TJ’s Guide to RPI

It’s been two years since I’ve graduated with my PhD from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY. When I graduated with my bachelors from the University of British Columbia, I wrote a little guide to the university just for fun, now I’m finally going to do the same for RPI. I enjoyed my four years as a graduate student. It was a very different experience than my undergrad due to the difference between the schools, between the cities they are located in, and the fact that I was a grad student instead of a naive undergrad. Like my “guide” to UBC, this post has some general info on RPI, but it’s mostly focused on things that I found relevant, interesting or fun during my time there. More information can be found in RPI’s website, Wikipedia, and the other links contained in this post.

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My Graduate School Experience in Summary

Years ago… well up to two years ago I had the habit or writing a yearly reflections article on what I did in school and just life in general. I forgot or didn’t bother to do it for 2013, and now it’s 2014 and I’m finally done with graduate school, so I might as well summarize my whole graduate school experience. My four years of grad school has been good overall, and I can’t complain much given that I graduated “on time”. Read on to find out my thoughts on my grad school career, looking for a job, and various other things I did while I was trying to become Dr. TJ.

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You may now call me Dr. TJ

That’s right. After 21 years through the formal education system (not counting kindergarten), I have received my PhD degree in electrical engineering. I received my degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute located in Troy, New York, USA. I’ve spent the better part of four years at RPI working on power systems research, and also got my Master degree from here. I put considerable effort and hard work into earning my PhD, and the last semester had been somewhat hectic with me trying to finish on time. But I did it. I prevailed, and this closes another chapter of my life. I consider myself fortunate to have met my adviser, who is probably the nicest research adviser a grad student can hope for, and also good colleagues and friends through my time at RPI. Of course, I have to thank my family for their love and support as well.

The commencement ceremony I attended for my PhD may mark the last time I’m recognized as a student, but we all know learning is a life-long process, and I’ll strive to learn and apply my knowledge to something beneficial and worthwhile in my career. I’m still looking for a job, but things are looking better now that I have more time to focus on the job search. Hopefully I’ll have some good news to share soon. Other than the job search, I’ll also be taking some vacation time to travel around, as this summer may be the last extended vacation I’ll have for a while.

PhD Dissertation Approved, Almost Done

Just to share another bit of good news for myself. My PhD dissertation has finally been approved by my university, and that should be the last of the graduation requirements. It took about two weeks to get the dissertation approved since I had submit two revisions. The school has some strict requirements for the formatting and references. Now that the dissertation has been approved, I should be all set to receive my PhD degree later this month. Although I haven’t officially graduated yet, I can probably be referred to as Dr. TJ from now on :lol: . Has a nice ring to it.

I’m of course elated that my graduate school journey is coming to an end, but I’d be happier if I had secured a job. I’m still looking for that elusive first job, so wish me luck.

Passed My Defense, PhD Almost Within Reach

I passed my PhD dissertation defense recently, which means I’m about 95% done with my PhD degree. The last two weeks I have been busy preparing for my defense. The whole thing with my car getting totaled was a distraction, but I was focused enough to get my presentation in order. The defense is of course is last big exam in the process of getting a PhD. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, but on the other hand I have been working on my research for 3 years, and I’m pretty confident about what I have done. And of course my adviser wouldn’t have agreed to let me defend if he didn’t think I could pass.

Passing the dissertation defense is a big milestone, but I have still have things to do before I can graduate, hence the “95%”. I still have to revise my dissertation a little bit at the suggestion of my committee, and also go through the administrative process of submitting the final dissertation to the school. I’m also committed to finishing the projects that I’m working on before I leave and… go into the working world is what I should be writing, but I still have to find a job first. So I have no shortage of things to do in the next while, but at least defense is over and done with.

To celebrate, I went for some spring skiing today. We went to a bigger ski resort this time, and there were enough green trails to last the whole day. The weather was good, but the snow was a little rough so I actually slipped two or three times on the green trails. Overall it was still very fun to go skiing. This is probably my last ski trip for this ski season.

Work and Winter

I realize I haven’t posted here in a little while. I left Vancouver a couple weeks ago and returned to the little town in the Northeastern region of the US to continue my PhD studies. I’m trying to graduate in May, and I am also trying find a job. The graduation part looks like it’s on track; the job part isn’t so sure. I have been in contact with some HR people, but haven’t gotten any interviews. It’s hard to get past the HR people, and it won’t be easy for a guy like me who doesn’t have much recent work experience. To be honest, I probably should put a bit more effort into my job hunt, but at this moment I want to make sure I graduate first.

This is going to be a good workout.

Returning the Northeast also meant a return to the long and often snowy and frigid winter. The weather in Vancouver was quite good during my time there. There were some rainy days, but there were a number of days that didn’t rain, and even a few days of sunshine. And of course, the temperature is cool but not really that cold. In contrast to the mild winter in the West Coast, the Northeastern winter this year is quite tough. I avoided a couple of storms and a “polar vortex” by traveling home, but I have already been treated to two polar vortexes and two significant snow storms. Going out in the morning when it’s -20 Celsius out during the polar vortex was somewhat painful. I haven’t felt that cold since the 2010-2011 “Snowmagaddon” winter. The most recent snow storm also left over a foot of snow, and so for the first time I actually had to use my snow shovel to dig out my car (see photo). I bought the shovel after I bought my car in 2011, and I have never used the shovel until today. The previous two winters were not that bad, and my SUV can drive over a couple inches of snows without problem. A foot and a half is a different story though. It took me about half an hour to clear the snow off the car and shovel the snow behind my car so I can back out and park into another spot. It was a nice work out, and the good thing was that it wasn’t that cold outside. Hopefully this snow dump is the last blast of winter we’ll see this winter. I don’t know if this winter matches up to the 2010-2011 winter in terms of total snow fall, but it’s getting there.

Another Step Closer to the PhD

It’s been a busy week thus far, but things have been going well. This week I passed my doctoral candidacy exam, which means I can now be called a PhD candidate instead of just a PhD student. Pretty cool, right :lol: ? The candidacy exam is just another hurdle to jump past in my quest to obtain the mystifying doctoral degree. Our candidacy exam involves presenting a proposal of my dissertation research to the doctoral committee, followed by some Q&A. The exam wasn’t too bad, but I was pretty tired afterwards. I’m just glad I passed.

After the candidacy exam, the next and final hurdle is dissertation defense, which I’m hoping to take next semester. I think I have a lot of presentable results already, but it’s probably a good idea to show some improvement between my candidacy report and the final dissertation. Still a lot of work ahead, but I’m taking this one step at a time.

Thanksgiving and Black Friday Ramblings and My New Monitor

I hope everybody had a great Thanksgiving. I sure enjoyed my four-day Thanksgiving break. I didn’t travel anywhere, but I didn’t do any work on Thanksgiving and Black Friday and I enjoyed that a lot. Like previous years, I went to my aunt’s place for Thanksgiving dinner, and as always there was a mountain of delicious food that cannot be finished even though there were a lot of people. It was also nice to catch up with relative and acquaintances at the dinner. Unlike previous years though, I didn’t make the midnight trip to the clothing outlets. I didn’t have any clothing items I wanted to buy, and I find extra sleep very valuable these days. Instead, I spent mostly on electronic items these days, both for myself and for my parents. I bought most of the items online, but I did go out both on Thanksgiving night and Black Friday to shop.

The so-called Black Friday sales seem to start earlier every single year, and this year a bunch of the big name retailer opened their doors at 6 PM on Thanksgiving… the exact time when people usually start eating turkey. The online sales were even earlier and some started at midnight on Black Friday. I think they might as well call the whole thing the Thanksgiving sale from now on. Most of the really popular doorbuster items, like the iPads, were quickly sold out online or in store. I visited a Best Buy after Thanksgiving dinner at around 9:30 PM. The store was crowded, but there wasn’t a line up to get in because most of the really sought-after items were long gone. Luckily for me, there were still a couple of those $100 24″ Dell LCD monitors, so I quickly bought one. LCDs have really fallen in price over the years. I remember when I was in high school, my family bought a 17″ no-name LCD for $500 and it was considered cheap at the time. That LCD monitor actually broke and I had to fix it myself. Now 24″ 1080p screens from reputable brands can be found near $100 which I find amazing. It also makes me feel old :wink: . Anyways, below is a mini first-impressions on my new monitor.

Read More Year 7

It’s that time of the year again. No, I’m not talking about back to school, although I will address that topic later in this post. I’m referring to the anniversary of my personal domain at, which has been in existence for 7 years. This year I worked on my websites a bit more than previous years, but in honesty I didn’t do that much either. The biggest change was to give this blog a brand new theme, which I worked on during winter holidays last year. My websites are chugging along as usual, and I’m glad to say that my websites, particularly the good ol’ crabbing guide, are now more popular than ever. The increased traffic also means my ad-serving venture is going better than ever, although I don’t think I can live off of my websites quite just yet. As long as I’m alive and able, I’ll keep maintaining my websites and post some updates on this blog every so often. While I may not be as enthusiastic about playing around with web technologies as before, I still find joy in running some websites and I hope they’ll at least be a good read to some visitors.

Moving on to another topic, classes have started again at my university. However, unlike the previous three years, I don’t need to go to class anymore. I have fulfilled my coursework credits for my degree, and I will spend this final school year working on my PhD dissertation. Not having to attend class, study for exams and do homework feels very nice of course, but this is certainly not the time for me to slack off if I want to graduate sooner rather than later. If everything goes well I’ll graduate in May. There is still a lot of work to though to get to that point, but I’m motivated by the fact that the finish line is finally in sight. Wish me luck.

The End of Another Semester

It’s late May, which means another semester and also school year is in the history books. This was my third school year and sixth academic semester (not counting summer sessions) as a grad student. I think I fulfilled the course credit requirements for my degree, which means I don’t have to take any more courses in the coming fall, and I’m pretty happy about that. I’ve been a PhD student for almost three years and it’s getting to the point where I have to really start working on my dissertation so I don’t take too long to graduate, and not having to take courses during the academic semesters will give me more time to work on research. I’m not ruling out taking one course in a semester, but I have the choice of taking only courses that I like. My course load over the previous semester wasn’t heavy, but the courses I took left some things to be desired. Anyways, I’m glad the semester is over. Hopefully I’ll make good progress on research in the summer. I’ll also try to travel around a bit. I don’t plan on going far, but there are some nice natural scenery and parks not too far from my university and I plan on enjoying the great outdoors a bit more.