Tuesday, November 22, 2016

TA-ships and what they can offer in return

 As part of this post, Jasmeer has sent along the view from his desk (pictured above).
By Jasmeer Sangha
Part of becoming a graduate student entails taking on some teaching duties. When first offered positions, I wanted to make sure my assignments would allow me to interact with the students face-to-face. I’ve had experiences both teaching a class and being solely a marking TA, and the sum of my experiences have taught me that the prior is more favourable.

In my final year of undergrad, I was presented with the opportunity to teach a tutorial section. This experience taught me that a team of students is needed to ensure a class is run properly. The team would meet once a week to go over the topics that were to be taught in the upcoming tutorials. These hour-long sessions would consist of all the TAs solving the quizzes we would be handing out to our students, and sorting out any ambiguous terms or statements in the provided tutorial slides. It was particularly challenging to coordinate the content students were taught in lectures versus what we, the tutorial leads, had planned to discuss with them. This was my first experience teaching individuals that were not close friends or family asking for assistance. I noticed that one must approach issues from a very different angle being an authority figure representing an institution, as opposed to a peer who is giving a helping hand. Having the responsibility of strengthening and contributing to these students’ education was a new feeling for me.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Not-So-Obvious Benefits of Undergraduate Research

In 2014, the members of PVL took part in a photo shoot to promote the lab and science at York. We had to get a little creative as planetary science isn’t always as flashy as photographers might like! Pictured from the left, me (Brittney), Casey Moore, and Ian Tomaszewski.

By Brittney Cooper

In my first undergraduate year at York, I met many passionate students through my involvement in academic clubs and volunteer research. I’ve always tried to get the most out of every experience, and do as much as I can while I have the opportunity to learn as much as I can. Being surrounded by like-minded individuals early on in my academic career only further cemented those ideals, and as I will come to discuss within this blog post, my experiences ended up teaching me a great deal about what it means to take on too many things, and compromise your goals by losing focus.
During a shift volunteering at York Observatory towards the end of my first semester at York, I met Dr. Moores and ended up learning a great deal about his research, all of which happened to greatly align with my interests. I ended up looking into his work further following our meeting and after becoming thoroughly inspired, I decided to reach out and see if I could offer any assistance in his lab. I was quite convinced that there was no way a first year undergraduate student could be of any real help to him, but it couldn’t hurt to inquire, right?

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Goodbye Mars, Hello Moon

Congrats to Jake on completing all requirements for his MSc! Tomorrow I sign off officially on his thesis revisions, paving the way for his graduation. Jake is the first graduate student to complete a degree from PVL. We hope he is the first of many. With the change of degrees comes a change of targets for his studies, moving from Mars over to the Moon to help with some instrumentation development. But first, Jake is investigating the environment in which his equipment is intended to operate - hence the Lyman-alpha sky map above.

By Jake Kloos

In the weeks since my last post, a lot has transpired, but the main highlight is that on September 16th, I successfully defended my thesis. Overall, I thought that it went fairly well. I gave what could very well be my final talk on Martian clouds, and managed to escape from the oral examination with only specified revisions, which is about as good as I realistically could have done. My examiners - Dr. Mark Gordon, Dr. Jim Whiteway and Dr. Patrick Hall -  were fair, and gave me a lot of insightful feedback.

As much as I have enjoyed studying Mars and its climate, a new degree will involve a new project. For my PhD work, I will be helping to design, build and test a camera that will image water-ice in the permanently shadowed regions (PSRs) of the moon. The camera would operate on a future lunar rover, and is in response to the increasing scientific interest in the PSRs due to the water-ice that resides in these regions. In fact, one of the main drivers for this research is that it may help to determine the location for a future human base, given that water is such a valuable resource.

A test of teaching and phobias of public speaking

 While I was in Switzerland this past week, I asked my Postdoctoral Fellows, Dr. Christina Smith and Dr. Abdelkrim Toumi, to cover my lectures in Fluid Mechanics (PHYS 4120) and Planets and Planetary Systems (PHYS 3070). Below, Christina describes her experiences with the Planetary Science Class.

By Dr. Christina Smith 
This week I am dipping my toes in the waters of lecturing for the second time. I am covering lectures on the shapes of planets and the strength of bodies vs gravity.

Preparing lecture materials is a time consuming process, even if you have previous notes to work from. From deciding what materials go in and thoroughly researching them, to putting them together in a way that makes sense to people unfamiliar with the topic. Ensuring that you pitch the subject at the right level is also a very tricky aspect: if you pitch it too low, you risk not challenging the students and if you pitch it too high, you risk the students not following the material and not learning the important aspects of the subject that you want them to gain from your lectures. You also have to be aware that there is always the chance that students may not be familiar with concepts that you assume prior knowledge of - this happened in lecture one of the two I covered so I ended up adapting lecture two with a 10 minute introduction to that particular concept to make sure we were all on the same page.