A common question about Cornell is “how is the workload?” The short unhelpful answer is that it depends, duh. Here is the longer answer:
If you really want to graduate with doing hardly any work, it’s possible. Take an “easy” major, just meet the minimum requirements; it isn’t all that hard. But then if you do that, why are you even bothering to go to Cornell, just to get a certificate that says that you’re smart? If you want to get the most out of Cornell, you will take the major you want to take independent of how “easy” or “hard” it is considered to be. Any major will be difficult if you apply yourself to it, but I can’t really talk about anything other than my own major, AEP, which has been extremely difficult so far.
My life at Cornell has been centered around doing work (especially this semester), I’m always thinking about upcoming tests and assignments; it’s the focus of why I’m here. But of course I don’t do nearly as much work as I ought to, there are always so many cool things to do and only so few hours in the day. Whenever a small break in work comes around and I slack off some, I’m suddenly behind in everything. It’s really tough to keep on top of everything all the time and sometimes I just get sick of the constant battle and need a nice break even at the expense of my work. It’s really hard now that spring has come just look how green it is! But somehow I’m surviving the battle and I enjoy being challenged; I think I’m getting a lot out of my hard classes.
I’ve found it extremely difficult to find the right course load that works for me. Too much, I can’t focus enough on each class, too little I’m wasting my time here. Taking full advantage of everything at Cornell is impossible and it’s hard to find how far to extend yourself without becoming overwhelmed. The following guide may help tell if you have too much work:
You are overloaded with work if you find yourself:
- Trying to get some rest by closing your eyes while walking to classes
- Telling time based on exam dates and when assignments are due, “When was March, like 3 problem sets ago? I forget”
- Applying what you learn excessively, “Wow, I’ve been getting a lot of observations of photons at 510 nm lately” (trans: Wow, it’s been very green lately)
- Being jealous of people reading newspapers during lunch, “Who has time for that, don’t they have work to do?”
- Never posting on your blog as often as you should
- Thinking late times aren’t that late, “It’s only 2:31 am, I have plenty of time”
- Feeling uncomfortable, like something is not right with the universe, when you fully complete an assignment before it’s due
- Trivializing things not so trivial, “After that it’s just algebra” or “After that it’s just Calculus” or “After that it’s just solving the differential equation” or “After that it’s just solving Laplace’s equation in a toroidal coordinate system” or “After that it should be easily solvable somehow”
- Shielding yourself from being hit by an exorbitant number of photons on the rare chance you emerge from your protective shelter deep underground
This morning there was a great archaeological discovery here on Libe Slope. Professor Rumbaugh of the Earth and Atmospheric Sciences department spoke earlier today,
Every year Libe Slope thaws out a little, revealing different things that were once buried deep in snow and ice. Because of todays extremely hot high of 61°F, [the ruins] were discovered.
In light of the discovery archaeologists are scrambling to figure out who these people were and how they survived Ithaca. According to professor Armitage in anthropology,
We believe that these ancient Ithacans lived very difficult lives thwarting hills, prelims, and the bitter cold in order to survive. We take pride in their resilience.
Also… hooray for April fools day. In my math class we all put on masks of our professor in the middle of class. He laughed a little and then went on teaching undisturbed. Other stuff on the internets:
We’ve talked about dark matter somewhat in my Astro class and it came up sometimes in my physics class last semester. I think that it is a really interesting issue in modern science. I’m by far no expert on the subject, but I’m soon to start some serious physics classes next semester and I think the problem of dark matter is representative of many unsolved problems in physics.
Okay, so here is the problem: according to our current standard model, galaxies should be unstable, but the fact that they exist tells us otherwise. Pictured is our closest spiral galaxy, Andromeda (credit: Edward Henry). The solution to this problem is that either the standard model is wrong, or that there is some kind of undetectable mass (“dark matter”) that exists and holds galaxies together, making them stable.
Although most Astronomers today think dark matter is real, there are some who disagree and think that perhaps universial laws are different under extreme circumstances that we haven’t tested. Most aspects of the standard model have been tested to work extraordinarily well at very large and very small distances like Electromagnetism, but some things like Gravity we aren’t as sure of. What would be ideal is to find a new model that works for galaxies as well as everything else the standard model works for, but this is really hard and no one has been able to do it.
The part of this that I find most interesting is whether or not it is valid to “invent” something we can’t detect just because they make our models work. There are a lot of things in theoretical physics that were predicted to exist and were later discovered, but does that mean we can say something exists without ever detecting it (e.g. gravity waves)? At what point is a model shown to be good enough to be accepted as reality; how many unsolved problems is it allowed to have?
This is just one of many crazy things I’d like to learn more about in the nonsensical world of physics. Other things that hurt my head to think about: mass of a photon, wave-particle duality, c is the same in all reference frames, expansion of the universe, quantum tunneling.