Grad School, Oh My

by Edward Z. Yang

It still feels a little strange how this happened. Not a year ago, I was pretty sure I was going to do the Masters of Engineering program at MIT, to make up for a “missed year” that was spent abroad (four years at MIT plus one at Cambridge, not a bad deal.)

But a combination of conversations with various researchers whom I greatly respect, nagging from my Dad, and an inability to really figure out who I would actually do my Master’s thesis under while at MIT meant that at some point about a month and a half ago, I decided to go for the graduate school admissions cycle this fall. Oh my. It feels like undergraduate admissions all over again (which was not really a pleasant experience), though this time around, what I need to write is the “Research Statement.”

One of the reasons I blogged recently about Mendeley was because I was hoping that Mendeley would give me some insights about the kinds of papers I found interesting, and would let me easily figure out the affiliations of those researchers. (Oops, not quite there yet.) Actually, a conversation with Simon Marlow was much more fruitful: I’m currently actively looking into Ramsey (Tufts), Morrisett (Harvard), Harper (CMU), Pierce/Weirich (UPenn) and Mazieres (Stanford). Of course, I can’t help but think that I’ve missed some key players around topics that I regularly discuss on my blog, so if any of you have some ideas, please do shout out.

The process (well, what little of it I’ve started) has been quite bipolar. I frequently switch between thinking, “Oh, look at this grad student, he didn’t start having any publications till he started grad school—so I’m OK for not having any either” to “Wow, this person had multiple papers out while an undergraduate, solved multiple open problems with his thesis, and won an NSF fellowship—what am I supposed to do!” I’m still uncertain as to whether or not I’m cut out to do research—it’s certainly not for everyone. But I do know I greatly enjoyed the two times I worked at industrial research shops, and I do know that I love teaching, and I definitely know I do not want a conventional industry job. Grad school it is.