Saturday, March 19, 2011

Conservation and Progress

One of the nice things about my current status is that whenever the intractable is-the-Catholic-Church-convincing problem becomes overwhelming I can always examine the intractable where-should-I-go-to-grad-school problem. I felt motivated, optimistic, and foolhardy enough last semester to apply to five programs. From west to east, they are:

1) The University of Colorado at Boulder

2) Texas A&M University

3) Purdue University

4) The Georgia Institute of Technology

5) The Massachusetts Institute of Technology

It should be noted that I only took the first two of those five pictures. MIT wait-listed me and I don't expect to hear back from them until late May. Likewise, I was admitted at Colorado but they offered no funding, so I'm considering those two applications dead. It's unfortunate, since both are doing great work in spacecraft human factors, but that's part of why I applied to five schools instead of one or two.

A&M, Purdue, and Georgia Tech have been generous with their offers of financial support, and all have top-notch programs I would be excited to join. Frankly I'm a little embarrassed about how generous the offers have been. After visiting Georgia Tech and completing seven and a half semesters at A&M I think I'm most qualified to asses these two options. For the sake of conservation of sanity, I've downselected my choice to a simple dilemma. Georgia or Texas?

The decision isn't really Georgia vs. Texas, though. It's not even College Station vs. Atlanta or Bright Building vs. Guggenheim Building. I know Texas A&M intimately after three and a half years here. It's home. I know what the people are like, how muggy it is in August, how long it takes to get from West Campus Garage to the engineering side of campus. I know precious little about Georgia Tech since I only visited there for a few days and talked to a few professors and grad students for a matter of hours. If I stay at A&M I will be delving deeper down a well-lit path; if I go to Georgia Tech it'll be a leap into the dark, an embrace of unknowns.

Both programs are doing world-class research in the field I want to work in. Both are well-respected and will give me about the best preparation for entering engineering that I could reasonably ask for. But after being here for my undergrad program, I know A&M works. I like the faculty, the students, the town, and the fact that everyone screams so loudly on Saturdays in the fall. Going to Georgia Tech will give me the chance to experience life in a different culture and setting, expand my network of colleagues, and indulge my wanderlust a bit more. Still, there's risk in that indulgence, and I'm not sure which argument comes out ahead.

Deep down, this decision is a reflection of something I need to define for myself. If I am a conservative, at least in this context, I'll stick with what I know works well and engage Texas A&M to the fullest. If I'm a progressive, I'll branch out, and try my luck to the east. I'll get back to you on which one of those I decide.

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