Thursday, February 20, 2014

Decisions, Decisions...and a Look into What Mike Really Thinks

Today MIT offered me tuition for the 2014-2015 school year.  I informed them that I needed tuition for all 3 years before the AF would approve my attendance there and they said they only ever offer tuition 1 year at a time and renew it each year based on performance and availability of funds.  I explained this to my department head and he basically said, "So, Texas or Tennessee, then?"  I'm a little disappointed.  There's still a chance I could get it worked out to where my department head approves, but then he and I have to convince the vice dean that it's a good idea and I'm not looking forward to that discussion.

I've tried to honestly consider why I want to go to MIT so much more than A&M or UTK.  The reasons I've come up with are:

1) I define who I am, in large part, by my intelligence and academic abilities.  By going to MIT, almost universally accepted as the best engineering school in the world, I would add support to that self-definition.  As part of this self-defining, I compare myself to those around me.  I have no problem with people being smarter than I am, but I want people to know that my greatest asset is that I am smart.  One of my friends who is also going off for a PhD has been accepted to both Oxford and Cambridge.  He will likely go to one of them.  He is smarter than me by many measures of intelligence, but I like to think that we are in the same league of academic aptitude.  MIT is the only school I applied to that is in the same tier as Oxford and Cambridge, and I was pleased at the thought of having a diploma as equally impressive as his.  I know all of this sounds like (and likely simply is) my pride speaking, but I think it accurately captures how I feel.

2) Going to MIT would be a risky step for me--there is a very real chance that I won't be able to finish in 3 years.  I honestly can't think of a time in my life where I've taken a significant risk because of the potential for a significant reward.  I'm a play-it-safe kind of guy and this opportunity presents itself as a chance to "see what I'm made of".  As I assume is the case with most people, I perform at my highest level when I have a lot at stake.  While at Officer Training School (OTS), perhaps the closest thing to a serious risk I've ever taken, I was under pressure to perform well.  If I didn't complete OTS, I would be sent to boot camp and would owe the Air Force 2 years as an enlisted troop, instead of as an engineer and an officer.  The stress was difficult for me to deal with--I never passed a room inspection and I got more demerits than anyone I know.  I finished, though, as a distinguished graduate (top 10% of the class), and earned a number of awards for my overall performance.  I have wondered what would be different about my life if I took greater risks for greater rewards.  MIT presents such an opportunity to me.

3) (sing the Mickey Mouse song) M-I-T, P-h-D, M-O-N-E-Y.  While MIT does not, in fact, have the best nuclear engineering program in the country, no one disputes that putting "PhD from MIT" down on a resume is a serious boost to a person's credentials.  I could teach at any school in the world with an MIT pedigree.  I'm not 100% certain that I want to be a professor when I grow up, but it is one of a very few things I seriously consider doing when I retire (cheese making and being an energy consultant are the others).  Both A&M and UTK are good schools, but they are 2nd (or 3rd) tier schools.

There are a number of reasons I do not want to go to MIT, even if I could.

While living in Boston certainly has some appeal, it's got more a lot more...whatever the opposite of appeal is...for me.  I don't like people (sorry if you're just now learning this about me--it's not you, it's everyone) and thinking of living in the middle of a city full of people causes me anxiety.  I don't like traffic, and unless we live downtown by the school (read--by more people), then I'll either have to take public transportation or sit in traffic for long periods of time.  I can, and have, done both, but I'd rather not do either if it's avoidable--especially when I consider the additional time such travel would add to what would likely be 12-14 hours of studying each day.  Boston winters don't seem like something I'd enjoy.  And, while it's on the coast, it's not quite the same as being near the gulf coast like in Texas.

At MIT I'd have to take qualifying exams in subjects I don't know very much about while the other schools have qualifying exams in subjects I'm already familiar with.  MIT has indicated that it is possible to finish in 3 years (though 4+ years is the norm), the other two schools have said it is likely that I will finish in 3 years.  In essence, going to MIT will likely be much more challenging academically.  While, as I said, this is likely to extract higher levels of performance from me, it is also likely to cause me to go bald and take a few years off my life--and has the potential of messing up my career if I don't finish on time.

Living in Knoxville or College Station will most likely be much more comfortable and familiar to us than living in Boston would be.  We'll have our own house (as opposed to a part of house...an "apartment") with a yard (we won't have to get rid of our dog).  People will be friendly "southerners", and there will be fewer people in general.

The professor I'll work with at A&M is well known in the nuclear engineering world while MIT's nuclear program has recently been bumped from it's high perch at number 1.  The program at UTK is very close to what I described as the perfect program for me (if I choose the energy consultant route).

In conclusion, I guess I still don't know what I want to do.  I'm not sure I'd go to MIT even if I could, but I wish it was my choice and not someone else's.

1 comment:

The Duke said...

Good luck in all your decisions. It's a burdensome time for you right now. I'm sure you will choose what is best and right. And I, too, hope it can be your decision and not someone else's. Good luck.