Summer Research

Back when I was in CÉGEP, I spent my summer months working as a gardener. It was a radical change from my usual routine of doing mathematics and physics to planting flowers and cleaning flower beds in the heat of the summer. It wasn’t bad by any means, but it was quite different from what one would normally expect myself to do. In essence, it was a job of convenience. I didn’t hate it, but I did look forward to doing something else. In fact, I remember telling my coworkers for multiple summers that I was working as a gardener only until I could finally work in my own domain of interest.

Fast-forward to now, and I finally have that job I’ve wanted. I’m working as a summer research assistant for one of the professors at my school, and it has been an interesting experience so far. I wanted to post updates on the blog about the things I’m learning, and how I’m finding the job.

So far, I’ve been playing catch-up for the last few weeks. I’m attempting to learn the basics of general relativity, and it hasn’t been a simple task. The reason is that I’ve only taken my basic physics and mathematics courses, so while I do have the mathematical tools of calculus, differential equations, and linear algebra, I don’t have things like calculus of variations, Lagrangian and Hamiltonian mechanics, and so on. As such, it hasn’t been easy to generalize my mathematical tools to curved spaces.

I’ve been learning by going through a textbook, which has its ups and downs. The book is Sean Carroll’s Spacetime and Geometry, and I like the book and the author, but I feel like restricting oneself to only a textbook makes it difficult to learn the material fully. The book packs in a lot of information, but it’s often at the expense of carefully going through each result. I’m sure for those who have more background to the subject, the book would flow well. The trouble is that I can get stuck on a single line for a long time, simply because no explanation is provided and I don’t know what to do. That’s where learning the subject with someone else would be helpful. The ability to ask a question right when it comes up could make learning the material so much easier. This is exactly what I try to do as a tutor when I help younger students. I want them to feel confident in what they’re doing, but be able to ask a question whenever it comes up.

Despite the difficulties, I do like what I’m doing. Learning is something that I truly enjoy, so I am happy to do the difficult job of learning a subject on my own. The ideas are interesting, and the mathematics that I’m learning is also useful, so I know that whatever I learn will indeed be useful. I think the key is to keep on pressing with the material, and by working with the ideas, I’ll get more familiar and comfortable with the subject. I’m enjoying the start of my summer work, and I can see myself doing this kind of stuff for a long time to come.

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