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This Bodes Poorly... - A Recovering Physicist's Apology

About This Bodes Poorly...

Previous Entry This Bodes Poorly... Mar. 3rd, 2008 @ 06:29 pm Next Entry
Today I got some upsetting news. The University of Pittsburgh did not accept me. This bodes poorly as Pitt. had the highest acceptance rate and I considered them my "safety" school. It is making me question the wisdom of my whole, "study something in graduate school which is catty-corner to what you did as an undergrad" theory. It is particularly troubling combined with my conversations with the Berkeley Prof who said a strong philosophy background was required to enter the program. I fear I may have two more "I regret to inform you that..." letters coming my way. Which would leave me dead in the water.

I don't know what I will do if this plan doesn't work out. I would still like to teach at the university level. Taking pictures of the recent lunar eclipse has helped reinvigorate my passion for astronomy, and got me thinking that if I did not get into a Philosophy of Science program I should go a more traditional route -- bunker down, beef up on some calculus and physics, and take the dreaded physics GREs. Beefing up on calculus/physics probably means I should take some college courses again to really do it right, but if I was going to pick up a few courses maybe I should just do a few philosophy courses and reapply to the Philosophy of Science program in a year or two. Yet a third option is to again go a little catty-corner and look into a history of science program. Yet another option is to become a high school physics or mathematics teacher. My old physics teacher is retiring this year to boot.

Arg! The problem is I want to lecture. I really loved that aspect of teaching in Japan. Physics courses are not really lecture based -- at least not in the same way a philosophy course or history course is lecture based. Yet, I don't want to simply throw away my science background I want synthesis! My physics background is something I am deeply proud of and helps define me and my worldview. I just want to do both, but maybe I don't have the tool set needed. I don't know.

What am I going to do?
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From:obie_in_exile
Date:March 4th, 2008 02:12 am (UTC)
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what about history of science? probably taking lots of philosophy courses is your best bet.
hey when are you coming to japan? will your old phone work? mine does. lets do stuff i'll take you to sumo. hope to see you here some time.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:March 4th, 2008 02:26 am (UTC)
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As an undergrad-physicist-aspiring-philosopher like you, I just wanted to offer some [unsolicited] advice.
Pittsburgh is the #1 philosophy of physics program in the world. Take a look at the Philosophical Gourmet Report, which is the official unofficial official ranking of philosophy programs in the English-speaking world:

http://www.philosophicalgourmet.com/overall.asp

If you check out the specialty rankings, you'll see that Pitt is #1. I'm afraid that it is anything but a backup school...

That said, someone in your situation still has options if philosophy is a desired pursuit. Specifically: do an MA in philosophy at a terminal MA program; you'll then have a real shot at a place like Pitt. The best terminal MA programs are listed on the Gourmet Report site if you check through the menus.

Leiter (the editor) offers some advice in there, too. But most importantly, read this series of posts by a UC Riverside prof last year:

http://schwitzsplintersunderblog.blogspot.com/2007/10/applying-to-phd-programs-in-philosophy.html

If you'd like to correspond more by e-mail, just post a comment and I'll send you an e-mail.
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From:biggrumpy
Date:March 4th, 2008 02:35 am (UTC)
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Thank you Random Person. I was unaware that Pitt had climbed to #1 the stats that I could find were from quite a few years back and my other schools were higher up at the time.

Thanks for setting me straight and also giving me some advice. Both are always welcome :)

And good luck to you too, my equally unsolicited advice to you is if you are still in undergrad school try and pick up as much philosophy as possible as talking to a Berkeley Prof, that seems more important than having the physics.

Edited at 2008-03-04 02:37 am (UTC)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:March 4th, 2008 03:13 am (UTC)
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Well, I was a phys/phil double-major in undergrad. I am done now, and am currently applying. The stress is crazy!
Anyway, I really hope that you don't give up if you get shut out this year--it happens to a LOT of people, even those with solid philosophy backgrounds. Do the MA! The terminal MA programs are geared specifically toward people in your situation (i.e. interest in philosophy but little background). They are highly respected by the top Ph.D. programs--many of those who get into the top Ph.D. programs did the MA elsewhere first.

--Random Person
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From:sneakypeteiii
Date:March 4th, 2008 05:33 am (UTC)
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Forgive my incredulity (incredulousness?), but what, exactly, do you want to teach at the university level? Physics? Philosophy? History?

Tom Taylor is teaching high school physics in the Bronx (still), and from the looks of it, he is happy as can be. In California the high school science teacher benefits are really stellar I hear.
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From:biggrumpy
Date:March 4th, 2008 10:04 pm (UTC)
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You have in essence hit upon an important component of why this has been so difficult for me. I, in fact, am not certain what I want to teach. I feel my strength and passion lies in speaking about physics using English prose and construction. I do not particularly enjoy long mathematical discourse nor am I that skilled in it. So teaching any meaty physics at the university level is out. After all, at Oberlin we sometimes spent two-three classes doing just math with very little explanation other than, "well, look at the math!"

But High School physics there is a lot more of what Dr. John Scofield called "hand waving explanations" or "proof by intimidation" because students lack the hardcore math skills needed to really do physics. So that appeals to me. I think I am good at thinking of metaphors and everyday examples to explain complicated ideas in a more manageable manner. This is also why I would really enjoy lecturing on the philosophy of physics and/or history of physics because in order to do the topic justice you have to explain how the physics works and why it is fundamentally different than the previous thinking but you don't need to spend two class periods doing nothing but calculus because it isn't necessarily about the mathematical guts of physics itself. History and Philosophy courses on physics are more about the implications and ramifications of the physics than the underpinning mathematics.

Essentially, I want to talk a lot about physics and science but not have to do the damn calculus!!
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From:sneakypeteiii
Date:March 5th, 2008 08:41 am (UTC)
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How about science writing/journalism? There's no lecturing, though, occasional public speaking engagements aside.

Although the sexiness of physics has died down in recent years, the impending LHC experiments may revitalize its importance to a doting public in the near future.
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From:biggrumpy
Date:March 5th, 2008 04:08 pm (UTC)
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Science journalism also has always ranked very highly on my list as I really enjoy writing to boot. MIT has a great master's program that I was going to apply to only to be tricked away by Philosophy.

I got too many options!
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