Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Last week I made the decision to withdraw from my MS program in aerospace engineering at Texas A&M to pursue full-time work in the Structural Test Laboratory at Boeing in Tukwila, Washington. This delays but does not eliminate the day when I earn an advanced degree in engineering. There are a number of reasons (good) why this is happening.

During my first year of graduate school, Texas A&M awarded me a generous financial support package. Though it only provided for the first year of my MS program, I was confident my advisor and I could find either a fellowship or a research or teaching assistantship to pay for my second year. When that turned out not to be the case, I re-evaluated my future plans.

Working at Boeing will allow me to earn a master’s from the University of Washington with the company’s financial support. I won’t become eligible for the program until next summer, and will have to proceed at a slower pace since I’ll be working full time while taking classes, but the contrast couldn’t be clearer between starting work next summer several thousand dollars in debt and starting work in a few months with my savings intact. Financially, I knew I’d be better off going the Boeing way than staying at A&M, but there was more to consider.

UW is a fine academic institution, with an excellent program in aerospace engineering. I don’t think I’m trading down getting my final degree from there rather than Texas A&M. I enjoyed the work I did in the structures lab last summer. The work there is technically engaging, exposes me to a wide variety of projects, and makes me feel like I’m really making an impact on the program. In a year or so I should be able to go down to the high bay in Tukwila, see a major piece of structural equipment, and tell people “I thought of that. I can tell you why it’s shaped the way it is.” That kind of tangible ownership is what first attracted me to engineering.

There are a few things I’ll miss about College Station. I’ve lived here long enough that it feels a bit like home. It’s a lot of fun being able to scream my lungs out every once in a while at midnight yell. St. Mary’s is without question the best religious atmosphere I’ve ever seen, and a major component of why I’ve spent so much of the last two years learning more about Catholicism. That said, on balance I’m thrilled at the prospect of moving on to Seattle. Puget Sound is one of the best places in the world to be as a young professional right now. It’s physically beautiful, rewards wandering, and is full of young, fresh college grads like me. I’ve never been anywhere else that feels as vibrant, young, and alive as Seattle does. As long as my brain can handle the dearth of sunlight in the winter, I’d be happy to set down roots there and settle in for a good long while.

Since departing from A&M now makes sense from both financial and personal standpoints, this really wasn’t that difficult of a decision to make. That said, I can’t help but feel a bit anxious about the whole thing. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I literally can’t remember a time when I wasn’t being told daily that I need to strive for excellence in school. Do well in school, do more school, and above all just keep working up the academic system, I was told. Now here I am with every rational indication I have telling me that more school, at least immediately, is the opposite of a good idea. It’s a thrilling realization, but one mixed with a large dollop of vertigo.

There are so many things I’ve wanted to do over the years. I want to wander about some Pacific islands. I want to write, not in fits and starts for a few paragraphs, but steadily, till I have something I can proudly call an example of my creativity. I want to figure out if there’s any merit to the peace I see in my religious friends’ lives, or if my atheist friends are closer to the truth. For the next few months I’ll be living in a strange sort of interlude, neither student nor professional. I don’t know when I’ll next have a time in my life as ripe for this kind of freestyle exploration, and my top immediate priority should be using it to the fullest.


  1. Best of luck! I think your reasoning makes sense and that you're making wise decisions for good reasons, for what my non-expert opinion is worth.
    I'm very glad I used summer before last to travel. It cost a ton, but I made memories that have helped sustain me through some very tough times. The memory of snorkeling in the Indian Ocean and watching an octopus scurry into its den, for example, works wonders to tone down block week blues. If I had several months of free time, I really might look into getting passage on one of those freighter boats, spending the voyage reading and writing, and then backpacking around some continent I'd never seen. (This sort of thing: http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2008/jan/20/3) Traveling alone was a spectacular, liberating, and addictive experience, one I recommend everyone try at some point. The prolonged quasi-solitude was life-changing, and it gave me a chance to learn about who I really was without the influence of my familiar surroundings. (But don't give money to gypsies; they will steal your wallet.)
    Further unsolicited, possibly-useless advice:
    I'm typically at my most miserable when I have way too much free time on my hands, so I'm learning to stay reasonably busy. I expected this last summer to be wonderful, relaxing, and refreshing because I would have lots of free time, but actually I was profoundly unhappy more days than not. Starting second year has already made a striking difference in my outlook, even though my stress level is higher. I don't know if you're that way, but I would hate for you to have the same experience I did.
    One more question, and I hope you're not insulted. Have you considered going to medical school? You would be an asset to the profession. I have a ton of respect for what your professional plans are now, but I feel compelled to at least mention it.
    Good luck, and please keep us all posted about whatever shenanigans you decide to get yourself into. :)

  2. I'm so excited for you! Good for you for honestly evaluating your situation and making a decision. I can't wait to see what you will do with this time.

    Travel would be at the top of my list.

    Walking the Camino de Santiago in 2007 changed my life, and I've told myself that the next time I have six weeks to spare that I would walk the Pilgrimage to Rome.

    My bias: use your body to see something new.

    Oh, and report back. We're all eager to hear!

    PS: I could only comment using my super old blogspot account. Now I write here.

  3. It seems like you're going to do well -- having these options available is definitely a *good* problem to have.

    So instead of focusing on the main topic of your post, I will narrow in on one line:

    I want to figure out if there’s any merit to the peace I see in my religious friends’ lives, or if my atheist friends are closer to the truth.

    What if this is a false dichotomy? That there are different paths to peace and truth and that they may or may not align cleanly with religion as opposed to lack of religion, theism as opposed to atheism, etc.,