to be going on to new things though, so don’t worry too much!

    That’s all I can think of for now. Feel free to ask me if you have any questions, using (no clue when that TCNJ account will die). Goodbye TCNJ!

  2. It is now time for me to post my graduation thoughts. I will list them as the previous bloggers have, but with letters instead of numbers. There are a few things I wish I had done differently, and there are also a few things I did that I would like to advise future physics majors at the college to do. First the ugly:

    Things I wish i had done differently:

    A.) I wish I studied more for the GRE! For all future prospective graduate students, my advice would be to study for the Physics GREs as much as possible! So long as you went to high school and took math and English classes it is not necessary to study for the general GREs…everyone should get a full credit on these sections =) …so spend all of your time studying for the Physics one!!! Particular topics from the GRE that I had to teach myself due to either forgetting it or never having been taught it include the following:

    -Modern Physics: (Dr. Wick advised me to read the Modern Physics Schaum’s outline…a truly valuable resource). Learn how to do special relativity calculations QUICKLY! The tests I took had several relativity questions, so it is important to practice these. Also review how to quickly write down electronic structures with s,p,d,f notation.

    -Quantum Physics: Most of these questions are easy…just sometimes they’ll throw a question like, what are the possible energies of the harmonic oscillator? Just memorize this…don’t work out finding the eigenvalues of the Hamiltonian for the system. Also learn how to do calculations with spin and angular momentum…this is not covered completely in the QM course. Also know the implications of the big experiments that were performed while quantum mechanics was being developed (Stern Gerlach, Hall effect, Aharonov-Bohm effect, etc.).

    -Statistical Thermodynamics: Learn this material! It is indeed covered very well in Dr. Pfeiffer’s Thermo class, however it is covered at the end of the semester (long after students have taken the GREs).

    -Particle Physics: There are anywhere between 3-5 questions on particle physics. They are mostly historical, so I suggest reading chapter 1 of Griffith’s particle physics book, and that should be adequate review (that’s what I did and I think I got all the particle questions correct).

    -Electromagnetism: Learn how to use Gauss’s Law quickly. Quickly read through all relevant examples in the Wangsness book.

    B.) Do all the homework!

    C.) Attend all the classes!

    D.) Learn Gershgorin’s Circle Theorem!!! It’s great if you ever need to estimate eigenvalues of matrices. ( )

    The following is what I advise future physics students to do.

    E.) Take as many mathematics courses as you can. In fact, double major in it if possible (because that’s what I did!). Although some academic advisers will never say to take linear algebra or anything beyond Calc C…it should be clear that it is important to learn as much mathematics as possible in order to succeed in physics. Even some of the most esoteric Mathematical material is used in Physics (in of course the most esoteric fields), and is implicit in the formulation of Physics, such as the use of group theory in dealing with symmetries of theories. It is seen that to some approximation, Physics appears to be just a large set of (partial) differential equations. Solving partial differential equations may seem easy (just separate variables right?) but in reality Partial Differential Equations are a huge research field in Mathematics, and require other Mathematical machinery…this is potentially the reason why some of the most fundamental theories of physics require really high level mathematics such as topology, group theory, etc. Taking mathematics classes also develops very useful study habits. In the course of proving theorems in mathematics, one carefully exhibits the assumptions that go in to proving the statement, and tries to determine where the assumptions are needed and whether or not the assumptions can be made weaker while getting the same result. Also when given theorems of the form “A implies B”, the mathematics student immediately asks…” but does B imply A?” If this kind of thinking is not internalized already amongst students, it is something that can easily be learned by taking a few proof based mathematics courses. I believe the mathematical mindset is something that translates well over to the world of physics.

    It is also noted that in the end of the day, Physics is really written in the language of Mathematics. As put more eloquently by physicist Richard Feynman,

    “To those who do not know mathematics it is difficult to get across a real feeling as to the beauty, the deepest beauty, of nature … If you want to learn about nature, to appreciate nature, it is necessary to understand the language that she speaks in. ”

    F.) Learn Physics, don’t memorize problems. Perhaps one of the downsides of the TCNJ physics department is how some teachers put an emphasis on memorizing how to perform problems and regurgitating colloquial arguments with numbers (sometimes called “proofs”) on tests. If you learn the topics then you should theoretically be able to perform any problem. Unfortunatly there is a time limit on most tests…so one should quickly learn how to find a balance between deeply learning material and memorizing problems in the course of studying in order to succeed on tests.

    G.) Do research! If you are planning on be admitted to a graduate school it is essential that you have completed some kind of research. It is clear that standardized test scores and grades are very important towards admission, but most schools are not looking to build an intellectual juggernaut type structure of graduate students, and rather are looking for students that can communicate well with others, perform research, and ultimately get results fast!

    H.) Take advantage of office hours. Visiting professors during office hours also doesn’t have to all be about homework questions or partial credit, it is sometimes nice to stop by and talk about life, Physics (which are the same thing pretty much right?), and Nintendo Wii.

    I.) Learn how to use Mathematica. All the research I ever did was done exclusively in Mathematica…it is an extremely useful tool.

    TCNJ is a great school, and has many great teachers in the Physics department. If you are planning to apply to graduate school you must realize that you are going up against some of the best students in the world that go to some of the best schools, and who have all done research as well. This being said it should therefore be clear that you must in some way make yourself stand out in order to be admitted to the top notch programs in the country. The TCNJ physics department does indeed give you the initial knowledge to make you competitive, however it is also up to you to go above and beyond the material learned in class in order to be truly successful!

    Live long and prosper,


  3. So I just got an email from Dr. Ochoa reminding me that I should post some graduating thoughts. I’d also like to remind Dr. Ochoa that, unlike what he says in his above essay, I always handed in my homework and it was…sometimes…right =P it was just class that I had trouble attending…

    Using myself as a good example of what you shouldn’t do in the physics department, I have compiled a few pieces of advice for the undergrads which I will call “Things I Should Have Done.”

    1. DON’T SKIP CLASS. EVER. It may seem obvious (apparently not to me) but it’s so much easier to understand things when you’re not trying to catch up.

    2. Ask questions in class! For that matter, answer questions, too. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what you’re talking about–at least you’re making an effort. This will also appease Dr. Ochoa and he’ll most likely make fun of the rest of the class, which is always amusing.

    3. Utilize the professors’ office hours when you have a question, no matter how trivial you think it may be.

    4. Work with other people on the homework. Bouncing ideas off of someone else is the best way to get things done. It’s also a lot more fun.

    5. Definitely do research. Whether it’s an REU or an independent study, get something under your belt.

    6. Study for the GREs more than a month in advance. Along these lines, the day before the exam is not the day to go through your review book for the first time. This goes for both the physics GREs and the general GREs (but mostly the physics ones).

    This is about all I have for now. Once I get over the shock of grad school (and actually going to class…gasp…) I will probably have more to say. Good luck to everyone and enjoy your summer!

    • Erica is right about her homework, she handed it in on time and was mostly correct…that was why I said let’s not mention homework because I would have only good things to say … I cannot believe the statement could have a negative interpretation 🙂 and since she blogged I only remember good things about Erica…but the others….

  4. Well, Justin, you have me there. I’m only planning a high school class reunion instead of doing an experiment with NASA.

  5. To appease Dr. Ochoa for a moment:

    Do not plan graduation, a major scientific project going to Houston with NASA, a wedding and moving out of state to all take place in the same general vicinity of each other.

    With that in mind, it still really hasn’t hit me that I have graduated… give me a week and maybe I’ll have something more profound and applicable, since I don’t think anyone else is as insane as me for my above advice to be of any help.

  6. Well, it was an interesting 4 years, but here’s what I’ve learned:
    1- Always do the homework assignments if you enjoy getting good grades. Work with people in your class, make friends, working together is the best way to learn. If you want to really test your knowledge, sign up to be a Tutor in the tutoring center (Forcina Hall 145 I think). It looks amazing on a resume and the students test your knowledge with every session. If you think you have a handle on the basics of physics, try being a tutor, you’ll soon realize that you have a lot to learn. However tutoring Gen I and II helped me with my GRE’s, emag and classical mechanics grades.

    2- Try to go to class as often as possible because most professors hold grudges

    3- Don’t be afraid to do more than the bare minimum

    4- On a related note, get to know the professors. Let them know who you are and that you’re interested in doing more than just what’s required. They really are great people once you get to know them, so break the ice no matter how intimidating it might seem

    5- Don’t be afraid to participate in class. I’ve done that a little and been wrong a lot of the time, but you can’t learn without making mistakes. A little humiliation goes a long way in shaping your confidence. And besides, it makes the class-time more bearable and fun.

    6- Get involved in research early!!! If you’re not one for grades or class participation, it’s not too late, you can still become an excellent candidate for any post-college position if you have experience in research or any internship inside or outside of the college! I started research my summer before senior year (which can be considered the last possible moment to start) and things worked out well.

    7- Physics is great and you should learn to love it, but make sure to give yourself some time away to be with friends and enjoy the college experience because it doesn’t last very long. Sign up for Senior Week when your time comes!!! It was by far the greatest 3 days I’ve ever had at this college, and I’m sure Will would agree, it was amazing.

    The physics department gave me the opportunity to meet some amazing people and have experiences that helped make me a strong individual in every aspect of my life, so don’t be afraid to be a part of it. You’ll need those recommendation letters some day, might as well make friends with the department sooner to ensure smooth sailing come application time for REU’s and grad school. Good luck to you all.

  7. Here are my words of wisdom to pass down to the younger generations.

    1) Don’t take time off from school. It’s a lot harder to go back once you’ve left than you would imagine. Part of the problem is motivation, and part of the problem is bureaucracy. Even if you have the motivation, all the paperwork takes time. It took 30 weeks from the time I submitted financial aid paperwork to go back to when my tuition was paid. No two people in Records & Registration have ever given me the same answer about anything at all.

    2) Do not plan a picnic for 50+ of your closest friends and family for the day after graduation. It’s just a bad idea.

  8. So the graduates of 2009 are being really slow in posting their thoughts…so I’ll post a “Qualities that I’ll never forget of the class of ’09…by RO”**

    Let’s start with Chris W., (a.k.a. he who loves equations) and his first Math Physics homework done in LaTek (at his request), and the second one half LaTek half handwritten, and the third one, all handwritten in the five minutes before it was due….extremely light handwriting (hardness 0?) I had to use CSI techniques to figure out what he had written.

    Since we’re talking about handwriting how about Ms. Irene (a.k.a. the environmentalist), could fit the solutions to 24 problems in a single page with plenty of space left over…and the solutions were perfect…but it made me start wearing eyeglasses…

    But what about, as Chris and Tim would argue, the inverse operation; that is, Will (a.k.a. the tree killer), who could solve one problem in 24 pages…also perfect solutions… I got cramps from turning pages for every homework he handed in …120 problems per semester … a total of 5 courses.

    Switching gears who can forget tough, but always smiling, Ms. Señorita Madame Presidente Rachel, who would verbally punish (i.e. yell at) all who came in late to Optics… feared by all her peers they where in class 5 minutes before the start…

    But she couldn’t do much about those who I saw more outside of class than in class…such as Frank R.(a.k.a. the chess player and any other activity that would impede him from going to my classes), Katia (a.k.a. the pianist, the origamist, the linguist), and Erica (Japanese Club President and founder?)…so many excuses so little time…let’s not mention homework…

    Talking about little time or short time, the inverse operation fits Tim (a.k.a. the ultra theorist) when referring to test taking, I had to hand wrestle the tests from his hands when it was time for me to see my family after 12 hours (hey, there were other graduates before him that shared this characteristic)…everybody else was long gone and he was still trying to theoretically prove that oscilloscopes could work.

    How can I forget Frank J. and Chaz (and soon to be graduate Evan) working on their two decker dual CPU, 24 sensor super- RoboRacer four weeks before the race, so confident about crushing the competition…rumor is the racer never made it past the first obstacle…Frank was going to solve everything with software…but the little racer refused…very sad indeed.

    Talking about electronics…(Mr. President) Justin’s self control…showing what patience and frustration is all about when working in the lab…the circuits, the roboracer…the pain. He did know most of the answers in class though.

    Of course Chaz was also someone I could always count on answering the questions I posed, actually on providing AN answer…12.5% correct… (or was it 72.5% …new number added after Chaz blogged below!) but at least he tried while others looked at the wall, their notebooks (actually flipping the pages and staring), pens, each other, or started searching for their forgotten calculators, etc.

    Back to Electronics lab…I vaguely remember being traumatized by the outbursts of patient and calm Brianna and Ms. Ning…swearing (gulp!) in class (against their tiny, defenseless, obedient robots?)…I still have nightmares…did it really happen? Others got frustrated in that lab too, such as Sarah…the optical tweezers guru, who named every single yeast cell she grew, fed them with tons of the best cane sugar (of course) …until she forgot and had to lay them to rest in peace…they became useless for optical tweezing…she is practical!

    What about extremely polite and courteous Scott?…as all other majors were… calling me Professor…even when called to answer a question…and answering “I have no idea Professor”…that was much nicer than the simple I don’t know how to integrate a sphere in rectangular coordinates..

    To be continued…as soon as I remember more stuff and as long as the new alums don’t post!
    1. Names have not been changed since there are no innocents to protect.
    2. Some facts have been slightly enhanced for added dramatism.
    3. All events are continuous, have continuous first and second derivatives and satisfy all mathematical conditions necessary for inverse functions (hopefully this will satisfy Chris and Tim).

    • In regard to disclaimer 3…so long as the first derivative is continuous, and is nonzero over the domain of all events, then by the inverse function theorem, an inverse function will exist in a neighborhood of every event (

      In fact, (f^-1)’ (b)=1 / f ‘ (a) where b=f(a) and a is some event.

      That being said I will post my graduating thoughts soon.


      P.S. What’s even cooler is that if given the same assumptions, the derivative of the inverse of a multivariable function is the (matrix) inverse of the Jacobian. Pretty cool huh?

      • P.P.S: In my postscript “derivative of the inverse” is ambiguous, and really means the Jacobian of the inverse function.

        What I’m really saying is that the Jacobian of the inverse function at F(a) is equal to the matrix inverse of the Jacobian of the original function at a.



  9. I have no idea where to start, but I guess first and foremost ‘IT IS OKAY TO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO DO.’I thought I knew who I was in high school and what I wanted in life; man was I wrong! I spend the majority of my college career in search of myself, and even now I’m still growing and changing. However, I have learned a few good points in life. The most important thing that life has taught me is to believe in my own abilities. Thomas Edison once said, “If we did the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves.” This is so true about life; you wouldn’t know what you can do, if you never give yourself the chance to do so. Therefore do not be afraid to take chances; there is no such thing as mistakes just lessons through life that makes you stronger for tomorrow.
    I have encountered many different people, those who support and inspire, and those who spend their time putting others down. I have been told several times that I would never make it. But I have learned that in whatever you do it takes courage, patience, and the passion that gives you that extra push to do your best. A lesson in life I would never forget.
    I also learned during my college career that the journey through life does not have to be a lonely one. There are people who are selfless and try their best to help you in times of need. That support comes from advisers, professors and staff; therefore you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help. At times all you need is someone to believe in you and to tell you that it’s going to be well. And above all do not forget to use your resources; there were many things I know now that I wish I was aware for when I started college. So never stop asking why and always question everything because nothing in life is absolute.

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