Friday, September 03, 2010

First week of classes done.

I've survived my first week as a real astronomy professor this week, but just barely.  Thank goodness for a long weekend.

Two weeks ago, I started my new position as an assistant professor at Texas A&M University - Commerce, a part of the A&M system located about 70 miles northeast of Dallas.  Classes started on Monday, so there was not a lot of time to settle in to my new digs before I started teaching.  My office is a mess.  Half of my belongings are in boxes, and the other half are strewn haphazardly across my desk.

I'm teaching two classes this fall: introductory astronomy and introductory physics for science majors.  The university has a planetarium, which is great for showing demos in class.  But I'm still learning to use it, alternately blinding my class by accidentally turning on the floodlights during a demo and then making them ill by pressing a wrong button and starting the simulated night sky spinning out of control at an alarming rate.  I'm also learning on the fly how to construct cogent lectures.  This learning is occurring by trial and error, primarily error.  On the good side, though, I'm including a lot of interactive material, and the class is quickly warming up to the idea.  Research into astronomy education has found that more interaction and less lecturing increases knowledge retention.

The physics course is also proving challenging.  Here the main problem has been finding a style that fits both my comfort zone and the material.  Our first unit has been on measurement: units (kilograms, meters, and seconds), significant figures, and similar topics.  It's pretty dry, and there are no exciting demonstrations.  I'm also learning how to judge the amount of material I can cover during the class time.  Experience will help a lot.  I hope.

Anyway, astronomy is marching on.  I hope to write about some cool discoveries of the past few weeks over the weekend, in between unpacking moving boxes at home and grading several diagnostic exams.  Have a great Labor Day weekend!


  1. Good luck. One day I hope to make it all the way to a faculty position myself so I like seeing it is possible.

  2. Anonymous7:31 AM

    They are only NOW figuring out that more interactive and less lecturing increases retention??? I could have told them that YEARS ago, at least for my best learning. And, I'm not talking ONLY astro ed, either.

    Kurt, you will do a great job as the years go by. Have confidence in yourself. I'm proud of you for reaching a goal like this.

    Catch ya later,

  3. I am Rajeev from India. I am currently doing my bachelors in Electronics and Communications and am interested to pursue my Masters degree in Astronomical Sciences.

    Could you please help me by providing me with following details?

    1) As my current stream is Electronics and Communications, will I be allowed to do Masters degree in Astronomy? If yes, do i need to undergo any other examination?

    2) Apart from GRE general exam and TOEFL, does CALTECH requires any other exam scores to apply? ( Ex: GRE Physics)

    3) What should be average GRE, TOEFL scores and GPA in Bachelors degree? Do they consider any other GPA scores at High School level?

    4) Apart from the above, I would be helpful if you could provide me details about scholarships/fellowships.

    5)And what type of research should I undergone in order to get admission into caltech?

    Thanking you sir,