It feels a bit odd to be staring into my third autumn quarter here. It’s odd partly because I was sure this day would never come: the battle to get into any doctoral programme, let alone this one, looked too steep to be feasible. But it’s also odd because, once again—to my surprise—I’m in the shoes of a clueless first-year unsure about how the system works and intimidated by the well-meaning but ultimately useless advice offered by more experienced students.
Of course, I’m less clueless now. I at least know how to navigate the university, even if not the doctoral programme. Indeed, to incoming masters students, I am one of those experienced students eager to offer well-meaning but useless counsel—and, make no mistake, I’m guilty of doing so, too. We too often forget that our anecdotes are not canonical. And I’ve been neglecting to encourage new students to “enjoy your time here” just as much as everyone else. But by far the biggest difference between me two years ago and me today is that I’ve developed the internal strength to catch myself when I start to feel intimidated or want to quit again (something that used to be a daily occurrence), and to consciously try to talk myself out of those thoughts, albeit with varying degrees of success.
I’m looking forward to doing less coursework and spending more time in research projects. I’m sad about not doing any teaching for the next while—the undergraduates are so much fun—but it’ll be nice to recover the time to do some other things. I’m not looking forward to the qualifying exams in January that professors keep telling us “not to worry about”. (Then why would we have them?) If things go well, I’ll have some big decisions ahead of me. Not knowing what I’ll be doing at this year’s end maybe excites me a little but mainly doesn’t bother me, probably mainly because I’ve grown used to it.
This blog suffered something of a neglect during my second year, probably owing more to waning enthusiasm than time, but certainly not for lack of things to write about. Here is a list of topics in my notebook. Friends of mine might have heard me rant about one or more of these. Some are more interesting than others, and some have half-written drafts attached to them, though some, being outdated, will probably never make it.
- The ways sub-disciplines of electrical engineering are grouped and labelled. Yes, these differ between countries (and even universities, I guess).
- The structure of American undergraduate degrees. Spoiler: It’s better and other countries should adopt it.
- In a context where it’s becoming fashionable to pass judgement on undergraduates at elite universities, a bit about my experience with undergraduates as a teaching assistant.
- An exploration of the meaning of collective national identity, which I hadn’t really understood before leaving home.
- Thoughts on the political discourse in America, and how it’s caricatured by other countries.
- The idea permeating through doctoral programmes that you have to find your one true passion.
- Trips to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (February) and New York City (March). By now, they’ll probably just be photo albums.