Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Memorable Homework Comments from my Frosh Year at Caltech

When I was a frosh (and, yes, of course I had to phrase it like this), I took introductory mechanics during my first term, just like almost everybody else did.

And I particular remember one comment that a physics TA wrote on a homework assignment amidst my free-body diagram that answered the question completely but for which I got only 3 of 4 points: "A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a sentence is worth a point. Please explain yourself."

I still remember this and I have taken this advice to heart (and passed it along as well) whenever I write papers or do just about anything else scientifically. So, to this Phys 1a TA whose name I am too lazy to look up right now, I raise my iced latte in a toast.

Another memorable homework incident from my frosh year was in Chem 41 (organic chemistry) when a TA wrote a brief note about my handwriting at the top of the first page and then signed his name. And then right below his signatures were the signatures of the 10-12 other TAs in the course... [I really need to find this Chem 41 assignment and scan that in... ]


Natalia Nowakowska said...

That's interesting - when I'm planning and writing academic history articles and books, I draw lots and lots of diagrams, working out how bits of the argument fit together. But none of them make it into the published version. They are behind the scenes scaffolding really - essential but invisible in the final product.

Mason said...

A "free-body diagram" a particular type of diagram, actually, that allows one to keep track of the forces in a system. It can be rather efficient (for low-dimensional problems). More broadly, diagrams play a huge role in much of my work, and visualizations often key not only to help guide calculations but indeed often to most efficiently and precisely indicate what is going on. In many cases, it is the very crux of the answer.

For most of my papers, the first thing I do when it comes to the rough draft is figure out what the figures will be, and everything else gets written around it. This is also what I teach my research students.