Tag Archives: grad school

Here’s to the ones who sustain

As I near the end of my grad school years, I’ve begun to think back on it all and ask questions like, “What did I get out of it? Was it worth it? What if I had never come to grad school in the first place?”

And to be completely honest, I’m not sure I have good answers to this set of questions. By the traditional metric of publishing, my grad school years have been a dismal failure: The only publication I have to date is a five-author paper all the way back from the summer of 2014 to which I didn’t even contribute that much. My two main research projects since then have been slow; the first is still in the review process, and the second has yet to produce a paper yet.

This is especially frustrating because I chose to do math research in particular (as opposed to pursuing my other undergrad major, chemistry) for two main reasons: because I thought I was good at it and because math research seemed to proceed faster, at the speed of thought rather than the speed of experiment. What I found, as I’ve recounted before, is that the hard part of math research is actually the challenge of finding a good problem, and I’m neither good nor fast at that.

This isn’t to say that my grad school years have been completely devoid of personal development; I did get married, for one. But maybe these aren’t the questions I should be asking in the first place. To approach the last six years of my life by asking merely, “How did it advance my resume?” is to view MIT as merely a dispenser of goods and services, a stepping-stone on the path to my own glorification.

“And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42–45, ESV)

Christians, what does it mean to follow Jesus for you? What is he calling you to? Since 2010, I’ve discerned God’s calling on my life to be a life of service. God might very well call others to take positions of worldly authority and influence (like professorships) and use that status to be ambassadors for Christ. But based on my abilities and inclinations, it seems clear to me that I’m called to a life primarily of service, loving God and others in my community by serving them. So instead of reflecting on my lack of publications, I’ve been encouraged to reflect on all of the ways that I’ve been able to serve here at MIT.

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What happened to the dream?

I finally got to see La La Land with my church community group this week. I appreciated its down-to-earth, intentionally banal depiction of Hollywood as well as the subtle poking fun at LA traffic and lack of seasons (a flash mob dance number during a traffic jam opens the movie, in “WINTER”).

The palm tree is part of the joke.

Everyone in the movie is striving to make it in the entertainment industry somehow. And it’s the depiction of this striving that forms the main tension in the movie and my deepest thoughts after it ended.

Boston has a similar feel, with seemingly everyone striving to achieve academic or entrepreneurial success. Well, that’s not entirely true — I’ve certainly met many, particularly in church, whose efforts also included a healthy dose of family and community. But if you spend enough time on campus and casual social gatherings, the first topic that often comes up is what you work on, or what you’ll be doing after you graduate, and you can come away with the same sort of impression that it’s why everyone came here.

But it wasn’t the cities that the movie made me think about the most, it was myself. What has happened to my dreams?

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Misconceptions of Math Grad School

In my day job, I am a graduate student in the MIT Math Department, an experience I’ve reflected on before in What I Wish I Knew When I Got to Graduate School and Why I Didn’t Do Research In Your Area. Both of those posts focused on graduate school as a whole, naturally inflected by my own experience but not primarily discussing aspects unique to my department. In this post, I’d like to focus on the particulars of going to graduate school in math, centered on five of my own previous misconceptions of it.

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Why I Didn’t Do Research In Your Area

[Note: This is a followup to my post last week about lessons I’ve learned in graduate school. The format is inspired by Tim Challies.]

Friend,

Your field of research definitely sounds interesting. I really enjoyed taking that class, listening to that seminar talk, or reading a few of your most recent papers. I actually understood most of what you were talking about! Some of the techniques are quite clever, and you and your collaborators all seem really friendly.

You’re probably wondering why I didn’t end up joining you there. And you’re right to wonder — it would have been nice to collaborate with you, and I haven’t exactly found something else revolutionary to study instead. Well, it’s mostly because…

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