About Physics . . .

K. Mccourt keith at UTCC.UTORONTO.CA
Wed Feb 23 18:15:39 EST 1994

I'm writing in response to the enquiry by Deborah Phillips (Brown 
University undergraduate) about physics requirements for graduate 
studies in environmental/evolutionary biology.  I support the response 
by Steve (?) Hedman from the perspective of career counselling.  I'd 
like to add a more personal perspective, as I find that personal 
motivations are usually easier to generate and sustain than 
motivations that sound or feel like taking medicine - it's good for you, 
but it may not be fun.  

Near the end of my last semester as an undergraduate, a well meaning 
post-doc said the following to me.  "You are approaching a land mark 
in your life.  This is the end of your exponential learning phase.  You 
will probably never again in your life learn as much and at the same 
rate as you have been over the last few years."  This comment stunned 
me, because I did and do love learning and more than that, I know that 
when I am humble enough to use my knowledge judiciously I know that 
I am a much better person for all the opportunities I've had to study 
and learn - not just academically, but in all ways.  I would encourage 
you to find the best physics teacher at Brown and take the physics 
courses not only as a matter of requirement, but also with an open 
mind as to what electricity or mechanics really are about, what you 
can learn, and how it might some day add to your life, either as a 
biologist, a scientist, a woman or a human being.   This may be one of 
the last chances you will have to sit back and have some one who has 
amassed a great wealth of knowledge about a very important area of 
science offer you his/her views and understanding of this area.  

I realize that the crush of pressure during undergraduate studies is 
tremendous, and that under these circumstances, it is difficult to 
take a long view of the value of education.  However, academic life is 
not easy, and seldom without pressure.  The longer you delay in 
learning to appreciate the value of your education - regardless of 
what the requirements are, the longer it will be before you reap one of 
the most truely satisfying aspects of a career in science.

By the way, I first enrolled as an undergraduate in liberal arts and 
soon switched to biology.  I took the physics courses offered for 
physics majors and made Bs.  I had to "catch up", so the same year I 
took nothing but science courses, including organic chemistry.  It was 
a tough year, but I remember it as one of the best of my undergraduate 
years.  Hope you'll have an equally memorable year.

Kallie Keith
Department of Botany
University of Toronto
keith at utcc.utoronto.ca

PS  Amy Yermisch published an article entitled "How to choose a supervisor"
in this news group.  It is available in the archives of the news group 
through gopher.  It may be of use to you.

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