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Where to go from here? (What classes to take)

  1. Jun 25, 2011 #1
    I'm going to try to explain my situation without going in to too much detail or sounding like some kind of sob story. Take in to consideration that I'm aware that my situation is my own responsibility, and that there is no easy path for myself or anyone.

    I don't mean to make my situation sound that bad, either. To put it simply, I just recently graduated high school with a modest GPA (3.6), SAT score (1950), and pretty good ECs. Reflecting back on my 4 years at high school, like most kids I wasn't really focused and didn't really have a good idea as to what I wanted to do with my life. Like a lot of kids I battled with some emotional problems (social anxiety disorder and chronic depression), and bullying (which had gone on my whole life but stopped completely sophomore year when I switched schools.)

    Up until my senior year of high school, I had always found it incredibly hard to get even simple homework (that would otherwise take me 5 minutes to complete) done. Indeed, late assignments were to be expected from me. I would sleep in class frequently, not out of rebellion, but because I could not in any sense keep myself awake. Worst of all, I hated myself for these problems, and refused help for a very long time because of it. Blame it on whatever; yes it's my fault. I deeply regret a lot of things, as many of my teachers have regarded me with glowing enthusiasm, but I simply wasted it and slacked off, and I am to blame.

    Anyways, enough with the crying. Enter senior year. Independent research and study has always been my greatest love and passion, and the summer before my senior year spawned an interest in physics and neuroscience. To put it short, I got completely hooked due to several points and have never been so motivated by anything in my life. By this year a lot of my problems that plagued my past had been sorted out, and I managed to pull a 3.9 GPA, among other achievements. I graduated receiving the school's Phoenix Award, which is given to a student when the faculty recognizes an outstanding improvement in character and drive. It has not been given to any student in 3 years.

    Looking forward to the future, my interests lie in quantum gravity, string theory, condensed matter, consciousness, and whole brain emulation. I have a plan for once I enter college for full-time study, but getting there is where I might need some help.

    The plan started out as taking a gap year, working, taking some community college classes, and applying to a 4 year college for the following fall. However, as I've gotten more ambitious, so have my plans. My state university offers classes to non-degree candidates (for credit) for only $300 more per class than I would pay for a community college class. Naturally, I want to take this up, as the courses at the state university are more rigorous and sound more interesting than the community college ones (I haven't found a community college near me that even offers a calculus-based physics course.) Not to mention a state university course would probably look a tad nicer on my college application than a community college course. I've also been continuing and plan to continue to get involved in extracurriculars, self studying, and working.

    As a note, during my senior year I took a freshman English course at a community college and received a 93.

    As a rough starting point, I'm looking in to:

    Fall Term:
    Calc I
    Physics I

    Spring Term:
    Bio I
    Chem I
    Intro to Scientific Programming (basically a first computer science course, but for science and engineering majors)

    I'm also going to try to get in to the honors sections of all classes, except for the Scientific Programming class, as it does not have an honors section.

    My questions are as follows:

    How are my course selections for this coming year? Is there anything I should change?

    Are there any summer studies I could get in to for the following summer to help pursue my interests?

    Although I have not given much statistical information as to my current academic standing, let's say that right now, I am probably a likely candidate to be accepted by Hampshire College, Allegheny College, Trinity College, or say, University of Rochester. If this coming year goes fantastically (high GPA, good teacher recommendations, extracurriculars etc), would I have a good shot at say, Colby College, Brandeis University, or Colgate University?

    To summarize:

    I slacked off in high school more than I'd have liked to and deeply regret it. I'm now a motivated student with strong ambition, and am looking for direction as to how I can go about proving that my ambition will be fruitful.

    Thanks so much for any help in advance.

    - Tristan
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2011
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 25, 2011 #2
    Looks like a pretty lax schedule, to be honest. I'd reconsider biology (if your undergraduate degree is in physics, then the biology side can wait a little while), move chem and scientific programming to your fall semester, and take the "2" versions of chem, physics, and math during spring. That's a lot like how I spent my last year, though I didn't have a programming class and I was taking calc III during the spring. But I don't know that much about neuroscience programs, or even what program you're specifically trying to transfer into (whether it's a neuroscience undergrad, or a physics undergrad with a neuroscience grad, or if you're even going for neuroscience at all), so it seems like you're asking us to be clairvoyant :)

    I'm really curious about the courses offered at the university (for credit, no less). I don't know why, but it sounds slightly fishy for some reason. Have you talked to a counselor to make absolutely sure that it will do what you think it will?

    I'm glad you were able to crawl out of the pit of apathy into the wider world of personal motivation. I think it's fantastic. Now prove it and take a course load that's more akin to what you'll experience in university :) (though I must warn you, physics/chem/calc is pretty lax in and of itself) A word of advice though: extracurriculars are pretty pointless post high school. Don't do anything you don't want to do.
     
  4. Jun 25, 2011 #3
    Whoops, that's quite a big detail I left out there.

    I'm planning to dual major in Neuroscience and Physics as an undergrad student in the Fall 2012 term. The classes I'm looking at are at UNH (University of New Hampshire) and I will be starting during the Fall 2011 term.

    Note that this is a gap year, and I am not pursuing full time studies yet. The reason I want to take university courses is to prove to colleges that I can handle the course load, and simply because I'm itching to start my studies formally. These classes though are pretty much just to help my chances of getting in to a desirable college, same goes for my hopes for extracurriculars this upcoming year.


    I had 4 classes per semester lined up originally but my parents advised strongly against it, saying that this was a gap year and I still have work to worry about. Would taking such a full load be necessary for a gap year? I'm more than willing to do so, but I'm wondering if it's the best thing to do and why.
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2011
  5. Jun 25, 2011 #4
    Gap years, in my humble opinion, are recipes for disaster. You get out of the routine of studying and learning in any serious manner, and juggling work and school is nothing like juggling school and more school. Right now, if you're going to major in physics (and DOUBLE MAJOR in neuroscience at that) then you need to get into the habit of taking decent sized course loads. Like I said, chem, physics, and calc in one semester IS a lax course load. I don't know how much you're working, but if you're motivated, you should be able to handle part time and a courseload like that without much difficulty. It'll give you training for when you're REALLY doing a heavy courseload.

    Of course, you might consider dialing down on the 'honors' thing, depending on how the honors system works at that university. Believe me, I'd kill to get a chance to take honors classes myself, but in your present situation I think quantity over quality is best (but be sure to note the rarity of this). Not only that, but taking as many classes as you can as cheaply as you can is a fantastic idea. If you can work your way through all your basic science/math classes sans biology in one year, then you're off to a great start in managing two very difficult majors in a reasonable way.

    Something else to note. When I transferred into my university, one thing I noticed is that they vehemently asserted the need for 'series' courses to be taken either at the university entirely or at the transferring university/college. In other words, if you're gonna take physics I at a community college, they wanted you to take physics II at the same community college. Consistency and all that. I can't imagine yours being any different. So there's another reason to do things as I suggested. But of course, you're perfectly free to ignore my advice on the subject. You're your own judge on how well you can do with your present motivation level, and whether you think you'll have squandered perhaps the best part of that motivation (when it's still very fresh) to take a "gap year".
     
  6. Jun 25, 2011 #5
    How does this look? I honestly didn't really know what to expect and to be honest my parents have a knack of talking me out of things. They way they put it made it sound like I was setting up for killing myself by taking 4 courses with my job. I mean I don't expect a walk in the park (at all), but they had convinced me that even the courseload I first listed was barely reasonable.

    Fall:
    Chemistry I
    Calculus I
    Physics I
    Introduction to Scientific Programming

    Spring:
    Chemistry II
    Calculus II
    Physics II
    (Introduction to Psychology)?
     
  7. Jun 25, 2011 #6
    Sounds great to me. That's a full courseload. Again, I don't know how much you're working, but that's doable with a part time job. Just don't expect to have hours and hours upon hours of free time. You'll be busy quite a bit. Taking that courseload is saying bye-bye to the gap year scenario, which is entirely up to you.
     
  8. Jun 26, 2011 #7

    atyy

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    Science Advisor

    I don't know enough about the US system to know what a gap year is. For pursuing neurobiology at the graduate level, it is not necessary to do the subject as an undergraduate. Of course, do both physics and neuroscience if you can, but don't sacrifice quality for quantity, doing physics alone (with enough neuroscience classes to read the literature, but not to major) will be good preparation.

    By whole brain emulation, do you mean stuff like
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20532199
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20181583
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20407636
    http://wang.medicine.yale.edu/
     
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2011
  9. Jun 26, 2011 #8
    I somewhat disagree with the idea that you need to take a "full course load" in your gap year. I think you should take whatever classes you want, and to something interesting and meaningful on the side, wether it is a job, community service, independent study, etc.
     
  10. Jun 26, 2011 #9
    Yes exactly. Also
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21652286
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21683574

    And even things like
    http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/detail?accno=EJ857301

    Basically by whole brain emulation I mean the notion of someday being able to simulate the entire function of the brain computationally. It's something that may not happen in my lifetime; heck, Roger Penrose says Turing machines will never be able to emulate the brain entirely and that we're not in the right place with even physics to fully understand consciousness, but it's something to work towards.

    All of the classes I listed are classes I do really want to take, and although I'll probably be tied I should be able to squeeze my part time job in there. Perhaps even continue to play chess and do community service once in awhile, but we'll have to see. Also, Angry Citizen is right that I should take advantage of the fact that the classes will be pretty cheap. Apparently financial aid is even available for them.
     
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2011
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