A Grad School Retrospective

by John Johnson
Reprinted from V6N2, September 1992

As I look back on my years in college and grad school, I find myself becoming a bit nostalgic. I even find myself looking back fondly on some of the big hangovers I had. No doubt because of the circumstances surrounding their acquisition. Here are some "memory bites" from the past few years.

I started at MSU in the Fall quarter, 1986. I didn't have an assistantship at the time, but I soon got one working for Dr. Thorpe as a grader. I lived in Owen Hell, I mean Hall, that first year. Although I started out with a roommate, I soon got a coffin, I mean room, to myself. It did have it's benefits: I could shit, shower, shave, eat, dress and work on the computer without leaving my pull-out bed. And of course the computer was the famed Atari ST! That year I published the first issue of the PPSA Newsletter, it was pretty pitiful, but each issue was better than the next.

The fall is my favorite time, and that fall was no exception. It was exciting being in grad school. The leaves were turning and football started. I have to say that East Lansing is about the best place to be in the Fall. MSU really embodies the picture of Fall that comes to most people's minds. The ivy covered brick buildings, the duck-covered brown river, the changing colors... Anyhow, I soon made friends with Paul Rutt Paul Dorsey, Pete Markowitz, and Steve Langer to name a few. Several of us had Mad Jack for E&M, Krazy Kaplan for Quant and Alex Brown for Math Methods. I remember how I was able to check out books from the physics library in the middle of the night, and how Paul Rutt would come over to study for Math Methods at Owen Hall. We pulled some long nights there, and questioned our going to grad school. But we made it past that first year, and now that we are both about to graduate we are glad we didn't give up.

The following Summer I was living with Pete Markowitz (and Biff) in the Brandywine apartment complex. We had a pool there and my room overlooked the tennis courts. A few things, like the green carpet, could have been better, but it wasn't too bad. I commuted a couple times a week to Beverly Hills, a suburb of Detroit, to teach CBI as an MSU extension course. That Fall I totaled the Grannymobile (a big Olds my Grandmother gave me) on the way to take my qualifier. Running into the old lady's Camaro that was "parked" in the road right over the crest of a hill was good on two counts, first it took my mind off the test and I aced it, secondly it got me a downpayment on the Beretta.

The comprehensive exam was another matter. The debacle has been mentioned before, but suffice it to say that it was arbitrary and political. Very many bright students were forced to go to other schools to get their degrees, and some gave up on grad school altogether because of it. At least it had the effect of causing an upheaval in the department and the following year it was revamped. Of the group of students that started in 1987 with Raman most passed it.

After that I applied to industry to try and get a job with my M.S., to no avail. All I got was a wall covered with FOAD's. So Fall 1989 I started grad school at The University of Texas at Austin. I didn't have a job when I started there either, but I soon got one as an RA. I tried to enjoy Austin, and I had a great apartment too, but schoolwork prevented me from having too much fun. I do remember doing things like taking all the ashtrays from the Physics building and putting them out on the loading dock, but that was about it.

Spring 1990 I moved to Larry and Bobi's (our duplex landlords) in Los Alamos with Steve Worm and Allen Williams. I have moved twice since then and am still living here. Fall in Los Alamos isn't too bad. A drive in the mountains here is great. The leaves are changing out in front of my little efficiency and the nights are getting cooler. And I am taking a course at UNM in Albuquerque, so I get to wander around a college campus for one afternoon every couple weeks. But it's not the same. For me the college days are over. No more pennying doors, spelunking in the steam tunnels at MTU or Hamburger Helper and Star Trek with Dave on Sunday afternoons at 209 Clark Street. I've been in school my whole life it seems, and now it's time to change. I have a postdoc lined up with N-2 here at the lab (LANL). I'm going to have to graduate first, but then it's going to be working 8-5 five days a week. I won't be able to take off for San Diego or Mexico on a whim. But then again, I'll be an alumni of three schools. And with an income above the poverty line I can always plan a trip back to catch a football game or Winter Carnival and relive some of the best memories I have of college.

Last Updated 04/13/95.© 1996 PPSA