I have a phone interview today with UW-Parkside, and so for my M.A.P.L.E. post, I wanted to rehash my journal from when I had my campus visit at Northwestern, about a month before accepting their offer for graduate school. Wow, how quickly seven-plus years have flown since then!
Monday, March 16  ~Northwestern visit
I woke up to a loud beeping at 700h. I leapt out of bed, and went to wash my face. The water looked really murky, but since I drank some last night and didn’t get sick [especially with emotions running high], I won’t fret about it. After washing up, I donned my golden pullover with navy (black?) pants, and prepped for the day. I headed downstairs at 715h.
Down there, I went to the front desk to inquire about breakfast. From the elevator, I continued around the bend and took to the desk. I just have to go to the Sherman Street Grill, down the hall. Before I got any food, I had to sign a ticket that they would bill to my room. They will have that, I say! The room was full of people… who were from the Rutgers lacrosse team! I got some Corn Flakes, apple, cranberry juice, and a muffin, before joining the table.
I sat with a few Knights, and they were OK with me sitting there (yay!) They had battled the Wildcats on Saturday [and had lost, but I didn’t inquire about the result], hung out in Chicago yesterday, and will be going to South Bend today to take on the Irish tomorrow. We had various conversations, about grad schools, psychology, and other classes too. Travel and “101-type” classes were part of the discussion too. After they left, I finished my breakfast and returned to the lobby, plopping down in the comfy couch. I finished yesterday’s journal, and a paragraph or two of today’s journal. Then, I declared, “So it begins!” and left the hotel en route to Northwestern.
I walked along the east side of Sherman Avenue, looking around. I’m in a business district, and there are some banks, clothing stores, and restaurants. I saw one Dunkin’ Donuts too, but there was only one on the walk there. OK, so Evanston is not Boston… ha! There were a few people walking about, but the area was pretty calm. I took a right on Clark and followed it. I didn’t get lost, as I saw signs that said “Northwestern University” on them. Some of these buildings looked more like houses!
I turned onto Sheridan Road along the east side, after it was that way from Chicago Street. A large arch with “Northwestern University” was at this corner, and a directory was there too. I had to follow the hedges outside the gate and arch [I wanted to follow the arch, but Tech is along Sheridan]. Students were walking and biking about, and there were buses traveling, and more offices looking like houses on the opposite side of the street. There are a lot of OLD and LARGE buildings that I see, and seminaries in large edifices with crosses.
Continuing, I found the Tech Building, and headed up the stairs into the colossus. I felt dwarfed as I headed up toward the golden doors and entered, seeing great scientists’ names like Avogadro on the doors. Once inside, I took a right and saw a sign at the fork that said “M Wing <–”, so that way I went. I saw room numbers around M-130, so I searched for stairs [my target: M-426]. They were just around the corner! Excitedly bounding up the stairs, I got to the fourth floor of the M-wing. I turned left at the landing, and saw names that I had researched. When I saw M-450, it was Dr. Olmstead’s office, whose door was open. However, the room was vacant! I saw him as I continued down the hallway, so we introduced and he escorted me to M-426, the department office.
Once in the office, the secretary (Beth) gave me a folder with information about ESAM (Engineering Science and Applied Mathematics), and the all-important Reimbursement Envelope. I relaxed in the office as it was only 910h (coming early for the win!) I journaled and found that there will be FOUR (!) visitors today. Our tour began at 930, and I have all the highlights of each professor, rather than a full-paragraph format. Grad school visits are an opportune time for me to do a Hybrid Journal style, similar to what I did in DC.
- The students are fairly close-knit at this school… it’s not cut-throat, but cooperative
- There’s a conference room in the office, and there are always colloquia on Monday afternoons
- Northwestern is on the quarter system
Dr. Olmstead, with an overview of the grad school
- On average, the PhD program takes 5 years
- It’s an APPLIED-applied department. Cross-collaboration is common and encouraged!
- There’s about a 2:1 student : faculty ratio. Good!
- In the first year, everyone takes the same four courses: ODE, perturbation methods, numerical methods, and models
- The goal is to do some research during the first summer
- Math grad students do not take any courses over the summer, but should be doing research
- The prelim exams are held in the middle of Year 1: it’s a background check. There are exams in Calc 3, Linear Algebra, Complex Variables, and Differential Equations
- You’ll choose an adviser at the end of Year 1
- Start research in the first summer
- Second year: You’ll only have 2 courses, but have extra responsibilities (frequently TA)
- In Year 3, there are 2 courses each quarter and the oral QUAL
- Finishing the thesis is the remainder of the program. The defense is mainly a formality
- The last year, you’ll do job-hunting
- 55-60% go on to Academia, and if so, a post-doc is a good thing to do next
- Gave a long list of schools that people have gone to after completing the program
- Colloquia are “cultural experiences”
- We have offices in the first year!
- Ask other grad students for info sessions [pertaining to the prelim exams!]
- He works with applications involving optical fibers
- The goal is to maximize transmission of signal
- A non-linear Schrödinger equation has solitons (this is our goal!)
- Noise is a perturbation term
- Importance sampling allows you to correct for statistics
- Modeling neurons in the hippocampus is part of this work as well!
- Bio people stain neurons, and re-construct morphologies
- We want to match the data
- Cable theory: There’s a thick branch of dendrite that has a larger resistance (impedance)
- Math biology was sparked by the human genome project
- Three or four profs are interested in neurology
- Stay closer to applications! Proofs aren’t as numerous in this department
- Some people will leave campus over spring break
- Chopp does stochastic, and Brockmann does some neuro stuff
- His research for his thesis was about meteorology! COOL!
- Acoustics and plastics followed that
- Now, he looks at reacting fluids
- Most of his work is numerical
- You’re not confined to this department if you come here
- They have a Linux cluster that may be used for research
- The current project: Neutron star bursts
- A neutron star is a dual system, involving non-ideal equations
- Previous research has failed due to the time steps being too small [reminds me of the Four Criteria from Nonlinear Optimization that we’ve been doing so heavily lately]
- In a fire, fluid speeds are much less than the speed of sound
- In space, fires do NOT have constant pressure (unlike on earth)
- He works with the RTG project
- There is little “bad” here—not much in the way of politics or friction
- There have been no “real disputes”
- You can finish in four, but most finish in five or six years
- Support depends on the adviser. You talk about it in the spring of your first year
- In the second year, the research isn’t too heavy
- His background is in pure math, but he now works with combustion
- Consider the reaction Ti + C -> TiC. This releases a lot of heat, and doesn’t require oxygen!
- Combine these powders and heat it
- You can propagate the front at a constant rate… OR NOT!
- Try viewing the trajectory of a hot spot ahead of the front
- Combustion waves can produce some nano-particles
- Angiogenesis is something else done here…
- Diffusion fails for large radii of particles
- The tumor links to itself from blood vessels
- Can cancer be prevented?
- Areas of his grad students: Polymerization, nanoparticle synthesis, and pattern formation
- He doesn’t do much with numerical
- It’s a good idea to talk with multiple prospective advisors
- Northwestern is starting to hire some new, young profs
- Ask the grad students about living arrangements
- Class doesn’t start until September 
- His work is in computational neuroscience
- Sensory processing and the retina
- The retina and ganglion cells process a lot of detail. How precise can we get?
- Rods and cones… recall their pathways from Psychology 463
- Are there contrast pathways: “on” and “off”?
- Noise is important to consider since nothing is perfect with perception
- Amacrine cells compare and diffuse
- The olfactory system has neurons in the brain that directly receive from the nose
- We want to know our objects. Think of an inverse Laplace transform and lateral inhibition
- There’s contrast enhancement here!
- Is there an analog with the olfactory system? Unfortunately, it’s not a great mapping…
- Close in mapping need not be close in the image [or pre-image, for that matter]
- Connectivity, and consider use-it-or-lose-it
Lunch time with grad students Jared H. & Matt T.
- The weather was a bit brisk, but it was nice outside
- It’s safe to live in Evanston
- We walked along the way I came, and then took some different streets in looking for lunch
- Use Craigslist to find roommates, or other similar things
- They’re providing health insurance next year
- Rent can be at least $1,000 per month
- Inglehart [sic] is a graduate housing that I should consider
- There are intramurals, but I may not have time for them
- You don’t have to work 24/7 to be successful
- The High Holidays are big here… don’t worry about missing class!
- The “name” of the university you go to may be important to others, but the big idea: GO WHERE YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE
- We had lunch at Prairie Moon, and I got a salmon-spinach-onion sandwich. Yum! The place was right across from the hotel
- Talked about random computer stuff and other things during lunch
- Headed back to campus and I went to a few more professors’ offices
- He works with numerical problems
- All of his course notes can be found on his web page
- Moving interface problems are what he’s interested in
- Cranial aneurysms can be modeled
- Bio-films: 95% of life on the planet
- [Illegible note that I couldn’t make out]
- His work with computational neuroscience: speeding up simulations
- Computers in this department have 8 or 16 processors
- But, there are even more powerful ones available to us!
- There seems to be good camaraderie all the way around here
- TA’ing is frequently grading, or “Tech Tutors”
- But, you may be able to teach your own course
- She gave an example of a grad student that quit but came back with redoubled ambition the next year
- Physics and memory were part of the conversation
- We were way off topic, but this late in the day, what the hey!
- Bifurcation theory: She does stuff with pattern formation
- Climate change is another idea that you could consider
- The interdisciplinary activates…
- It’s all based on differential equations
Dr. Olmstead, the second time
- He asked me about the other schools that I had applied to and my status at those places
- He may be able to improve my offer to make [Northwestern] a more enticing offer
Walking around campus for fun
- Left the Tech and went up Sheridan, seeing Greek houses and Patten Gymnasium
- There’s an AEΠ and a ZBT on Lincoln Street
- There’s a beach on Campus Drive that I followed
- The women’s tennis team was playing a “Guess-the-number” contest
- Northwestern’s lacrosse team is #1 in the nation!
- Saw a bunch of graffiti on rocks as I walked alongside the lake. Love notes and more
- Couldn’t get into the Norris Center because of warnings posted about trespassing. Not taking any chances, even though I’m a guest!
- I like the architecture of the plaza and library near the Norris!
- Seems like a LOT of the buildings on campus, particularly outside of the arches, are refurbished houses
- evanstonliving.com may be a good resource for finding apartments if that’s what you’re doing if you come to live here
All in all, this visit has put a very strong, positive impression of Northwestern on me. Once again, it sets the baseline for comparison for Pitt, RPI, and Maryland, provided that RPI funds me and UMD accepts and/or funds me. I like what I saw, and maybe they liked what they saw of me too. Pitt may have a battle for my acceptance! I walked back to the hotel, and then arranged for a cab to pick me up tomorrow. It’ll depart at 600h, so I’ll be up early.
I surfed the Web for a while, including check-in for the airport, e-mail, and Nebraska hoops forums. No news on the women’s basketball team yet, but on the men’s board, there’s hoopla about Matt Perrault having been shown the door, apparently. Go figure, but I only heard him once [after the Creighton-Nebraska game, of course]. I updated my Facebook status and looked at my favorite online comics. I called Mom to rehash what I found out today. We’ll have to do a “date” soon!
I left the hotel and crossed the street, getting to Kansaku Sushi and looking at the menu from the outside. It looks good, so that is my choice. The place looks like Baby Blue, and I liked the ambient music, of traditional Japanese style. I drank some water and had the Scorpion sushi. I enjoyed the food, even though I was solo. It had the right mix of flavor and it was just the right size. It was 10 sections for $15—is that a good deal?
I paid, seeing that Evanston’s tax is 10% (ouch!) [That may just be for restaurants]. I returned to the hotel after that. The journal was a major activity, but before that, I arranged for the taxi ride [or basically just confirmed it, because the driver was there]. I headed up the stairs to the mezzanine, and there was nothing but meeting rooms up there. Back in my room, I played FreeCell and Spider on the computer, and relaxed for a few minutes. Then, I packed, brushed, and crashed at 2230h so that I’ll be up tomorrow.
>TO BE CONTINUED…
Today is the fifth day of the fifth round of M.A.P.L.E.
היום שניים ועשר יום-שהם שבוע אחד וחמישה ימים לעומר
Tourney Times: 16 days.
Rochester: 23 days.
Twenty-Nine: 59 days.