Graduated Learning: Life after College

I got my degree, I got a job…now what?

Seriously Considering Grad School March 21, 2011

I’m very wishy-washy when it comes to making most of my decisions.  And I get even more anxious the bigger the decisions get.

Which is why I’m feeling incredibly anxious about the idea of going to grad school.  But I know it’s important.

Every once in a while, I start thinking about going back to school.  It’s usually around the time I go to an interesting lecture, symposium, or other educational event.  Sometimes it’s when I talk to my sister, who is pursuing her Ph.D. right now.  And I’m usually reminded about grad school whenever people at work discuss the opportunities through their advanced studies programs.

This time around, I was talking with a coworker about my goals at our company.  We recently both had our yearly performance reviews, and with that, we were required to list our goals for the following year.  So he asked me what my goals were.  My near term (within the year) goals were basically to get better at technical writing and presentation and to get even more involved on higher level work within the project I am working on.  But long-term?  I want to be like the people I work with now who are basically genius problem solvers.  I want to be a subject matter expert. I know some of their skills and knowledge merely comes from experience.  They’ve been working a lot longer than I have.  But I also know that if I really want to keep advancing up the engineering ladder, I’ll need some advanced education.

The plus side of all of this is that my company is really supportive of this sort of ambition.  They’ll reimburse me for classes I want to take.  And if I decide to go back to school full-time, they’ll pay for my tuition, and still pay me half my salary while I’m gone.  It’s a pretty sweet deal.  Granted, you’re committed to the company for a few years afterward, but I don’t mind that.  I’d want to stay at a job that I enjoy!

So, what’s next?  Between my craving to learn more, my desire to advance in my career, and the sweet deal my company offers, this decision is a no-brainer, right?

Just thinking about this plan makes me really anxious.  I have to figure out what schools to apply to, what degree I’m going for (Masters vs. PhD), and what subsection of my major I want to study.  Materials Science and Engineering is a pretty vast field.  I took a lot of classes in polymers and environmental materials selection during undergrad.  And my internships were mostly in metallurgy.  And now I’m working mostly in ceramics.  So, I could go in any of those directions.  Do I pursue what I loved in undergrad, or get more schooling on my main focus at my job (since, well, they’re paying for it, and I’d want to do what would be good for my career)?

I also realize that I would like to go to grad school sooner rather than later.  It gets tougher to go back to school the longer you’re away.  I’m getting pretty used to this post-college lifestyle.  Then again, I could try going to school part time…which would take FOREVER.

I’m still very unsure of what I am going to do.  But I keep seeing signs in my life that I need to get serious about my grad school ambitions.  I can’t put this off forever.

To those of you who have gone to or are currently going to graduate school, how did you make all these important decisions?  I feel so overwhelmed!


Materials Science followup November 25, 2008

I guess I didn’t really talk about why I find my field so awesome.  I realized that’s a bit weird to just say, so I think I’ll tell a story.

My folks were in town for a long weekend, and we were going on some tours at MIT.  One of the tours we went on was at the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology.  This is an MIT affiliated research facility that is also closely connected to a few major companies as well as the U.S. Military.  At any rate, as we were taking the tour, we were shown all sorts of cool technologies and told about amazing discoveries and possibilities.  They have a whole list of ideas that they’re focusing on.  Both at this facility and at many different materials research groups, there is a large focus on creating lighter weight materials that can be functionalized to do certain things, such as protect from chemicals, act as waterproofing, defend against puncture, and many other properties.  Materials can be developed that are stronger, harder, more thermally resistant, or other beneficial properties.

There is also a move towards medical materials and devices that are extremely helpful in the battlefield, but can eventually be transitioned to be used by local EMTs and emergency room doctors.  In fact, one story I heard there that really managed to wow my mother (and pretty much everyone else there, including me!) was about a boy who was born missing some of the bones of his ribs.  Materials scientists and biologists are working to help him and others like him to live more normal lives.  As noted in this CNN/TIME article (in the second to last paragraph) Robert “Langer is using tailor-made polymers to build tiny scaffolds that can then be seeded with skin, cartilage, liver or other cells. The idea is to provide a temporary structure that cells can colonize and upon which they can eventually grow into a functioning organ — at which point the scaffold dissolves away”.   How cool is that?  They’re building new bones for this kid!

To learn more about Materials Science, you can check this page out.  I actually went to see the exhibit that this site is for when it was nearby.  And I even wore one of the geeky materials shirts I got from my department.  But it was cool to see all the cool stuff there, and I recognized the names on some of the presentations…my professors were cited in many of the displays! This site is pretty good because it has a general overview, but also has plenty of links to other sources of information.

If you’d like to learn more about nanomaterials and other nano-things, I  recommend checking out the website for the National Nanotechnology Initiative.

Well, that’s enough science for now.  While you’re being awed by how cool science is, you should also probably check out TIME’s Best Inventions of 2008.  Many of the inventions were made possible by advancements in science and engineering!


And yes, I love material science! November 18, 2008

I don’t usually touch on my academic background in the blog.  I tend to talk more about personal finance, with a bit of food and Boston talk thrown in.  And I guess general musings about life after graduation.  But today I’d like to talk about Materials Science and Engineering.

First off, I studied Materials Science and Engineering at MIT.  I originally was going to major in Chemistry or Chemical Engineering, but the more I looked at the majors, the more I realized Materials Science and Engineering was the place for me.  It’s a great combination of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Aero/Astro, and really, lots of science and engineering majors.

I think I often find myself urging others to pursue Materials Science and Engineering, or at least science/engineering in general.  And my new job gives me plenty of ways to share my love of science, engineering, and my scientific background with others.  I went back to MIT for their Career Fair and talked to students about my job and what sort of work I do.  And I went to an event for women in engineering, where high school girls interested in science and engineering came together and learned about future career opportunities.  I really like telling people about all the cool things that you can do as an engineer or scientist.  Maybe that makes me a geek!

So, I think I’ll post every once in a while about materials and such.  It’s something I’m really interested in!  And I’d also like to mention that, while I’m not a career adviser or anything, if you have any questions about college/careers in science/engineering, let me know.  I know it sounds lame, but I really like helping people.  And so if there’s a student who wants to know more about colleges or majors, I’d be happy to help.

So, stay tuned for more posts, likely with more reasons for why I love materials!

p.s.  A really cool resource out there is OpenCourseWare, a program through MIT where material from classes taught at MIT is posted for anyone to read/watch/listen to for free.  Check it out!  And since I’m promoting Materials this week, you should definitely look at the courses listed under that major. (especially 3.091, an extremely popular class at MIT.  The professor, Donald Sadoway, is an exceptional scientist and lecturer, and the class is a good start on the topic).


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