17 February 2009

Checking in

My intense week is finally over. I slept more than nine hours last night and still feel like going back to bed.

Last week, I submitted a paper with my advisor. We didn't have much time to prepare the paper, because we found out about the submission opportunity very late, but we somehow managed to get things together in time. It was a grueling process for both of us, because I had to test out some new ideas and he had to synthesize them into very little text, all on deadline. I'm not sure our work will be accepted---it's not exactly what the publication is looking for, although we could argue the case that it's tangentially related and very interesting---but the experience of coauthoring this paper (and a few others in the past) is immensely valuable. I've learned about writing to particular communities, how to create razor-blade sharp sentences, how to cut out extraneous words or ideas, when to repeat things and when to gloss over complicated explanations gracefully. I've learned how much time it takes to understand what you mean to say, and how important that understanding is when composing text for general dissemination.

In addition to working my tail off for that publication, last week also saw some great news about PhD programs that brings some intensely difficult decisions. I had already been accepted to Very Good University, where I'd get an excellent education and be able to succeed wonderfully, but whose lab structure and apparent politics makes me a little bit apprehensive. One day last week, I had a conversation in the morning with a professor at Pretty Good U, where the students would not quite be at the same level as those at VGU, but still within reasonable consideration. The conversation was amazing, and I'm totally smitten with the advisor, but I can't help being held back by the prospect of attending a school significantly lower in the rankings because of some fear about how my degree would be perceived.* That very night, I received an email congratulating me on my acceptance to Excellent University, which completely threw me for a loop. I had not expected to be recognized at the level of EU. This makes the decision extremely difficult: do I go to Excellent U, where I may be at the bottom of the pile (so to speak) and where I might be overshadowed by my excellent, accomplished peers? Do I attent Very Good U, where I am seen as a hot commodity (as evidenced by early acceptance) but perhaps won't fit in to the lifestyle of the place? Or do I attend Pretty Good U, where my cohort might not push me as hard as I want to be pushed, but where my advisor would be a gift and a joy? I've got a lot of talking and a lot of thinking to do. I'm still waiting to hear from a bunch of programs, and those answers might complicate my decisions further or provide an obvious first choice that I just can't turn down. We'll see how it goes.

*This may be an undergraduate mentality, and I'm trying to grow out of it. I know PhD programs are about the research you do (as evidenced by papers published, etc.) but I can't help wondering if my CV will suffer for not having a prestigious name on it.

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