The Next Three to Five

Another typical Thursday night. I’m in my office, doing homework. The unusual part is that this is my last homework assignment of the academic year and thus of my master’s program. That’s right: by this time next week, I will have fulfilled all the requirements to earn a master’s in statistics! Yay!

My graduation is in mid-June, only about two and a half weeks from now. My brother, sister, and parents are all coming in to see me walk across the stage. My brother will only be able to stay for the weekend of graduation, but my parents and sister will stick around for an extra few days so we can take a mini-vacation, probably to a nearby lake or national park (and by nearby, I mean two to four hours away by car).

Of course, the story doesn’t end there. If only it were that simple. I spent a good portion of the last year debating if I want to pursue a Ph.D. or not. With all the high hopes my advisor has for me and all the opportunities that my advisor has given me (and continues to give me), it’s difficult to walk away from continuing to work with him for the next three to five years.

Therefore, I’m not walking away. My advisor is jointly appointed between the statistics and environmental science departments, so when I was applying for Ph.D. programs, I was given the option to choose to earn my Ph.D. in either department. After a lot of debate (with myself), I eventually decided to pursue a Ph.D. in environmental science instead of statistics. Since I will still have the same advisor, I will undoubtedly do Ph.D. level statistics research either way. However, as part of the environmental science department, I will get to learn where my data comes from and how it was measured. In a sense, I will become a more complete scientist, rather than just a data analyst.

After my week off with my family after graduation (and after attending a wedding in North Carolina the following weekend), I will be right back to work at Prestigious University for the summer, getting a head start on my Ph.D. research.

In other academic related news, remember that I was preparing over last summer to be the TA for a new class that my advisor was teaching? The class was last term (January – March), and it was a huge hit! I worked extremely hard (one big reason why my blog posts are so sparse this year), but it all paid off: I won a teaching assistant award! Yay! There will be an award luncheon/ceremony the day before graduation where I will receive a certificate and a modest sum of money. My family is visiting a day early so they can all attend the luncheon too!

I’ve been a teaching assistant for many years, but I had never won an award before. There was only one teaching assistant award given in the entire environmental science department for the whole academic year, and I was the lucky winner. Not a bad way to start my Ph.D.!


Only One Step Ahead

My summer is still as busy as ever. My research is going well, so my advisor told me to set it aside for a couple weeks to focus on making the lecture notes for the new class he’s teaching next year. He says it’s easier to write notes than do research, which is somewhat true, but writing notes can be equally time consuming, especially since I just learned the material I’m writing about! I also have to find/create data sets for examples and write homework problems, all without an official textbook (since my advisor and his colleague are creating the class themselves).

When I taught calculus in math graduate school, I had a strict syllabus and a single textbook, and I still spent many hours writing my lecture notes. Now I’m dealing with topics I barely know and writing notes for someone else. I’m only one step ahead of the students and am expected to write like an expert. It’s definitely an interesting and demanding task. I keep telling myself that this is a great learning experience, but I’m really stressed out.

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.

Multiple Resumes

As with anyone who is looking into multiple career paths, I have multiple versions of my resume. My actuary resume says that I passed the first actuarial exam. My teaching resume is more of a curriculum vitae and goes into a little more detail about my math related experience. Now I’m trying to make a Target resume to apply for ETL positions, but I’m not sure of how to make it perfect.

I included my research experience in math on both my actuary and teaching resumes, but I don’t think research experience is really necessary to put on my ETL resume. I have some leadership experience back from my high school days, but that might be a stretch to include. Is experience from over seven years ago really relevant? Especially experience from when I was a teenager?

My job experience as a sales floor team member is crucial for my ETL resume, since Target likes that I already work for them. Unfortunately, I’m having trouble describing what exactly I do at my job. How do I make what I do sound important, especially to people who should already know what I do?

Meanwhile, I completely omit my experience at Target on my actuary and teaching resumes. I guess it makes sense that manual labor at a menial job isn’t particularly important for professional jobs. But on the other hand, doesn’t working at Target show that I work well in a team environment and can be friendly in front of guests/customers/students/clients? Doesn’t leaving my job off my resumes seem like I’ve been unemployed for at least a couple months?

Being Practical

I tutored my cousin today. It was pretty fun to explain some of the math that I’ve been learning these last couple months. Explaining math always makes me wonder if becoming an actuary is really for me, or if my heart is really in teaching.

I like teaching a lot. Getting to know my students and seeing them progress is very rewarding. When I taught a couple calculus classes in graduate school, I often spent more time preparing for teaching my class than I spent working on my own research. I’m pretty good at teaching too; my students gave me flattering evaluations.

After I finished my masters, I starting thinking about what’s most practical rather than what’s perhaps most fulfilling. Becoming an actuary is the most financially rewarding way to utilize my advanced math training (besides cheating at gambling or something). While teaching is great, I would make half the money that an actuary makes, probably less. If I want a chance at being financially secure and be able to provide for my eventual child (and maybe my parents in their old age), shouldn’t I choose a profession that will help me achieve those goals?

The actuary field is interesting too. Learning about how to use the math behind insurance and risk management has been really fun. Unfortunately, the road to becoming an actuary is very difficult and insanely competitive. This first exam for which I’m preparing is already pretty tough, but the rest of the exams are just as difficult, if not more so. I don’t know if I have what it takes to make it.

As I get older, I’m starting to think more like an adult. That is, I’m starting to consider long-term goals and thinking about what I need over what I want. It’s weird, realizing I’m not a kid anymore. Are being practical and being happy mutually exclusive?

No matter what, I have to just give it my all and study for my upcoming actuarial exam. After the exam, I can decide whether becoming an actuary is right for me. If I think too much about it now, I will screw up my chances of passing the exam and the decision will be made for me.

Oh, and speaking about my cousin, I tried not to say too much when she mentioned that Dumbledore is gay. It seemed like she didn’t think it made a big difference (which it really doesn’t). I wonder if she would think the same way if she knew I’m gay. Even if she would, I still won’t tell her for a while anyway, knowing how gossip spreads in my family.