Grad School: The First Semester in Review

Grad School: The First Semester in Review

January 13, 2019 Off By ThielWx

With the dust finally settled on my first semester of grad school, I wanted to take a moment and quickly recap on my first semester at the University of Oklahoma. To define it in one word, adaptation. There were a considerable number of ‘new’ things I encountered during the fall semester, which I’ve broken down into several smaller topics.

1. Classes

As a grad student you have two primary jobs, learn and research. Even though I only took two classes, the depth and breadth of the content in both courses presented a challenge I hadn’t met before. The first was a lack of time. In the past one of my greatest assets was the willingness to take as long as needed repetitively learn the content in considerable detail. For the Fundamentals of Atmospheric Science class, this approach was no longer valid. Each week the content changes focus, and with that comes an entirely new set of concepts, jargon, equations, constants, and derivations to wrap your head around. With such an aggressive pace, I had come to terms with the idea that I can’t master all the content, so condensing the material as much as humanly possible into ‘review guides’ was the new approach. Sometimes this worked to my advantage, but it still had its limitations such as the obvious lack of depth and the time it takes to compress everything into the review guide.

An example of ‘compressing’ all of the major equations/constants from the course into one sheet in preparation for the final exam. Yes the font is 8pt, the margins are 0.1″, and there is a back.

One caveat of the Fundamentals course that is unique is that there is no set grade scale, meaning that your evaluated performance in the class is relative to how everyone else in the class performed. The cumulative grade distribution of the class after the final exam determines what grade you assigned. I had never seen a class take this type of evaluative approach that fundamentally changed how I saw myself in the context of the class. Early and often I found myself wondering, for the first time, if I was good enough to make it in a meteorology class, which was difficult to think about. In the end I was able to pass the class, but a part of me wonders if I could have done it better. There were so many things I can say that I learned, but I definitely don’t feel like I mastered yet.

To summarize, while the class took a huge toll physically and mentally, I’m proud to say that I survived. The class is definitely not perfect, but I do feel like I’m better for taking it, and I can tell myself that I belong here. I also took Partial Differential Equations (PDE), which combines concepts from Original Differential Equations (ODE), Multivariable Calculus, and some Linear Algebra. Overall PDE was a tough yet straightforward course that was often a relief from fundamentals, with the big takeaway being an understanding of Fourier Series and how they are used to approximate solutions to equations as waves.

2. Research

With the difficulty of my classes this semester, very little ‘research’ was done my first semester. When I had time I played some data from the GLM to create basic plots in python. Since I was fairly new to the programming language, I became familiar with Matplotlib, CartoPy, NumPy, Pandas, and Jupyter Notebook. Writing/testing code in the Jupyter Notebook is something I came to really enjoy, as it forces you to organize/group your procedures into cells.

An animated version of the data I’ll be working with from the Geostationary Lightning Mapper. It’s FAR from being a finished product, but it’s a start!

I have also be reading relevant publications to the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM), in order to gather ideas to decide upon an avenue of research. One avenue that is proving to be very interesting is the reported flash counts from the GLM when the updraft is fairly dense (also known as optical depth), where flash counts have been observed to anomalously decrease, while ground-based networks are seeing large increases. The current theory I am investigating is that with greater optical depth comes increased complexity in the light scattering, which may be ‘merging’ smaller flashes together in the eyes of the GLM. This is all preliminary, and I am hoping to develop this idea further over the coming semester to find new ways to utilize the GLM when the effect occurs. For more information on the GLM, feel free check out a talk by one of my advisors from the AMS Severe and Local Storms Conference in 2018 that introduces how the sensor works and some initial observations (link).

3. Misc. Events

Along with classes and research, I also did some other things to keep life interesting. The most obvious being the creation of this website, which I am really happy with how it turned out. The Projects Page definitely needs more work, and I’m not 100% sold on the logo I made, so those aspects might change in the near future. The WxBlog is also something that will likely evolve as I do, since it serves as a creative space for me to document recent professional/meteorological events.

The current ThielWx Logo, which was made with the online Pixlr editor.

As the part of writing and preparing a manuscript to submit from my undergraduate research, I started the Push To Publish series on ThielWx to document my progress. We are currently doing a second round of internal reviews between all of the coauthors, and are hoping to have a published document by this summer in the NWA Journal of Operational Meteorology.

On impulse I also joined a recreation sand volleyball team, which served as an excellent stress reliever early in the semester and a way to meet other grad students. I am hoping to start a recreation basketball team this spring semester as long as there’s enough interest!

The last big thing was being accepted onto the AMS Local Chapter Affairs Committee (LCAC), which serves to connect the AMS local chapters to each other and also to resources at the national level. At the recent AMS Annal Meeting in Phoenix, AZ I was able to be a judge for the Chapter Poster Contest, participate in the annual business meeting, and assist with the Chapter Officers Breakfast and Town Hall. After being heavily involved with the AMS Student Chapter at Ohio University, I am excited to see what great things other chapters are doing across the country, and help them with their future success through the LCAC.

4. The Semester Ahead

This spring semester I will be taking Forecast Evaluation and Advanced Meteorology Statistics. Both classes have a strong statistical component to aid in my current and future research endeavors, with Forecast Evaluation allowing me to interrogate mesoscale features in greater detail. I will also start to map out my masters research in greater detail, and solidify my initial methodology. To start the semester I will also have to navigate not having an office until the federal shutdown is over, but this is a minor inconvenience compared to most other federal employees/contractors.