April 2011 Archives

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Want to brush up on your Latin before your trip to Latin America? Funny question, right? No one uses Latin anymore! But interestingly, we still use Latin expressions. For example, the abbreviations e.g. (exempli gratia) and i.e. (id est) are abbreviations for Latin terms that are often confused.

For example, a student writes the following sentence:

                        Mass transport is dictated by how quickly a substance (i.e., water) can
                        adsorb and desorb from the electron double layer (EDL) interface.
 
Because i.e. was used, the reader understands that water is the only substance the writer is referring to--not oil, or alcohol, or any other substance. If on the other hand, the writer wanted the reader to understand that a variety of substances, including water are possible, then he/she would choose e.g. Think of i.e. as meaning "in other words," or "that is to say," and e.g. as meaning "for example."

Here are two more examples.

                        Critics (i.e., Prince William and Prince Harry) say that Camilla Parker
                        Bowles packs the stylistic punch of Yorkshire pudding.

This sentence indicates the specific critics are Prince William and Prince Harry.
                     
                        Critics (e.g., Prince William and Prince Harry) say that Camilla Parker
                        Bowles packs the stylistic punch of Yorkshire pudding.
   
This sentence indicates two critics are Prince William and Prince Harry, but there are more critics. These are provided as examples of the pool of critics. (Aside: I think of the two sentences, this second one is more valid.)

Notice the use of a comma after i.e. and e.g. in the sentences. This is recommended by most style guides, including the Chicago Manual of Style.

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                  pictured from left to right: Thomas Rauch, Daniel Mills, Lindsay Kromel, Patrick Ritsko,

                        Robert Lydick, and Daniel Pollak


The six winners of the 2010-2011 Grundy Haven paper competition wrote on study breaks, weekends, late at night, and even while procrastinating completing other coursework. They wrote about habitable exoplanets, Chinese coal mine safety, lighting, Marcellus Shale, pool use forecasting, and ice-snow surface albedo feedback.  Some adapted a paper they had written in an academic setting, while others began from scratch. All sought to take the technical aspects of their research and knowledge and explain it to a lay audience. The aim of the Grundy Haven competition is to foster excellence in communicating science to the general public by students in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

Six students achieved this excellence (three first prize winners and three honorable mentions). Congratulations to Daniel Mills (geobiology), Thomas Rauch (mining engineering and energy, business & finance), and Patrick Ritsco (meteorology) for their first place entries; and  Lindsay Kromel (environmental systems engineering), Robert Lydick (meteorology), and Daniel Pollack (meteorology) for their honorable mention entries.

Daniel Mills won first place for his paper, Charting the Islands of the Cosmic Ocean. "Somewhere in the universe, we have good reason to believe, are planets like our own," he writes. His intrigue with the discoveries of NASA's Kepler Mission and his appreciation for scientists, such as Carl Sagan, was the reason he entered the paper competition. "Getting people to care about science is just as important as getting people to know about science," according to Daniel. "Science as it's really practiced, is an emotional and creative enterprise--not just a body of dry facts learned by rote." He plans on being a research scientist who communicates his findings to a lay audience because he believes in public outreach.

Thomas Rauch also won first place for his paper, China's Conundrum: Coal Mine Safety. In the spring of 2010 he traveled to China and, as he described it, was a "young man in search of world citizenship." His observations of the Chinese mining industry led him to compare three types of mines in China and why their fatality rates differed. He wrote this paper because he wanted to reflect on his time in Asia and relate it to his studies. "This competition is relevant to my career. I'll be writing reports and investigating issues, particularly using statistics to evaluate situations in engineering and business."

Patrick Ritsko got interested in the science behind the switch from incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent light (CFL) and light-emitting diodes (LEDS) during his freshman LEAP experience. He adapted a paper he wrote and won a first place for, Flipping the On-Switch to Energy Efficient Lighting. Part of his motivation for writing was also to honor his father's efforts toward his education. Patrick said of his dad, "He works hard to fund my education. This honor is something I'd like to give back to him in appreciation for all his efforts to see me succeed in life."

Lindsay Kromel was one of three honorable mention winners for her paper, Marcellus Shale Flowback Water: It's Not Just About Gas. She worked with her faculty sponsor, Dr. Kamini Singha, who helped put her in touch with experts in the field. For example, she interviewed Dave Yoxtheimer, an expert hydrologist for the Marcellus Shale, and she gained a much better understanding of the issues involved in hydraulic fracturing. "Overall this experience has taught me to pursue my curiosity," she said. "I feel like I'm now able to communicate in a way that invites multiple audiences, which is necessary to make people care about my work as a scientist."

Rob Lydick's inspiration for his honorable mention winning entry, Forecasters Make a Spash, came from his summer job; he worked with Penn State and PPG Industries to supply pool use forecasting to Leslie's Poolmart Inc. In his paper, he explains the connection between the meteorological data of forecasting and the practical business of pool use. He recommends more students participate in the competition because it helped him learn "how to shorten sentences, be concise, remain focused on the topic, and write in a style for a popular magazine, which is a very useful skill!"

Daniel Pollak entered the competition because he hopes to communicate the science of climate change in his future career. In his paper, Treading on Thin Ice, he explains the significance of ice-snow surface albedo feedback. When asked what advice he would give future students who are considering entering the contest, he said, "Write an entry! As future scientists, it's critical that we're able to communicate what we do, otherwise our work doesn't have much relevance, does it?"

The William Grundy Haven Awards were established in 1950 in memory of a Penn State geology student who was killed in action during World War II. The Earth and Mineral Science College (EMS) is grateful for these funds, and proud to recognize the achievements of these fine communicators. If you're an undergraduate in EMS, and in your second-year or higher of attendance by February 15, 2012, you are eligible to enter. 

Read this story on PSU Live.

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Some of you are coming in with a good problem to have: you've been accepted into graduate school. Excellent! But let's suppose you need either an extension or a deferral.

In the case of an extension, you're trying to buy a little time. Suppose you've applied to six graduate programs and you've been accepted into two of them, but one of them gave you a deadline to reply that is before you'll hear from the other four --what can you do?

Write a letter!
You'll have to request an extension. Here's how to construct it.

First open with a buffer, or a statement that is pleasant, honest, and noncontroversial.     
              Example: I sincerely appreciate being accepted into your excellent graduate
                             school for <name of degree>.

Next, tactfully and positively explain the circumstances that have necessitated that you ask for an extension. A good way to approach this is to mention your need to have additional time to make sure you are able to arrange your finances or work out the details of moving. Of course, it's important to be honest, but if you write that you are asking for an extension because the school is really not your first choice, you're probably not going to be granted one. Think of this situation from your audience's point of view: it's costly for them to wait for you. If they get the sense that you're not that interested, it's better for them to turn you down and offer your place to someone on their waiting list.

              Example: Because I have a number of financial and logistical details to work out to
                             make this decision well, I would appreciate your giving me until <date>.
                             I remain extremely  interested in attending your school and recognize you
                             have others on your waiting list. I do not wish to inconvenience you;
                             however, I want to be able to make a strong contribution
                             to your graduate program, and this requires working out
                             additional details.

In the closing, mention your willingness to compromise. Also, ask for a decision. Be cordial and sincere.

             Example: If you need my decision immediately, I will do my best to accommodate
                            your request. However, if you can allow me the extra time to address my
                            financial and logistical concerns, I'd be extremely grateful. Please let me
                            know of your decision. I appreciate your time and consideration.

In the case of a deferral, you're trying to buy a lot of time, and so you'll need to have a more completely developed explanation. Each school and program varies, but for the most part, they are likely to look less favorably on deferrals, UNLESS YOU CAN SHOW HOW IT BENEFITS THEM! This is the key. If you can specifically state how the deferral will make you a stronger student when you attend, your postponement becomes a plus to the school. This is the case if your deferral is requested because of research considerations or additional experiences you are having that are related to your field. Obtaining a deferral because you want to go backpacking through Europe to discover yourself is as likely as having Snooki turn up on "Meet the Press."

And by the way, deferrals from a master's program into a doctorate are more common than from an undergraduate into a master's. The reason is because many who are involved in post-graduate studies have research and grant obligations that may spill over into another academic calendar year. This untidiness is part of the landscape of academia and may work in your favor.  



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