Byrne Seminar
The Rutgers Undergraduate Pipeline to Research & Education in Physics (RU-PREP)
Fall 2020 (Cohort 2)

Monday, 3:20 to 4:40pm
online via zoom
Instructor: Alyson Brooks

Instructor Contact Info

Email: abrooks[at]
Office hours: Monday 11-12, or by appointment
Teaching Assistant's email: appel[at]
Teaching Assistant's office hours: Sunday 4-5, Thursday 11-12 (or by appointment)


RU-PREP can roughly be broken up into two halves. In the first half, we’ll equip you with the skills you need to start working on an astro/physics research project. These skills include programming in Python, and critical reading and writing of science literature. In the second half of the course, you’ll work in small groups with a research mentor and a class partner on a guided research project. (Research project descriptions can be found here). There may also be (socially distanced) social events throughout the quarter.

There are coding and writing assignments, designed to hone your coding and science communication skills, respectively. Coding assignments are byte-sized and meant to reinforce what you’ve learned in class. Writing assignments vary in length, and will focus on reading and understanding scientific research papers, and creating a presentation on your research project at the end of the quarter.

No previous research or computing experience is assumed. We will start at the beginning!

Course Materials

There is no textbook for this seminar, but you should expect to take notes. Note that access to a computer outside of the classroom time is also required.

The Python lessons will be taught from instructional iPython Notebooks which will be found in Canvas.

There are also many freely available textbooks on programming in Python, which you could optionally use for Python help (no readings will be assigned from these books). Take a look at this webpage’s free Python texts labeled “beginner” for supplemental texts that might be useful programming references appropriate for this course. Three reference texts that I recommend include Learn Python the Hard Way (which isn’t actually hard!), A Byte of Python, and A Whirlwind Tour of Python.

Teaching Assistant

The course Teaching Assistant (TA) is Sabrina Appel. Sabrina is a third year PhD student in astronomy. Sabrina’s research focuses on computational astronomy, including theoretical modeling of star formation.

The TA is an additional resource for you to use throughout this entire academic year (yes, even after the seminar ends), and maybe even beyond. Sabrina is available to guide you on help you with homework, research, selecting courses, and in-class assignments. She will be present at the in-class exercises. The TA is around to help you with anything you may want to talk about. In fact, you will be required to periodically meet with Sabrina to guarantee that you take advantage of this excellent resource!

Grading Policies

The Byrne seminars are offered credit/no credit. To receive credit for the seminar, you are expected to participate. Every writing and coding assignment will be graded on a 10 and 20 point scale, respectively. To receive credit for the seminar, you must achieve 70% of the points. Additionally, you must participate in the final research project and presentation, or you will not receive credit for the seminar. Finally, the Byrne seminars require that you not miss more than two classes. Missing more than two classes will result in no credit. If you expect to miss a class, please use the University absence reporting website to indicate the date and reason for your absence. An email is automatically sent to me.

Late homework: Seek arrangement with me at least 24 hours in advance if you think you have a legitimate excuse for late work.

Re-grades: You will be allowed to make corrections to any mistakes on the coding assignments and have it regraded.


All assignments will be found under the "Modules" link from our Canvas course site, and you will be required to submit your completed assignments through Canvas as well.

Please note that for each writing assignment, I will require the use of turnitin, which will scan your document for signs of plagiarism (which is never allowed). When your writing assignments ask you to answer straightforward questions about reading assignments, please do your best to answer the questions using your own words and explanations. Students will be held to the Rutgers policy on academic integrity.

Coding assignments are meant to be straightforward practice of what we’ve learned in class. All assignments come from the online resource “Learn Python The Hard Way” (LPTHW). To complete an assignment, please create a new Jupyter notebook in your home directory when you are logged in to emu.

Schedule: Topics and Assignments

This syllabus may be modified as the semester progresses.

Social events will be scheduled throughout the semester. We will schedule these soon and update the calendar accordingly.

Sept 8 Introduction to RU-PREP  
Sept 14 Discuss first reading/writing assignment;
Intro to Python: notebooks/numpy
Writing assignment #1
Sept 21 Research project pitches Notebook 1/Coding assignment #1
Sept 28 Python coding, cont'd Meeting with TA;
Ranked projects;
Coding assignment #2
Oct 5 Begin research projects;
Python cont'd
Coding assignment #3;
Meet with project mentor(s)
Oct 12 Research projects Meet with either project mentor or TA
Oct 19 Discuss second reading/writing assignment;
Research projects
Writing assignment #2;
Meet with either project mentor or TA
Oct 26 Research projects Meet with either project mentor or TA
Nov 2 How to give a talk;
Elevator pitches
Meet with either project mentor or TA
Nov 9 Final presentations to department  



Here are some web resources you may find illuminating or indispensable:

Students with disabilities should consult the department policy.

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Astrophysics at RutgersDepartment of Physics and AstronomyRutgers University

Last updated: Oct 9, 2019 by Alyson Brooks