Busy Summer

The school term ended swiftly about a month ago. My finals were all scheduled on the first day of finals week, and I didn’t do nearly as well as I wanted on them. I don’t have perfect grades anymore, but I’ve made peace with that now.

The summer term is in full swing now. I’m still working on two research projects with my advisor, although one of them is wrapping up very soon. My advisor wants to submit my research paper (for the project that’s almost done) for publication in a prominent statistics journal. This paper will be my first publication, which is a big deal, since I’m still only a master’s student. A publication will put me at an advantage when I’m applying for the Ph.D. program in the fall (assuming I’m applying for the Ph.D. program, about which I’m still undecided).

As if I didn’t have enough on my plate, my advisor made me the TA for a course that he is co-creating with a colleague. Over this summer, I will be helping to make lecture notes and coming up with homework problems. When the course is actually taught next year, I will be the TA and hold the lab sessions. It’s a great opportunity, since this is the most hands-on experience I’ve had so far in creating a course. Not only that, but this course is an advanced topics course in statistics that’s targeted for 8-10 Ph.D. students in the environmental science department. I haven’t even learned half of the topics (yet), but I’ll be a lowly master’s student being the TA for a Ph.D. level class! Crazy! I’m sure it will be a very different experience from when I was the instructor for a freshmen level differential calculus class in math graduate school.

My term break between the spring and summer overlapped with my brother’s break between medical school and residency, so my parents and he visited me for about a week. We did a lot of the more outdoorsy and touristy things around my university that I wouldn’t do on my own. I showed my parents around the university campus and even found a huge museum that I didn’t know existed! I really don’t get out of my apartment enough.

About a week ago, I went to a Pride event with the couple who live in my building (my two main friends here). The last time I went to a Pride event was five years ago in Canada with my two math grad school besties. Of course, I wore my It Gets Better shirt. My friends and I didn’t do much besides see the tail end of the parade and visit the various booths, but it was wonderful seeing so many people celebrating and supporting gay people.

Summer Opportunities And Beyond

A few weeks ago, my professor from last term approached me during a departmental tea. She told me that some people at a nearby (nationally recognized) physics laboratory asked her if she knew of any good students to do an internship over the summer, and she thought of me! I apparently was the best in my class last term, so she offered me the internship first. We had an informational meeting yesterday morning. I haven’t decided whether to take it yet (for reasons which will be clear later).

Meanwhile, I’m trying to finalize a tentative plan (even though a tentative plan is, by definition, not final) for what courses I want to take for the rest of my master’s program. The list of elective courses contains many courses in many other disciplines besides statistics, such as political science, biology, or economics (at the graduate level). Unfortunately, my background is quite focused on math and statistics, so taking an elective course in a different department would require a lot of extra work to get comfortable with the background material.

My current professor (for my difficult class) and I have been talking a bit over the recent weeks. He’s pretty close to my age (because he’s a genius who started college early and I’m old for a graduate student), so it’s really easy to talk to him. It also helps that he thinks very highly of me (because I didn’t fail his quiz as badly as everyone else). Because he used to be the master’s advisor, I asked him to help me make my tentative course plan.

After a brief look over my grades and course history (I made a spreadsheet), my professor said I could have applied for the Ph.D. program right from the beginning. From what he’s seen in me so far this term, he has a very good impression of me. He wants me to do research with him next term and continue over the summer, even offering to support me (using one of his numerous research grants) over the summer! He thinks I’m good enough to possibly get a paper submitted by the end of the summer.

My professor wants me to apply for the Ph.D. program (in the fall) and take as many first-year Ph.D. level courses as I can. That way, my last year in the master’s program would count as the first year of Ph.D. program. If I did manage to submit a paper, a letter of recommendation from my professor would basically be an automatic acceptance.

I thought I knew what I wanted when I came here, but now I’m not so sure. Having someone have so much confidence in my abilities as to offer me research funding over the summer means a lot to me. I want to believe that my professor is right when he says that I have what it takes to get a Ph.D., but I don’t know if I do. And even if I do have what it takes, I’m not sure if a Ph.D. is really what I want. On the other hand, I should keep my options open, right?

My current dilemma is that I have two great summer opportunities, but I can only choose one. A computational physics laboratory internship or a more theoretical research assistantship? The larger dilemma (which affects the summer dilemma) is that I don’t have a clear idea of what I should do in the long term. Should I stick with a master’s or stay for a Ph.D.? If I did stay, should I go into industry or stay in academia?

My professor from last term wants me to make a decision about the internship in about a week, so I have to decide pretty quickly. And I’m not known for making decisions quickly.

Failure Is Relative

I had a quiz last week in my difficult class. It was meant to be a way to weed out the people who weren’t supposed to be in the class (i.e., don’t have the prerequisites). I felt fairly comfortable with the course material up until that point (I even explained the class notes to my study group), but I still failed the quiz. It was pretty demoralizing.

Fortunately, failure is relative. I earned about 56% on the quiz, but a 50% was considered an A. My professor seemed to think that I did a “superb” job. He even said he was impressed by me.

I’ve talked to my professor outside of class a few times, so he knows how hard I work. He’s seen me helping another student too. He clearly has a good impression of me, because he’s mentioned (on more than one occasion) that he might have a research project for me to work on that would count towards my master’s degree! I’ve only been in his class for less than four weeks!

I actually have a small fear of doing academic research. Because of my experiences in math graduate school, I don’t have much confidence in my research abilities. I’m very afraid of not meeting my professor’s expectations. On the other hand, working with my professor would be a great opportunity. I wonder if doing research would be different this time around?

The Prestige

I have to decide on which graduate school to attend by the end of the week. My decision as of Monday night was all but set, but then I received an email yesterday morning that changed everything. The email was an acceptance letter to a very prestigious university. I never thought I would ever get into a school like this one. I never even entertained the possibility of getting in. I always felt that it was beyond my caliber.

My dad has been ecstatic ever since I told him. He has told me repeatedly that this is a dream school: most people only dream of being accepted to this school. He keeps saying “How can you say no to (name of the university)?!”

I have always felt that prestige is highly overrated. The content of a product is far more important than the label. If you go to a well known school but learn nothing, the degree is meaningless. What you learn matters more than where you learn it from. Unfortunately, from what I have seen and heard, prestige does matter. Employers often do care where the degree is from.

Despite the amazing reputation of this school, I’m ambivalent. Having the name of a very prestigious university on my resume/CV would definitely be a plus. I don’t know if I’m resisting because my dad is so insistent that I go (teenage rebellion, except that I’m not a teenager) or because this might actually be the best school for me and I don’t want it to be. I was ready to accept a different offer, and now I have to reevaluate everything. How terrible would it be if the decision I make coincides with what my parents want?

Do you remember in Gilmore Girls how Rory was always set on going to Harvard but then was accepted to Yale too? She made a pro-con list and felt that Yale was the better choice, even though Harvard had been her only goal for years. My dilemma feels a lot like that (except I’m not deciding between two Ivy League schools).

A Great Opportunity

I’ve been in a pensive mood for the last few days. I can’t decide which offer to accept for graduate school. I’ve been distracting myself by watching Merlin. Needless to say, I’ve watched a lot of episodes of Merlin. I’m definitely addicted. I love the themes of destiny, friendship, and sacrifice. They seem oddly appropriate for the decision I have to make.

I’ve been trying to find an excuse to return to the Canadian city where I went to graduate school (the first time) ever since I left there three years ago. I now have the opportunity I was looking for. On the other hand, the school which accepted me to their Ph.D. program is offering a very tempting fellowship. The prestigious fellowship they are offering me is only given to one or two people a year, so I’m basically their top choice. They want me bad.

No matter what decision I choose, I will be both accepting and rejecting a great opportunity. The question is which opportunity I am more willing to live without.

Ph.D. + Money

The university that wanted me to apply to their Ph.D. program sent me their formal acceptance email today! In addition, they are giving me a large and prestigious fellowship award that extends for five years (assuming I consistently meet certain requirements)!

Five years of full financial support! This decision just keeps getting more and more difficult to make!

When One Door Closes…

Late last week, I received a rejection letter to one of my top three choices for graduate school. I was disappointed, but it was still early. I had not heard back from very many schools yet. But today, I received emails from two universities accepting me to their graduate programs, one of which is from one of my top three choices!

The top choice that accepted me is the same school from which I had previously earned my master’s degree in math (it’s in Canada). The other school that accepted me is in southern California, and it’s neither a backup nor one of the top three choices.

When one door closes, two more open. I still have to wait for more acceptances and/or rejections before I can make my final decision. The more doors that open, the more difficult to choose which door to take. But two acceptance emails sure makes for an exciting day!

Time to celebrate with some Lost and Merlin!