Brett and I were just talking the other day about how we had NO idea what grad school would be like before we started. There was *one* thing that we did know however….we didn’t like the jobs that we could get directly out of undergrad. We both have a lot of friends that did (and continue to) like the jobs that they were offered after having finished undergrad though…don’t get us wrong! 🙂 But after each finishing an internship following graduation with our bachelors degrees, we each knew that we wanted to do something different than the options that we currently had, so away to grad school we went. (And by away, we mean that we stayed right where we were, at a top 10, R1 (top research institution) university). I completed an independent study with a professor at the end of my senior year of undergrad that helped me land a position in an Aerospace Engineering research group that focused on experimental solid mechanics while Brett compiled a group of faculty around the university (literally…in various and very varied departments) to design his own graduate curriculum. Both of us learned to navigate our way through advisors, seminars, classes, and research. I discovered that I had landed exactly where I wanted to be, doing exactly what I wanted to do while Brett actively worked to form and shape his own way combining expertise from many different Computer Science areas.
So far, Brett and I have both successfully finished our masters degrees (you can even read find our theses online if you’re interested!) and have moved to the PhD. Brett, having overtaken one step along the path to a PhD, passed his qualifying exam last year making him a PhD candidate. I should pass my qualifying exam in June so at the moment I am but a lowly PhD *student*. hehe…such labels! Brett has published a few papers and my first one is currently ready for submission (woot!). Being in grad school is nothing like undergrad. For one thing, taking 6 classes is unheard of in graduate school and I complain (a ton!) if I have to take more than 2. The content in grad classes is more intense, more up to date, and the homework (if you’re assigned any…which I always am but Brett never seemed to have any!) takes forever. What takes up all of our time though you ask? Research. Its awesome, and it takes forever. The mentality that your job goes on 24/7 is still very alive in graduate school. The lab is always open, and I always have a key to access it while Brett always has a computer handy…and usually a projector as well haha. Doing things that have never been done before is often frustrating and I spend a lot of my time feeling just plain stupid. There are no text books or manuals describing how to complete the next experiment or how to calibrate that new technology with a projector. The moment though, when what you have been fighting with finally makes sense or when that experiment finally works out, is what makes graduate school (and research in general) so worth it. There was even an article describing this very phenomenon here …
Fun things about graduate school:
1) We still live on a college campus which lends itself to lots of interesting opportunities and activities…..along with an AWESOME performing arts center and art theater in the area (this like is 3 in 1 haha)
2) Working hours are fairly flexible…though one of my advisors does have a habit of walking around the office and lab every Friday around 5 pm
3) The college town we chose to live in is cheap (one serious advantage to living in the middle of the corn fields)
4) Research is so much fun! (usually)
5) The working environment is extremely collaborative at times
6) I have a lot of control over how I do things and what things I do
7) Our Rec center is fantastic…seriously, it is awesome and its open all the time and our student fees pay for our use of it
8) Brett and Raj play video games in their free time occasionally and call it research
9) We both get to collaborate with various experts around the country (shout out to Microsoft Research and NASA!!!)
10) We work 2 blocks from one another
Not fun things about graduate school:
1) Research is frustrating! (usually)
2) Working hours are flexible….which means that you could be working ALL the time (and we both know people who do)
3) The pay as a graduate student isn’t very good…seriously, I think I could earn more money working in a fast-food chain
4) The undergrads just keep getting younger…ok I know that isn’t exactly true but the age difference definitely keeps growing!
5) My office is in a basement with cockroaches and Brett’s office is often 60 degrees in the summer brrrr!
I think people often shy away from asking us about what we do. Both Brett and I though are getting quite good at describing our research in non-engineering terms so feel free to ask us! 🙂