Michelle's Blog

Who is Michelle?
Michelle is studying atmospheric science with a focus on wind energy. She hopes to find real-world solutions to environmental issues.


Michelle's College Blog

College and Family Visits
Nov. 29, 2010

I hope you had a great week! We had Wednesday through Friday off, and it has been really relaxing.

I have an older sister who works. We usually only get to see her during Christmas, but she got some extra time off around Thanksgiving this year. She has been working a lot of overtime, so she decided to take a vacation with my parents. They are currently in sunny and warm Jamaica... I'm jealous!

I have school during some of their time there, so I couldn't make it. My parents and I usually spend Thanksgiving together, but since it has been so hard for my sister to get time off lately, I encouraged them to go on the trip. Although it would have been nice to hang out with my family (especially on a warm, sunny beach), it has been really nice relaxing and sleeping in.

I've also had a lot more time to spend with my friends who live in the area. For some people during college, the drive home is too far for such a short time period. My boyfriend and I actually had Thanksgiving dinner together because he is from Vermont, and he would have had to fly home from North Carolina to make use of the time. He has decided to go home around Christmas instead.

It can be really scary going to a college so far away from your family and familiar surroundings. My sister was far away in college. She would come home for Christmas, but not for Thanksgiving or other short holidays. I happen to only be two hours away from my family, and it was still hard to adjust at first to the new surroundings and people.

It has been great, though. I have made some of my best friends here, and I always miss Raleigh and the people in it when I am away now. Whether you want to go to a college right down the street or far away, in time you will find friends who will begin to seem like family members, and being away from home won't be so hard.

Getting an Early Start on Doing Research in College
Nov. 22, 2010

I know my last few posts have described how much work I have this semester, but things are finally starting to calm down. Sometimes this happens near the end of the year when projects are due, or exams are coming around. That was the case this semester. It's rough during the busy time, but then such a relief when it is over!

On a more exciting note, I went to present my summer research yesterday. (I worked at NASA for an internship over the summer.) The poster presentation was an undergraduate "symposium," where students from various schools bring posters that show their research. It was really fun and rewarding.

At one of the luncheons I attended, they had a speaker who did a really good job. Her name was Whitney, and she spoke about her experiences in research at college. I wanted to give you all some highlights about it since I know a lot of you are planning to go to college.

She started doing research during her freshman year of college, which can be pretty intimidating! For those of you who think you might want to get involved in research within your major during your first year or two, getting to know professors will help you achieve this.

Before you meet with professors to talk about research, it is a good idea to research those professors a bit. On the college websites, it is easy to find information about your professors by searching their names. The professors will have information about what they research and teach, and what their interests are. Some professors even have their own website, which is more in-depth and usually linked from the school website.

Starting early really puts you ahead of the game, and can help you learn and succeed in classes, and prepare you for future opportunities. Usually, when you start doing research this early, you can't always get funding, but it is a great place to start and it will open many doors for you. Don't feel intimidated, take things slow and see how far it helps you go.

Time Management
Nov. 15, 2010

Hi everyone! One of the good (and bad) things about college is that there is a lot more independence. With that independence, you have to manage your own time and make sure that you finish everything in a timely manner.

This freedom is great in some ways, but it does take some getting used to. It is really easy to put off an assignment until the last minute, especially if it is something that you don't want to do.

It always seems like something comes up that is more important at the moment (or more fun!). I have gotten a lot better after a few years of experience (cramming for a test is no fun, trust me!).

Although I think I have gotten a lot better about not putting things off, when I get really busy, it sometimes happens again. That is the case with this semester. I really overloaded my class schedule and extracurricular schedule, while still trying to maintain a social life.

As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, in one of my classes we have three large lab reports due before Thanksgiving break. This assignment was a known requirement with the lab sessions starting at the end of August and going through the beginning of November. It was hard to start these assignments because the due date seemed so far away...and then all of a sudden the due date wasn't that far off!

My goal is to get them all done by the end of this weekend so as not to stress the day before. My procrastination on this assignment (partially from too much work, and partially from putting them off) is causing me to crunch through them somewhat at the last minute. Some of you may have experienced the stress of doing things at the last minute. For those of you who haven't, good for you! Every time this happens, it reminds me how much I hate doing things in a rush.

Although it is hard to get yourself to do these things in advance, I would urge you all to try to learn not to put things off. I personally hate the stress that comes with doing things at the last minute, but it does happen. I learned this from experience: with more freedom comes more responsibility, and although this is nice, it also means learning to manage your time, which will be important not only in college, but also in your future.

Whirlwind
Nov. 8, 2010

It's been a busy week! On top of the normal workload, one of my classes has three large papers due before Thanksgiving break. The papers will be based on three lab experiments for which we set up instruments to collect atmospheric data. We then analyzed the data using what we learned in class.

It's pretty cool because we actually got to work with equipment that is used by professionals. To work with the data, we use a program called MATLAB. For those of you who haven't heard of it, MATLAB is a computer program that can be used to make graphs, calculate things, etc. It is a popular program and most universities have it on their computers so students can access it.

I have a student version on my laptop, which you can buy if you attend an academic institution. Most people access it through the computer labs on campus. But I have many classes and research projects that use it, so I invested in the software.

From now on, time not spent on my usual coursework will need to be spent on these projects. It sounds hard. After you finish your normal weekly work, all you want to do is relax. But I try to remember that once the extra work is done, I will feel relieved, and be able to enjoy myself!

In order to keep each other on track, two other classmates and I are meeting every couple of days to spend a few hours working on our individual projects. Sometimes having friends nearby who are also doing work makes the tasks less intimidating. It also helps motivate you to get things done.

Because I am in the transition of finishing undergrad and starting grad school next semester, my life is somewhat of a whirlwind right now! That's the thing about college: some semesters are very busy, while others give you lots of free time.

Don't be scared by stress, though. No matter what your major, there are always friends you make in classes who are going through the same things and are there to support you. Most professors are also willing to help in whatever ways they can if you struggle with the material. You learn a lot in college, but as with any grade level, there will be challenges. But don't worry -- you won't be alone.

Graduate School: What to Expect
Nov. 1, 2010

I think I told you all that I am graduating in December from undergraduate studies with a degree in atmospheric science -- meteorology. I also mentioned that I applied for graduate school and will start pursuing a master of science (MS) in atmospheric science starting in January. (I will study at N.C. State -- I live in North Carolina.) Getting an MS with a thesis usually takes about two to three years. During this time, you take graduate classes (usually three courses), which are much more intensive than undergrad.

If you are funded through research, a lot of times you also teach an undergraduate lab and work on your research thesis. This is what I will be doing starting in January.

For those of you who think you might want to pursue a graduate degree (it's far off, I know!), there are options in terms of funding. Going to college is very expensive, so that is one of the great things about advanced degrees. They will give you a stipend. This usually covers your tuition and provides you with enough money to get housing, as well as other needs. Sometimes this includes health insurance, too. I received one of these stipends. I will be performing research for my thesis and also teaching one undergraduate lab, as well as taking graduate courses. I'll keep you updated on what graduate school is like when I start in January.

For now, I'm still finishing up undergrad and preparing for next semester. My research thesis for my master's degree will be about climate impacts on storm tracks. It will focus on Europe and the British Isles since this area is very complex.

In order to prepare for my thesis, I've already started meeting on a weekly basis with my graduate advisor and some other graduate students and professors for a journal review. Each week, everyone reads some journal articles that are related to their research topic. Then we discuss them with the group by summarizing the papers and looking at the results.

It is really beneficial because you get to see what kinds of advances are being done in your field. And it helps you keep up to date with your topic. It also helps you decide where to go with your research. It is also nice because the advisors are there, too. They can help explain anything you might not understand.

Most academic journals are written at a very high level. So sometimes it is hard to understand everything in the article. This exercise is helping me to read and try to summarize what the main points of a paper are. I'm also learning about other research areas by listening to summaries of journals. This also creates a good discussion, because research is always ongoing, and there will always be things that need to be improved, or things that are unknown.

Some of the graduate students and professors are studying hurricanes, which are very interesting. Most people have either experienced hurricanes first-hand or have heard about them on the news. For those of you interested in knowing more about this interesting weather event, here is a link from NASA explaining the parts and general idea of a hurricane. There is a lot of great information for students on this website, so feel free to explore. It's a great site:
http://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/5-8/features/what-are-hurricanes-58.html

I look forward to talking to you all next week!