May 22nd, 2002

Exams

Ho hum, weekly round-up time. 3 main categories since my last entry, so I'll post them in separate entries, to keep things clear/simple.

So, Physics first. We've now finished the course, so we're into exam season. We get lessons up until the end of May (when they don't clash with exams), but they're just revision sessions at this point. After that, no more classes, although the teachers are around if we need help. I had my first exam (a practical) last Monday, and the second practical today. The rest are:

Astrophysics (11 June)
Waves and our Universe (13 June)
Fields and Forces (13 June)
Synoptic (21 June)

The practical last Monday went pretty well - I finished it within the time. Mind you, I was feeling a bit more confident before I started comparing answers with other people afterwards... The main problem was the wait before-hand. The original plan was that we'd have a 90 minute exam, starting at 09:30, so I'd be out at 11:00, and back in the office by noon, which is what I put in the schedule at work. Then, last Friday, we were told that there isn't enough equipment for all of us, so we'd have to do it in groups. "We" in this case is all the A level Physicists, not just our class - our group was last. So, I figured that we'd start at 12:30 (i.e. after the first two sessions), and finish at 14:00, and I emailed the office to tell them to expect me at about 15:00. The slight complication is that they didn't want us to talk to people who'd already done the exam, so we got put in "quarantine" until ours started, i.e. we had to be in college from 09:15 onwards.

In actual fact, come Monday, things went a bit differently. I got there at 09:30 (slightly late, but ok), and had to hand in my mobile phone (another anti-cheating measure). I then found out that our group wouldn't start until 14:00 - I guess the invigilators wanted a lunch break or something. This meant that we'd finish at 15:30, then I'd need to get something to eat (we couldn't go out for lunch), so I wouldn't make it into the office until 17:00. However, I couldn't phone the office to tell them this, so I had to give a phone number/message to the college staff, and get them to pass it on, which they were able to do. At about 11:30, there was an organised toilet trip - one of the lab assistants did escort duty, and about 9 of us all trooped off to the loo together, while he waited outside, then brought us back. I suspect that next year they'll be using electronic tagging... I was tempted not to bother going into the office, but I decided to stop by briefly. Mind you, this was primarily to pick up the DVDs that had been delivered there ("Buffy season 4" and "Harry Potter"), so I had a certain ulterior motive!

Today's exam went well too, and I was in the first group this time, so I didn't have to hang around. One of the experiments involved a can of Coke (working out volume of metal, thickness of can, etc.), which is familiar territory for me :)

I was reading The Sun on the way back afterwards, and I was amused by one story in particular:
http://www.thesun.co.uk/article/0,,2-2002230396,00.html
Just to clarify, that didn't happen at my college - it just got my attention since I've been doing exams lately.

University

A bit of progress on the uni front.

The undergrad thing is quietly clocking away - it's basically on hold until I get my A level result (hmm, singular sounds odd there) through, although I'll withdraw before then if I get a postgrad place sorted out.

No word back on the PhD emails yet, so I might send out a couple more (to different people) soon.

On the MSc front, heard back from the Kings admin person again. She recommended that I should just submit an employer reference for now, since the academic ones aren't that relevant. I can then explain what I've done, and they'll be in touch if they need an academic reference. Now, in theory there's a complex procedure to keep references anonymous. I give an instruction sheet to the relevant person, with an envelope addressed to me. He/she then writes the reference, seals it in the envelope, then signs the envelope across the seal before posting it. I then send the sealed envelope in to Kings with my application form - the referees don't post it to the university directly. That way, I collate the info, but I can't open the envelope without revealing that I've done it.

Last time I got a reference like this (for one of my previous MSc applications), the partner at work got me to proof-read it before he sent it, which gives you an idea of the real-life situation here. I have to say, PMSI have always been very supportive of my academic ambitions, which I really appreciate. So, I figured the same thing would apply this time round - they'd show me the reference, so that it would be what I need. More than that, the partners at work are obviously busy people, so I don't want to impose on their time too much. So, I spent about an hour at home drafting the reference for them :) I know this sounds presumptious, but I figured that they wouldn't mind, and they could always ignore it/amend it/whatever before actually signing it. The trick was trying to get the right balance - I need to make myself sound good, but I tried to avoid comments like "John can walk on water - choirs of angels sing his name!" And, I was right - Patrick was quite happy for me to give him the draft. We then spent about another half hour going over it in the office, fine tuning it a bit, so I have that here now.

I've filled out the basic info on the application form (name, address, etc.), but I've left the free-text sections alone for now. Besides the reference and the application form itself, I also need to include a transcript from Durham, i.e. a list of what courses I took, and what marks I got. I've sent off the form/cheque to Durham, and I'm waiting to hear back from them at the moment. They said they'd reply within ten working days, and I sent the form in last Tuesday (14th), so I'm hoping to get the transcript back any day now.

Thinking back, when I wrote the journal entry on 8th May, I said"I should be able to get the application all sorted out by the end of next week", i.e. by last Friday (17th May). At the time, I was aiming for a conservative estimate, although I suspected that it would sound like loads of time to people reading it. Looks like I underestimated it, as it turns out...

Anyway, when I get the transcript, I can read it for myself, and then send a copy to Kings (they don't need the original). That means that I'll know everything that they see, and it makes sense to take advantage of that by tailoring my application form to match the reference/transcript, which is why I'm waiting. In particular, I'm wondering whether the transcript will include results from my 1st year, since that didn't count towards my overall degree mark (only 2nd/3rd years directly relevant to that). I hope it does, because I got the equivalent of a 1st in my exams (77%). If so, I'll play off that in my form ("I have the ability to get a 1st, but I messed up my time management in later years, and I'm better at that now"). If not, I'll need to take a different angle. I think I did pretty well on my projects, and maybe I can comment on the courses, e.g. if I got good marks in the subjects that are relevant to the MSc course (e.g. AI), and bad marks in the ones that I wouldn't pursue further (e.g. micro-processor design). Lorna has volunteered to proof-read the form for me, which is very kind, so I'll have to take her up on that (once I've actually written the thing).

All in all, I'm feeling pretty optimistic about this. I'm particularly happy that the admin staff are being supportive, since I think that was where I got stone-walled at Imperial. If I do get through, I'll definitely send some flowers to the secretary!