Guest post by: Max Schallwig, Physics ’16
Many Universities have slogans or mottos to live by, but an abstract saying is sometimes hard to relate to. “Dream Big”? Okay, and then what? “Let your dreams become a reality?” But how? “Strive for success” – sure, but that’s a little vague.
Yet over the three years at Jacobs, and now just having graduated this past June with a Bachelor of Science in Physics, I’ve come to realize that “inspiration is a place” is perfectly suited for Jacobs University.
During your first week as a freshman at Jacobs, you’re probably feeling a little overwhelmed by how many different options there are for studies, majors, minors, extra modules, or APS credits. You’re fresh out of high school! How can you possibly know what you want to study? Not only that, many recent high school graduates are still unsure about where they want to head afterwards, and end up changing their goals and paths throughout their study. Well, guess what? That’s okay! Jacobs University is a three-year journey. A crazy and wonderful journey that shapes your interest and lets you discover your passion, and it is what makes Jacobs truly special. You attend your first classes, meet new students, get to know your professors, and start working on your first projects. All of these are instrumental components, which help mold you into such a great, incredible, and unique student.
My journey started when I attended my first class. My professor was a very charismatic lecturer, and gave me a new perspective on everything I had covered in high school – deriving everything from the basics through the use of more advanced mathematics. Throughout the lectures, the foundation of our understanding for the different topics solidified, and as the year progressed, I got to know my professor a lot better, both through interaction during and after the lecture as well as through the lab course I took together with him. Lectures became more personalized as my professor started calling on people by name whenever there were questions, and he took the time to answer every question that was asked.
This was no unique experience, and also occurred in later semesters. My second semester was especially great, since the close connection I developed to my professors allowed me to inquire about potential research opportunities in their workgroup. The first professor I asked found a nice, introductory position suited for me and offered me my first research opportunity in computational solid state physics. I joined his research group, and was shown the ropes of how everything was done, as well as how to work with their systems. I got first hand experience in taking part in group meetings and seminars, trying to solve bugs in modeling scripts, interpreting the results, and trying to analyze and make sense of the outcomes. I learned a lot and was able to apply all the theoretical knowledge I had into practice, and see what lecture material can transfer into. The lecture content is a guide, which provides you with knowledge to work around problems that you’re having, and provides you with the tools to understand what is going on and what your results mean.
To accompany my increasing interest in computer science, I focused my electives on programming classes. Not only did this expand my breadth of knowledge and skills, but provided me with a skill set that started to set me apart from other students in my major. The elective classes I took, governed by interests, formed the basis of the unique student I became. Inspiration from classes, and increasing interests that developed for specific regions in lectures really helped me form a distinct professional personality, and let me discover everything I was interested in.
During my third semester, I participated in a global physics competition with two close classmates. We worked in a team of three and had a weekend to present a solution to one of two open world questions presented to us from the organizers. We decided to tackle the well known three-body problem, where we dealt with a binary star system and had to find stable orbits of a planet around this binary star system. We wrote down the equations that applied to this situation, and coded a model which gave us a region of space together, which, together with the planets associated orbital velocities, are regions of stable orbit. We then decided to take the task one step further and identified the regions which are stable orbits for habitat planets. This was an incredible experience, and we actually won the gold medal for our paper. Needless to say, we competed again the following year, and earned a silver medal for our analysis of a golfer trying to curve his ball around a tree to hit the green.
I used my internship to further explore the field of physics I was most interested in at the time and, as fate would have it, some of the electives I took fit in perfectly to the tasks I was asked to do during my internship. Here again, just like during every other experience, I formed my interest in the broad subject I was working in, and, with the support of my supervisor, worked into the direction of my interest.
Then came my final year of University: I was well developed in terms of interests and experiences. I joined a research group of my professor to start on my Bachelor thesis, working in an area that best fit all the interest I had developed over my previous two years. My thesis let me explore in depth the area of physics that interested me most, using the tools and skills I have become very proficient in. I worked together closely with my professor and a postdoc in his group to expand on a project that they had previously published on.
At Jacobs, I always followed my interest, and developed the accompanying skills. If you let your passion guide you, you will enjoy every new learning opportunity you get. The journey is what makes everything so incredible, and the inspiration within your surroundings updates your goals constantly to let you strive to become exactly the person that you want to be. Jacobs provided me with many opportunities to explore and to pursue my interests. It let me develop my passion and inspired me to strive for exactly what I was interested in.