A Blast From the Past

July 25, 2017

Posted: May 27, 2016, 1:05pm

I thought it would be interesting to take a look into the past for my first blog article. I’ve recently taken to reminiscing, traveling down memory lane as it were. As one season comes to the close and another begins, we often use the turn of the seasons as an excuse to remember how far we’ve come. As I’m entering my fifth year of PhD studies at USC, this season of my life is nearing a close. Much like the flurry of fall turning to winter, I will likely feel like a tree whose leaves are falling every which way, but I have no control over where they land. At least, that seems an appropriate metaphor for a thesis defense.

Why not take a few moments to remember why I began this journey in the first place? The best way to do that is to look at my journal. The following is an entry from July 22, 2012, a mere month before I moved across the country to Los Angeles to begin at USC. Let’s take a look at my thought process pre-graduate school.

July 22, 2012

A lot of people (including myself) don’t understand the drive to go to grad school. Why am I doing it? I’m going to jot down some thoughts about my motivations to help unravel what the next step in my life will look like.

The average person in my generation may end up working until they are 65 or 70 years old. That is just wild, in my humble opinion. The average Ph.D. degree in engineering will get you 90,000 dollars per year. I’ve heard many people base their argument in favor of graduate school attendance on these numbers. Sure, financial security is a great benefit, but why not join the work force now and enjoy the benefits immediately? Climb the corporate ladder and work toward salary bumps? No, the real reason for going to graduate school is not rooted in the “getting ahead in the world” rationale.

Let’s be honest, I’m going for the beach. What better life is there than lying around on a sunny beach? That is the life, my friends. While I firmly believe that Los Angeles is the greatest city in America, there are plenty of other reasons I’m excited to start on this journey.

Intellectual freedom. These words are very interesting. When I hear this phrase, I picture a “grown up” version of playing in the sandbox. No restrictions except your imagination! You can build anything you please given the appropriate sandbox to play in. Let Dynamics and Control theory be my sandbox and give me four or five years and we will see the sand castle begin to form.

Can you have intellectual freedom in industry? I think you can. I don’t really know. But research appeals to me because the “problem sets” are so interesting. Adding your two cents to the field of science is so exciting! Furthering knowledge is all fun and games, but the motivations behind research are also fascinating. Following the money – a good researcher must sell his / her idea – financial gains, improving the standard of living, needed updates in security, etc: whatever the motivation it is always fascinating to meet a researcher that is not only excited about the research but his motivations as well. These are the kind of people you meet and you think, “This dude will change the world….. and I want to help him.” The job is in your blood and you devote years to solving a problem.

I’m obsessed with learning. Knowledge is power. I will always be trying to learn regardless of my enrollment status in a school. Science is a mysterious medium that I’m convinced God Himself will always slowly reveal himself to us, but of course leave bits and pieces juuust out of our reach. This is the allure. You can’t possibly learn everything (why would you want to?), but imagine becoming an expert in just one thing.

Circumstance vs destiny. My circumstances allow me to attend graduate school much easier than for some. I am debt free and have a wonderful family and lovely friends supporting me. Would things turn out different if I had a new set of circumstances? Is this my destiny? I can’t say for sure, but I can say that I feel very comfortable in saying that I’m at peace with the decisions I’ve made and I want to chase after the dream as hard as I can.

Not much has changed

It’s amazing, but 4 years later my perspective has not changed hardly at all. The premier aspect of being a PhD candidate in my view is still the reward of intellectual freedom. I am blessed to have an advisor who supports my research ideas and allows me to chase my new thought each week down the rabbit hole, in pursuit of novel science. I still think learning is an important part of life, which is why I continually read as much as possible: even outside of my scientific discipline. My convictions about the financial part of graduate studies has only solidified as well. It’s a difficult thing to take a pay cut for a few years, while all your friends are graduating from undergraduate (or some dropping out after a Master’s) and getting a well-paying job, buy a new car, get married, move in to a new house. Pursuing a PhD has to come from the heart. There will always be distractions and temptations to drop out, give up, and move on, but if it’s destiny… we will persevere.


Published on July 25th, 2017

Last updated on August 10th, 2017