DID YOU KNOW? Norah Jones is the daughter of sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar.
So I’ve got a photographic record of picturesque Barcelona, but I figure that can wait a few days. Because I got to thinking this afternoon. The other day Mike, who I may or may not know, asked…
“What are you thinking about doing for grad school?”
…and the emphatic answer is I DON’T KNOW! I NEED SOME TIME TO THINK!
So here are a few of my thoughts on the subject right now, which I hope will give you some insight into being an MIT undergrad.
1. I think that, along with most of the chemical engineering Class of 2007, I’m getting a little tired of being in school right now. Not that this is MIT’s fault–MIT is, of course, the greatest school that will ever exist in the entire universe–but after three years of problem sets, finals, UROPs, all-nighters, super burritos, Pour House, and everything else, most of my classmates aren’t too excited about the prospect of another 4.5 – 6 years of higher education including 2 years of classes and a 250-page final paper.
Now, this might be a result of the chemical engineering curriculum at MIT, which is structured to hit you with most of your major classes and labs between your sophomore spring and your junior spring. True story–last semester my fellow UROP Adam ’07 produced a paper for the one-semester class 10.26: Project Laboratory in Chemical Engineering that was longer than the thesis written by his grad student over a 6-year period. My own work paled in comparison, a mere 84 pages of graphs and charts detailing effectively two weeks of research. So, understandably, coming right out of 10.26, not many of us are excited about getting our own research projects in grad school. But I’m going to take it pretty easy next year and try to take a few more interesting humanities classes that I’d always neglected, so maybe I won’t be so stressed out when it comes time to pick a grad schools.
2. The discipline I chose, Chemical Engineering, doesn’t really need graduate work. If you go into something like chemistry or biology or another scientific field, the nature of most undergraduate curriculums is such that you’re probably going to need more than a bachelor’s degree to get a chemistry- or biology-oriented research job. Otherwise you might end up as a lab tech or something like that. Engineering doesn’t really work that way–although more jobs are open to you with a master’s degree or PhD, from what I understand there are jobs in industry open to people with only bachelor’s degrees. Some people in my class are looking for work to get a feel for industry, then planning to return to grad school with a more balanced perspective between industry and education. The 29-year-old grad student I currently work with in lab took this approach. A few of my classmates are even searching for the much-coveted holy grail of “a nice company that will pay for you to go back to grad school.”
Not even everybody in my chemical engineering class even wants a chemical-engineering related job, though. Some are “selling out” and going into finance right out of undergrad. Some are pre-med, devoting like the next ten years of their life to the poverty-stricken pursuit of higher education. This is why they tell probably everyone that chemical engineering is absolutely the most versatile major, even though they really only say that at chemical engineering faculty luncheons and choice of major fairs.
3. I can’t go to MIT for a PhD. Now, this isn’t a bad thing, because after four years of Boston winters and twenty years in the (relative) Northeast, I think I might be ready for a slight change of scenery anyway. But, in case you might be wondering, almost every engineering course does accept MIT undergraduates with appropriate qualifications into their PhD programs. The lone exception is chemical engineering, because professors have decided there are too many similarities between the engineering and curricula. For this reason, most of the science courses also refuse graduate admission to MIT undergraduates, with the recent exception of biology. In fact, in the chemistry curriculum, most grad students are required to take classes like 5.04: Principles of Inorganic Chemistry II with undergrads, for whom it’s an elective.
I have heard people ask whether, for this reason, it might be better to go somewhere else for undergrad and then go to MIT for grad school instead. Well, I have no regrets doing it this way so far. The chemical engineering PhD program here seems to be great based on grad students I’ve talked to, but I’m sure there are other opportunities out there for you.
4. And do I really want a PhD right now? Another option, detailed by Mitra, is to go for a five-year Master’s of Engineering degree. Currently, you can get these in Chemical Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering, and Biological Engineering, even without overloading on courses in your undergrad and ending up looking like some caffeine-addled toddler. It’s not quite the same as an Master of Science, which you would get in most two-year programs. In fact, for the chemical engineering degree, instead of doing a thesis, you go out into workplaces and solve problems for actual companies. One grad student I know got to go to General Mills and use knowledge of steam tables to engineer the spherical shape of Cocoa Puffs.
The only problem with this option is that if I decide that I later want a PhD, well, there was a year of higher education that I kind of wasted.
5. Well, I don’t really want to know what I want to be when I grow up. If anything, MIT has only confused my childhood dreams, but in a good, horizon-broadening way. Coming into MIT, I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up–an actuary (at the time, it was rated as the #2 job in the world in terms of profitability and lack of stress). Two majors later, I really don’t know where my MIT education is going to take me yet. Right now, as a result of my UROP (turning turkey carcasses into oil), I’m mostly interested in energy, but I could see that changing depending on the opportunities that came along, and I feel confident that there are a lot of jobs where my chemical engineering knowledge will be useful.
Somehow I can’t shake the feeling I might make a difference to the human race. But that difference could require a PhD to find, or it could need me to get right out of undergrad and start looking for it. Sometime during freshman year, I realized that finding success at MIT is not quite as “easy” as it was in high school, when I got good grades and applied to top colleges just because it was the “right” thing to do. There are lots of different paths to happiness that don’t involve getting all A’s and overloading on classes. The exception is if you are pre-med, in which case yeah, getting good grades and applying to top med schools is pretty much your only goal. See you when you’re 30!
So I think I just talked myself into grad school with this entry, but we’ll see what I think when I wake up tomorrow. For now, I’ve been looking at applications and thinking of essay topics in my free time at work, and I’ll try my best to rock the career fairs at MIT (open to all students, by the way), so hopefully you can get another entry to this effect next April. Then I will achieve my ultimate dream of pulling an Alex Doonesbury on my blog.
You know why I am having so much trouble deciding? Because there is no gradschool.mitblogs.com. Get on it, Ben Jones! And other college admissions departments too! I know you’re reading this! I have Statcounter!
Next up, some real rambling… this time in La Rambla, in Barcelona!