Tuesday, April 29, 2008

There's always an opportunity cost.

One of the many nice aspects of being assigned to the Mississippi Delta is the chance to get a masters in education for free through a program that offers an assistantship for a community project rather than serving as a teaching assistant. I'd assumed that I'd want to sign up, but now I'm having second thoughts.

Teaching is going to be time consuming. There's no way around that. Starting a graduate program in my second semester as a high school teacher sounds like a great way to increase my stress levels, but I think I could probably handle it.

The going to school full-time during the summer part is the problem. I'm going to spend this summer at Institute trying to learn about teaching while teaching summer school in Houston. Last summer I worked in the physics lab full-time as an undergraduate researcher, and I spent two months before my junior year living in New York in order to work full-time in a molecular biology lab there. The summer before my sophomore year I took two semesters of organic chemistry. I like productive vacations, but I may need to focus next summer on tasks other than coursework.

If I want to get a Ph.D. in physics, the dreaded Physics GRE is the next big hurdle. Everyone I've talked to describes it as a grueling experience, in no small part because it doesn't reflect how anyone actually does physics. The key to success is memorizing vast numbers of equations, constants, and terms and being able to solve problems very, very quickly. Six months preparation time is recommended, making sure to work through all of University Physics I through Modern Physics until you know it cold and going back over your notes from upper division classes to refresh your memory of various key problem types. If I'm going to have a prayer of doing well enough to get into a good physics graduate program after spending time away from enforced discipline of being a student, I'm going to have to make studying for the test my top priority next summer.

It would be much easier if I knew what I want to do with my life. If teaching in a secondary classroom is going to be a long term career, then getting a masters in education is clearly the right choice. If I'm going to miss higher level physics and research enough to want to become a professor and teach at the college level instead, then I need to hit the GRE prep as hard as possible. Unfortunately, the only thing I'm truly certain of tonight is that I really don't want to do my electromagnetism homework right now.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My advice is to wait a year before starting any graduate program that you intend to undertake while teaching full time. The first year is the hardest, by far. The second year, if you are lucky enough to be teaching the same subjects and levels as you taught the first year (and with the same textbooks if you have books), you merely need to revise and supplement your first-year materials, as opposed to creating them from scratch. You still have to do all the grading, but the second year is definitely easier. Then you can start an education Master's or start setting aside structured time for GRE studying.