spring 2023 semester in review


the good, the bad, and the ugly of my junior spring semester


this is my first time writing one of these! I want to get in the habit of writing records of my life because my memory of events can be kinda bad sometimes. I figured it might be nice to start with doing that on a semesterly basis, and go from there.

this past semester was my sixth semester of college, aka the spring semester of my junior year. I officially took 22 credits (at my university, a normal class is 4 credits), but I was really doing 23 because of my research. my university caps the number of credits you're allowed to take at 24— given that, you can imagine that my semester was a bit of A Time, but it was surprisingly more chill than other semesters where I've overloaded to a similar extent. this is probably because 8 of those credits were creative writing classes to satisfy some non-major requirements, and while these were intellectually challenging, they did not have as much work as my usual STEM courses do.

outside of class, I worked as a TA in the physics department and continued the research project I joined in the fall. my housemate adopted a cat— a lovely gray tabby named Willow, who I plan to make a dedicated shrine for at some point. I made some decent breakthroughs in my mental health, but also unlocked a whole bunch of other neuroses. Two steps forward, one step back, I guess.


this semester, I took 5 classes, 3 in physics & astronomy and 2 in creative writing. the eagle-eyed among you might be saying, wait, that's only 20 credits! and you'd be right— the other two were from my TA position. I figured I'd go through and give a little review of each class, what was covered, my impressions of the material and how it was taught, and a general rating out of five.

a note of warning: there will be discussions of grades below, which I know can be a sensitive subject for some. if reading this would be bad for you, feel free to skip ahead to the next section about non-class shenanigans.


I liked this class (and its counterpart from the fall semester, E&M I) much more than I expected to. in my intro classes, I found E&M really confusing and arcane, but once I got into upper-level classes that had multivariable calculus as a prerequisite, everything made a lot more sense. Potentials get a lot easier to understand once you formally learn what a gradient is, who knew! I ended up really enjoying the class, and I found it a useful refresher on the material I ended up teaching (more on that later).

our professor had really wholesome dad energy— he was really nice, and pretty good at teaching. I felt bad because things kept going wrong for him— he had to cancel class a couple times, once because he was really sleep-deprived after a work trip and another because he got really dizzy after donating blood. he held class outside a couple times when the weather was nice in the spring, which is a very rare treat in college.

no notes on class organization— our professor opted for my preferred grade structure, with 3 midterm exams and 1 final, where one midterm grade can be dropped. homeworks didn't count for that much and were graded surprisingly generously, which I certainly didn't mind.

Thermodynamics & Statistical Mechanics

this class was... fine. I went in with high hopes, since the professor does his research in systems theory, a field with deep connections to statistical mechanics, and I really enjoyed listening to some of his research talks, but he didn't incorporate as much of his work as I had hoped. I just didn't really engage with the material that much, and consistently couldn't work up the motivation to start the homeworks early, which is why I think I got the grade I did— I wasn't putting as much time in as I should have been.

the organization of the class could definitely be improved upon. it was held at 9:40am, which I hated getting up for, and the professor didn't post lecture notes or lecture recordings. this would have been okay, except the textbook sucked, which made understanding the homeworks a struggle because the homeworks were pulled from the textbook, and often featured systems we had never discussed in class and which seemed to have no relation to what we were learning. additionally, the exams counted for a much larger percentage of the grade, and the homework questions did not relate to the exam questions much, if at all.

I think I will try to take a dedicated systems theory class if one is offered in grad school, and until then content myself to think about thermodynamics as little as possible.

Observational Astronomy

I really, really want to be able to give this class a 5/5. it was taught by my absolute favorite professor, and taking this class clarified a lot of things I was confused about from my observing projects in my intro courses. I now feel competent operating the telescope, enough that I'm going to be a tour guide at the observatory this summer, and taking this class certifies you to operate the telescope without a professor present, which means I can possibly go on independent observing trips with my housemate who also took the course.


the observing projects in my intro astronomy courses were generally a bit of a tire fire for two reasons: 1) they were pushed off to the end of the semester, and 2) the science we were expected to do was not well-covered in class. unfortunately, this course suffered from those same pitfalls. the first was not entirely under our or the professor's control— we had unusually bad weather this year, which meant that most people were not able to take their data until late March or April, which did not leave much time to get the reports done. the science, however, was... not great. we would finally get to the point of writing the report, only to be asked to answer many questions we had no clue how to do. I think a really easy way to improve the class would be to give an overview of the science behind each of the project options— what questions we want to answer, what things we should do to get answers, and what we should be looking for. this is already covered to some extent in the project manuals, but not in any great detail.

Intro to Creative Writing: Fiction

I really enjoyed this class. I found it quite intellectually & emotionally challenging— the class demanded that I engage with the works emotionally in ways that I didn't think I was capable of, going into it. I still question whether I engage with fiction in any way that is normal, or typical, but this class forced me to set that aside in the name of my participation grade.

this class was workshop-based, which did help me improve my writing— I noticed quite an improvement from my first work for this class to my second. I would have maybe appreciated more of a firm curriculum, since I did have a hard time applying the discussion of other peoples' stories to my own work, but I don't feel like this is worth docking a point from the rating.

I am posting my stories from this class on this site— one is up at the time of writing, Last Night of the World, and I will likely go back and edit this when my other story is live.

Intro to Creative Writing: Poetry

I also enjoyed this class. the only reason it doesn't get a 5/5 is because I feel like the professor taught things in a way that was needlessly vague and confusing (looking at you, iambic pentameter). we also discussed poetic elements after the poem where we were meant to pay special attention to them was due, which I feel made it harder to determine what was expected of us. the professor also made a comment on the first day of class that I found very alienating, as someone with alexithymia and a more muted emotional experience, which I tried to address in a poem that he very clearly missed the point of. oh well.

I already posted the poems from this class on the site— they are inherent ennui, ontario beach, going nowhere, without words, and ecological succession.

non-class shenanigans

despite the section title, there were not many shenanigans happening this semester (see again: 22 credits. ain't nobody got time for that). much of my non-class time was spent on professional stuff, like my TA work and my research.

Teaching Work

I taught the E&M course for life sciences majors— basically the course that they need to take to learn physics for the MCAT. I taught this course last spring as well, but this time was by far a worse experience. we were short on TAs since there weren't as many grad students this year, so our professor decided to do all online work to cut down on grading. everyone hated that (except for him). I swear, he is trying to haze the med students... and the TAs.

this professor, when only I responded to his email asking for help proctoring the last midterm (with a no, since myself and most of the other TAs had a class conflicting with the exam time), required that all of the TAs come proctor the final exam. when we explained that our final exam conflicted with theirs as well, he, in an impressive display of audacity, asked the professor of that class to let him proctor our final exam early, so we could turn around and help proctor his exam after. I still did it, but man I am Salty about it. needless to say I am going to try and avoid TAing for him next year.

I also have some gripes with how this course is usually taught— the students are nominally only expected to know single-variable calculus to take it, but the course relies heavily on concepts like vectors and vector products that come from multivariable calc and aren't covered in class, so it falls to the TAs to teach it. that's frustrating for us, and for the students. also, my previous point about E&M being much easier once you know multivariable calc still stands. I'm not sure how that could be improved, but it's definitely not ideal as it is.

Research Work

someone in one of the physics groupchats once said "astronomy is really about making plots look pretty" and honestly, I could not agree more. much of what I did this semester was a month-long plotting extravaganza. to be fair, that was us trying to make heads or tails of this catalog someone made that we were trying to figure out if it was useful, which it was... kinda. the plotting did pay off because I now know my way around the catalog pretty well, and we're using it to help regenerate the training data for our future neural network, which is cool.

I also went to my first research symposium this semester— just a small one aimed at undergraduates hosted by my university, but a symposium all the same. I didn't present since I didn't think I had much worth showing, but I maybe could have. I'm definitely going to try to present next year, since I should have presentable results by then.

Mental Health

I spent a decent amount of time thinking about my trans identity and coming to terms with being nonbinary in a field that's not especially friendly to gender minorities, even of the cis woman variety. this led to some breakthroughs, such as realizing my name doesn't really serve me and I should probably change it (blog post on that is probably forthcoming), but mostly just a lot of sadness and fear. it's hard out here, man.

I also unlocked a whole new fun set of body image issues, which I think unfortunately teamed up with my gender weirdness to make even more Bad Soup. I'm trying to focus on excercising more (because I want to be a Stronk Butch) and remembering that I am allowed to do things that make me feel comfortable, whether that's sensory-wise, gender-wise, or both. I'm trying to care less about what other people think— it's not working well yet but hopefully it will soon.

on the bright side, I have noticed cracks in the alexithymia starting to form— I'm noticing when I am feeling A Thing more, and noticing when those emotions are positive. I'm not necessarily any better at identifying them, but maybe I don't need to be. I still don't have much of an idea who I am, but I'm getting more and more of a sense of that shape behind the curtain. I think therapy had a lot to do with that, as well as maybe this semester's emphasis on creating. I think I want to stay in the habit of writing, and see where that leads me.

what's next?

I have about one more day left of proper break (which I've spent visiting my parents) and then I am back off to my university to do summer research, working on the same project I've been working on with hopes of getting a good head start on my senior thesis. I have basically no idea what to expect out of the program except that it'll be full time, and that it's been described as "summer camp but for adults," which is intriguing. it starts on Tuesday and I am excited but kinda nervous. I'll also be shaving my head again sometime between now and then, which will be interesting. the program goes until the end of July, so maybe I'll do a "summer in review" post then.