Graduate School – A Review

June 16, 2009

I went to college for seven years. Yes, seven years. Five years as an undergraduate and two as a graduate. Those years in graduate school were hard – while my friends were going out nightly and enjoying their new wealth, I spent the better part of my life in the library or grading papers as a TA to barely earn enough to cover tuition and living expenses. After I was finally done, degree in hand, I had thought that completion would mean that the symbolic load would be lifted off my back. Sometimes it feels that way. Sometimes I wonder how I even got past it.

I’m not saying that I didn’t enjoy graduate school. But it was more of an act of perseverance than a pleasurable activity. But maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe I should enjoy studying 12+ hours in the library, deciphering Greek symbols and formulas constructed tens, and sometimes hundreds of years ago. The weekends and late nights spent hunkered over a homework problem, staring blankly at code, or sitting around a table of peers discussing a project.

Going to graduate school in engineering is like that. It teaches you a new way to think – that the formula that was served so elegantly to you as an undergraduate isn’t enough. And there will be many more questions raised than answers. And most of these answers will be expected from you, not given to you by the professor. In fact, it teaches you that what is given to you as fact is not enough – that you should try to understand the underlying details to truly understand.

Let’s not ignore the benefits…exposure to new topics, being around like-minded people, and challenging ideas. The potential for a higher income later in life. And most of all, pushing oneself.

But everyone I’ve talked to in graduate school has asked these questions many, many times: Why am I doing this? Why am I here? So my warning to you considering graduate school is this: be prepared to ask yourself these questions many times as well.


UCSD Libraries 6th Annual Summer Reading Contest

April 24, 2009

Sun God

For those of you in the San Diego area who have a love for reading I present to you UCSD’s 6th Annual Summer Reading Contest. It’s a good way to be part of a community of readers both online and in real life if you like (they have a luncheon at the end of every contest).

The contest is all about submitting reviews for books you’ve read as long as the UCSD libraries own a copy of it. And if being part of yet another online social group weren’t incentive enough for you, they give you gifts prizes for submitting reviews. There are a variety of contest-wide prizes like Most Humorous Review, and then individual prizes for submitting one, five, ten(?) reviews.

If you don’t want to go in alone or don’t think you’ll have the motivation to keep up, you can join as a team! Grab a few of your friends that like to read (or you think should read more) and sign up together. You’ll all win prizes even if only one person reads/reviews!

The contest starts on May 1st and runs through July 31st, so go sign up!

– RT

Vive La Bibliothèque!

April 13, 2009

I love to read. Depending on how much I have going on outside of work, the density of the book and the amount of sleep I’m willing to lose, I can go cover-to-cover in two weeks or less. But even using old cheapo, I could easily shell out $30 for a new release. What’s a young literati to do!? The answer: Explore my local library! When I was growing up my local library was not within walking distance and was not particularly well stocked. It was a small branch. As a result, I didn’t figure out the genius of this public service until I got to college.

Ironically, I’m strongly advocating the use of the library despite the fact that the best aspects about libraries is that they’re so vastly underutilized. I can get pretty much any book I want at any time, excluding new or newly popular books (like Barack Obama’s last work).

The short of it is that I’ve been able to read classic works of literature, science fiction, travel books and generic non-fiction books alike just by using the public service my taxes already pay for. Not to mention they sometimes have great books for sale for CHEAP! I bought a hardcover book written by a Nobel laureate in chemistry for $2. Two freakin’ dollars! It was a whimsical purchase, but I figured a (sort of) autobiography about a Nobel laureate that had a picture of the guy holding a surfboard was worth a shot. And it was. I read it shortly after getting through a pair of Richard Feynman (sort of) autobiographies so it was right up my alley. I’m thoroughly entertained by stories of eccentric geniuses.

I understand some people just want to start “building their libraries,” but if a book is personal library-worthy then it should be worth reading more than once. That means you can take every book that might be personal library-worthy for a test drive by checking each one out of the library and then purchasing it if it passes your tests. What’s funny is that libraries are the only way to legally do this with any media except TV shows. You can’t test-run a band’s CD through iTunes. There are no public movie theaters to check out if it’s worth the $10 (or so) to see the latest blockbuster hit. It’s such an amazing scam in the public’s favor that it sparked this thread on the Freakonomics blog. If you like reading or would like to start reading more, the library is definitely the best way to start. It’s like pasta to a starving college student: cheap, easy, and readily available.