Coming to MIT: Lesson 2

Friday, October 2, 2009 at 5:00 PM
So, next in my series, I will talk about the pressures of getting started in research as a new graduate student.

When I found out I was going to MIT, my first priority was to find a professor to PAY ME mentor me in my research. That was pretty stressful. Having spent four years being mostly supported by my parents, I was not looking forward to spending the next four in the same way. On top of that, I wasn't entirely sure on what I wanted to do in grad school, which you really need to know when going to grad school.

I scheduled a visit to MIT right after graduation, and luckily, I not only found an advisor, but one who would pay me! I scheduled meetings with professors whom I had contacted several weeks before. For each of these professors, I had a talk with them about what sort of things I was interested in, and then I met with their students to see their labs. That was pretty much everything I wanted, and the I finished the trip feeling fully satisfied and ready to go on my other trip, to China (visiting relatives).

For someone like me, not entirely sure of what they want to do in grad school, trying to find an advisor was pretty tough. Advisors want students who are motivated and passionate at what they do. I must confess I was not what they wanted back in May (am I now?). For me to be passionate about a subject, I have to know a lot about it. I really need a comprehensive understanding of something, to be passionate about it. Unfortunately, I hadn't been that exposed to research topics up until I was applying to graduate school. Luckily, as I pushed myself to get into grad school, I read more and more about research topics, and my interest grew. I would say that my entire application process, up until finding an advisor, was about preparing me for school.

My latest time of pressure occurred when I just arrived at MIT. I was nervous, thinking that I wouldn't make it past the first semester, and also, I wasn't sure what specifically I should be working on in the group. Unlike the other new people, I didn't have a specific project, and I felt like I was the only one spinning my wheels and getting no where.

Luckily, Grace said something that made me feel a lot better. She told me to take my time, and to really find out what I wanted to do. I was supposed to be doing things because I wanted to do them, not because I was supposed to do them.

Lessons learned: Mainly, do things because you want to in grad school. However, you do need to put in some effort early on, to learn about research topics and to see if you are interested in them.


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