Sophomore Fall Semester

Posted on 31 Dec 2021 by Aadi Bajpai

Last updated 08 Jan 2022 at 9:11 pm

It has been a while since I wrote something and I wanted to remedy that. I figured I could write more and less, as in more posts but shorter in length and content. To that end, writing about my past semester academically while it is mostly fresh in my mind seemed to be a good idea, I had planned to write something for my spring semester along the lines of what classes I took, how I did, what I thought of them and so on but it never ended up happening. I also think writing about classes and such is good because it's not that interesting to read about college classes but easy to write on since it's just my experience.

This semester I took 17 hours worth of classes:

I am not going to talk about them in an organized manner with nice subheadings because that doesn't seem fun, I will talk about them in order though. There isn't much to say about some of them but for the others I could talk a fair bit. Let us start.

The CS Seminar class wasn't something super interesting, it's like a 50m once-a-week class that's required for the CS major, every week is a guest lecture about some topic about like working in the industry, ethics, personal responsibilities etc. After every class there is a short quiz. There were just two interesting instances I took away from this class: 1) I saw people actually sleeping for some of the lectures and having a good time I guess. 2) For one of the lectures hardly any people showed up but prof. saw almost all of the class completing the previous quiz so he cancelled the lecture and only let the people in the class at that moment do a throwaway quiz for the points (it was like what is Professor Stringfellow's favourite color).

Microeconomics was fun in the sense that I got to know about stuff I didn't have much prior knowledge about, having never taken economics properly other than a minor segment in grades 9th and 10th. Professor Ghandi was a really passionate lecturer and I especially found game theory interesting, sometimes you see things in real life that closely mimic it. There is definitely something to be said about class organization though—or the lack thereof—we didn't get our second midterm scores until after the final exam.

There is not much I have to say about Digital Systems to be honest. Professor was a nice person. Grading was a bit weird at times. It happened.

Automata Theory was good. The Professor was super chill, one of the only ones who still recorded classes and had the Zoom option. The class turned out to be reading based which was a bit of a bummer because honestly, who does prereadings. Thankfully, since my friends Sam and Ben were in the class, and Ben is the sort of fellow who writes Turing machines on napkins in flights when bored, we grinded before each exam and managed to do really well. There was an extra credit assignment that had you write a parser for a context free grammar that I quite enjoyed, you can find my parser here. There were more extra credit opportunities as well, but the incentive wasn't as high since I was doing well in the class and even if I did more extra credit I couldn't skip the last exam so I didn't do it.

That leaves us with the two math classes I was in, interestingly, Multivariable is a prerequisite to Linear Algebra so most people do them in consecutive semesters but I saw they could be co-requisites as well so decided to take them at the same time. I don't think that's the best decision for everyone since both classes promise to be a lot of work but it was doable. I especially wanted to get done with linalg asap since it unlocks the Cryptography class, which I am interested to take.

Linear Algebra was my favourite class this semester, and the class that had the most work. I enjoyed learning the stuff after vector spaces since all that was new to me but it was nice to see how all of it came together as we progressed. At times it did feel a bit fake since all of the constructs were essentially made up, if no one ever defined a vector space then you probably would never need to find eigenvalues either. I liked how it was all very methodical and how the concepts were very interlinked and abstracted away. One thing I found that helped me was to reason about things that I didn't immediately get and look them up or ask my Professor after lecture if it was something in the lecture, e.g. why eigenvectors from different eigenvalues are linearly independent. That helped me build an intuition on how to reason about things and have a better understanding. This was also the only class that had regular homework and quizzes so that forced me to regularly learn stuff as well, which I am sure helped. I think I am interested to pursue linear algebra further, though I am not sure in what manner.

Multivariable calculus was an interesting class, it was very different from both the single-variable calculus classes I had taken in prior semesters, which were much harder computation-wise. The class was at 8am, twice a week so that was a challenge in itself that I overcame, never missing any class due to oversleep. The content initially did not seem difficult, the first midterm was on vectors and such, most of which I had done before. We had "suggested" homework problems, but I didn't really do them and just looked at them and the solutions1 to them the day before the exam so I "knew" how to solve a similar problem in case. This along with going through my notes and making sure I understand the concepts seemed to work well for the first two exams, though I committed an embarrassing mistake on the second one.

We had a hard question based on one of the proofs we did for gradient vectors that I managed to do perfectly but one of the questions just wanted us to draw a gradient vector and I had no idea where to draw the arrow since I guess I never looked at the pretty pictures in the textbook. That arrow cost me 5 marks and was one of the only errors I made on the exam and it seemed reasonably something I should know. This little study strategy of mine didn't work for the third and last midterm, since the topics were the hardest and needed good practice to do fast and correctly. While I didn't do as bad as I thought, I didn't do as well as I wanted to. It didn't matter since our final would replace our lowest midterm and I had done well enough on the first two.2

I had a very tight finals "week" in that it was 4 finals across 3 days: econ on wednesday 9am, linalg on thursday 7pm, digital systems on friday 9am and multi calc on friday 3pm.

Let us now talk about this finals sequence and how it went, since it is evident the multi exam is very much a squeeze but also one I need to do really well in to replace the midterm 3 grade.


Since I knew multi would be my biggest blocker as I wouldn't get any time before the exam, I spent Saturday evening, Sunday and Monday the week of the exams working through the last chapter of multi topic by topic doing the homework problems. That made me more confident and helped me figure out how to link everything together, this stuff all came down to figuring out the right parametrization for the problem and then the solving was reduced to previously done stuff that I also went through and did some examples for. Professor Gieri held office hours on Tuesday and Thursday, so I went on Tuesday just to go over my midterm 2 so I could finally know how to draw gradient vectors, he was super helpful and seemed to believe in me more than I did at that point.

For the rest of the Tuesday I just prepared for econ and took the exam early Wednesday morning then came back and slept for a while, then I worked through some more of multi stuff and not linear algebra since I was fairly confident and the exam was in the evening. On Thursday, I went to Professor Gieri's office hours again and discussed my midterm 3. To my delight but not really, one of the problems I made errors on turned out to be one I had solved in practice a couple of days ago which was good since now I knew how to do it but also if I had practiced earlier... oh well. The best thing I did that office hour session was to go over all the types of integrals we did in class and how to solve them, which solidified the info in my head and condensed it to be very manageable.

After my linear algebra exam that day, I fell asleep till like 1am which was unplanned and delayed any plans for sleep before the digital systems exam. That went well though, and I finished early so I had a couple of hours to rest and eat something before I needed to prepare for multi. The one thing I really wanted to go over before the exam was the method of Lagrange multipliers since it was somewhat tangential to everything but could easily have a question on the exam.

The exam went well, notable stuff was that there was indeed a question on Lagrange multipliers. The question on drawing gradient vectors also made a comeback so I was happy that I took the time to learn that. Some of the values simplified really well, which had looked hard on surface so I was sort of worried if I did something wrong and it was too good to be true. I ended up doing well so it all worked out.

final thoughts

It was my hardest semester yet in terms of classes and workload but also the semester I performed the best at, missing nothing, so I am happy with that. Next semester I'm in algorithms, stats, programming languages, ethics, bio + lab, and a business module on essentials of financial reporting so let's see how that goes. Anyway writing this was fun, hopefully I write more on topics more fun than this soon. I have been trying some Nix things here and there so maybe something about that.

tags: vanderbilt

  1. Thanks to the person who gave me the book and the solutions manual for free, it was nice having the physical books. I'll pass it on to someone else next semester to continue the tradition.

  2. I wonder if a part of me didn't put in as much effort because of this, even though I tried not to think about it.