June 10, 2008


Yup, that’s right. I failed. My qualifying exam for the Ph.D. program at Cornell, and, despite a hard year of work, I failed. (This actually happened in the end of May, but I figured it was still worth writing about.)

In some ways, it is actually relieving. Academia sometimes seems to be 90% trying to seem smarter than you really are. It’s somewhat nice to be relieved of some of that presumption.

In other ways, it isn’t surprising to me. I’ve never been very strong in long-term memory of stuff I’ve learned in classes, and undergrad engineering was four years ago. My work at Interstates was only tangentially related to engineering, and I hadn’t seen anything other than high school algebra for quite some time. It’s been a crazy year sometimes—trying to remember differential equations, linear algebra, basic physics, and much more that I learned once upon a time. Nonetheless, I’ve been able to remember a lot (by God’s grace), and ended up doing fairly well in my classes—even if I spent all my time on classes and little on research. Fortunately, that’s changed for the summer, and I can find out if I like research after all.

Also, fortunately, I get another chance. My advisor thinks I can pass next time, and I think so, too, with a bit of work. Unfortunately, it isn’t until January. That leaves more time than I’d like to have it hanging over my head, but that’s ok.

The most challenging part has been a conversation I had with my advisor about whether grad school was really my passion or not. I’m actually quite appreciative of his wisdom: he wants to make sure that I am spending my time in graduate school doing something that I’m passionate about. I don’t know if I am. I’m passionate about following Christ, but little else seems worth spending gobs of energy doing. We’ll see what this summer brings. At this point, I believe that God has brought me to grad school and back into engineering for a reason—but I know that it may not be the reason that I expected.

God is good, and I am trusting Him for all things. We’ll see what the future holds.

Speaking of trusting God, our mechanic just recommended that we junk our car and get a new one. Enough is wrong that his estimate for repair is to pass inspection. So we have some serious thinking and praying to do about that, too.

On a completely different note, I ran across two very interesting articles today. The first regards global warming. Apparently, a new paper proposes that clouds may provide essentially “climate control” that keeps the levels of warming from greenhouse gases in check. It is expected to be controversial, but I think it demonstrates that there is so much in science that we don’t really know. Ironically, science knows much more than most average people seem to thing and much less than scientists tend to insist.

The other interesting article dealt with something at least as controversial: evolution. Apparently, a guy has been watching bacteria for like 20 years (or 44,000 generations), and observed not just the usual micro-evolutionary changes that happened across all his bacteria, but also a change that happened in just one population—they gained the ability to metabolise citrate. I hardly know what that means, other than they can eat something that wasn’t useful for them before. The article notes that this ability used to be a way to differentiate this species from others. (Of course, I’m not sure that there is a good definition for species in biology.)

This is interesting to me, as I’ve realized that I’ve learned very little about evolution in my education. I’m having to learn: our lab does a lot of work with computer algorithms based on evolutionary ideas. And they work surprisingly well, even evidencing what I am rather forced to call “creativity.”

Now don’t hear what I’m not saying: I don’t know what to think about evolution. I don’t believe science just because it is science, unlike so many people around graduate school here. I know that science can be very biased, despite its best attempts at finding truth. But, I also know that Christians sometimes throw science out the door because it is “just science” or because “science is an enemy of religion.” I don’t feel that creationist, intelligent design folks, or evolutions have done a very good job on their debates about the topic: we don’t keep any distinctions between science, theology, and philosophy very clear.

That said, I am far more apt to believe in a six-day creation than I am in materialistic, naturalistic evolution. At the same time, however, I am starting to wonder if there is an option that does justice both to the Biblical text (without just reinterpreting words for the heck of it) and to whatever scientific evidence is truly credible (which may not even be most of it, I don’t know). I guess we’ll see if I have any new insights by the time I’m done with grad school. This should be interesting. :-)

Comment~ permanent link ~ • Category: [News / David / Science and Technology]

© 2005-2007 David and Rita Hjelle