Wednesday, December 9, 2015


I really love the atmosphere at my campus, CUCEI, which is the science and engineering branch of the University of Guadalajara. The people feel authentic and committed to their studies. This may seem like an odd thing to say, but here in Mexico education is greatly segregated by class. Poor people use public education almost exclusively, and rich people use private education only. My family is in what's left of the middle class, and I went to a private university for my engineering degree but then switched to the public system for music and then physics graduate school. There are some nice people in private education, but most are actually shallow and fake; they're only there to kill time while they wait for their parents to hand them the family business or, in the case of many young women, to look for someone to get married to.

(Now that I think about it, I have to back up a bit for the sake of readers outside of Mexico. Public education in Mexico is virtually free all the way through undergraduate degrees; graduate level studies have a mostly symbolic hike in fees that's covered by many grants and scholarships and so it ends up being almost free anyway. How much is “almost free”? Try a tuition of $300 USD for a Master's in Physics per semester. The application fee for my PhD was about $60 USD. By contrast, a semester in a private university is at least $7000 USD in tuition. Remember, average per capita income in Mexico is less than $20,000 per year.)

It was when I made the switch to the public system, first in music and then in physics, that I sometimes felt like I was the one who was shallow and fake. Everybody was there because they actually wanted to, and they were good, hard working people. I'm in touch with almost nobody from my private education years—especially classmates from high school, who I mostly despised then, and still do. Some friends from engineering linger in my social media, but it's mostly my public school friends that I cherish the most and stay in touch with.

One point against public education, however, is the awful amount of paperwork that one has to do for everything. Among the documents I have to produce to complete my PhD application process, I have to submit a copy of each of the following:
  • Master's Degree
  • Master's Thesis Defense Certificate
  • Master's Studies Certificate

So I have to spend time (and some money) procuring three documents that amount to the same thing: that I was a competent physicist at the Master's level. These papers have virtually the same information printed on each of them. One wonders how it could be that, in the digital age, I have to produce hard copies of each when the university itself owns a few. After my Master's, I didn't bother to do the paperwork so they could hand me my actual degree, mostly out of procrastination, all I got was the Thesis Defense Certificate. The procedure takes a few months and, because I have to procure these documents by January 18, I now have to get another document requesting an extension.  Private institutions are way ahead in this regard, and I can remember how my passage through engineering was a breeze as far as administrative paperwork went.

Besides this awful tramitocracia ("paperwork-cracy"), I want to devote the few weeks I have left as a relatively free man to review some tensor analysis, but also to just relax, read a book or two, and watch videos on YouTube for the Holiday season. If the tensor analysis goes well, I may have time to do a piece on the basics of tensors, so that we can actually get started on real physics.

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