Notes from Nicole
- Submitted by njsgaynor on Wed, 03/05/2014 - 11:36
I started at the University of Wisconsin as a declared computer engineer. Early on, maybe even before classes began, I thought I would rather do something with computers rather than study computers themselves, though I had no idea what. I took Chemistry, calculus, geology, and meteorology in my first semester. Chemistry I detested, mostly because of the lab work*. In calculus I had difficulty motivating myself to learn techniques that had no clear application**. Geology and meteorology were pretty neat. I got to learn about how different kinds of rocks form and deform and why sun often seems to surround summer storms while overcast skies bookend winter storms. I'd seen these things and now I could explain them.
Geology or meteorology? Geology and meteorology? No, not both. The majors did not overlap enough and college was expensive. I needed to graduate in four years or less. Weather affects people every day and the idea of doing a kind of fortune telling (forecasting) fascinated me. I recalled camping at Devil's Lake State Park in Baraboo, Wis., when I was perhaps ten years old. The tornado sirens went off probably half a dozen times in two days and thunder rumbled intermittently throughout the day and night. The worst weather we saw that time was torrential rain and high winds. In between the storms it was sunny summer. In another incident, strong winds took down half of a Boxelder tree in our yard and in several others the road next to our house became a river. Like many other people, the destructive force of the weather enthralled me.
I chose meteorology.
The more I learned about weather and climate, the more I realized that the boundaries between fields are artificial and that my major was not only about the atmosphere. For example, a flood depends on how porous and saturated the soil is, how quickly and where water runs off, and how much and where it rains. The porosity and saturation of the soil depend on plant cover and prior rainfall. These intersections between fields–Earth science in its entirety–are where some of the most interesting stuff happens, in my opinion.
If I had lived in southern California, perhaps I would have majored in geology.
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*I no longer dislike it and wish I'd kept my book. I didn't know yet that college textbooks can be very good references later.
**Near the end of the semester I caught on that the largest gradient ran perpendicular to the steepest slope on a topographical map. The professor was Russian (I think) and I had a hard time hearing the difference between d, t, v, b, and z in the large lecture hall. This lack of practicality kept me unmotivated and fidgety in all of my college math classes.