Grad School Visits: A Humbling Reminder That You Have a Lot to Learn

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If you’ve followed along, you know that I’ve been playing with the idea of pursuing a PhD in Computer Science. Fortunately, things seem to be going well. In fact, I spent the last couple weeks visiting a handful of campuses. Despite all the excitement, I’ve found these visits to be quite humbling. It seems two years in industry has really slowed down my growth.

Table of Contents

From Industry to Academia

For those of you that don’t know, I currently work at GE Transportation in Erie. Well actually, I work mostly from home in Atlanta, but the job is the same. Basically, I spend all day debugging Python code for a locomotive diagnostic/prognostic tool. I’d say more, but I’m sure that’s already breaching some sort of copyright.

At any rate, engineering culture and I don’t really mesh well. For now, I’ll leave it at that. You can learn more about my general gripes later this year.

Instead, let’s talk about the move back into academia. Honestly, I just felt like a PhD was the natural step out of industry. I know that’s going to make a lot of people cringe. “Isn’t that a huge commitment?!” “How are you so sure?” Don’t worry. I’ve already heard it all on these campus trips.

The truth is I love to teach. Hopefully, that’s evident by this website. And, I feel like a PhD is the gateway to teaching at the level that I would enjoy. In addition, I’m completely comfortable with the work load. In fact, interesting work actually energizes me. I used to work two to three times as many hours in college, and I was significantly happier. A PhD doesn’t scare me. In fact, I’m actually quite excited.

Needless to say, I’m committed to the idea of a PhD at the moment. I know previously I was looking at teaching English abroad, and I’m still keeping that option in my back pocket. But, I think Morgan and I want some stability for the next few years. She needs to take some time to establish her teaching style, and I want real students to work with to enhance my own teaching abilities – which benefits the site.

Dusting off the Cobwebs

With that said, my confidence dwindled during these campus visits. Within a few hours, I encountered several other prospective students with a far deeper understanding of just about every aspect of Computer Science than me. It was truly humbling.

To put things into perspective, most prospective students at the first university were interested in tough topics like machine learning and cyber security. Typically, these terms are more like buzz words but not for these students. For example, one of the students was interested in the limitations of deep learning algorithms. For me to even begin explaining that concept, I would have to dive into several related topics like neural networks and combinatorics. Needless to say, it’s a pretty complex subject.

Another student I chatted with was interested in cyber security or rather stereotypical hacking. In other words, they wanted to work at the cutting edge of system breaking which requires an incredibly large amount of knowledge that spans everything from mathematics to physics. To break a system, they may try to exploit the physical hardware, or perhaps they may try to exploit some language or package feature. Honestly, I’m not qualified to even try to explain that any further.

About a week later, I got to chat with some prospective students from another university. Again, the vibe was very similar. Students were interested in a whole range of topics from computational geometry to natural language processing. Talk about the cutting edge!

Keep it Simple, Stupid

After having just a few of these conversations, I was starting to think maybe I was shooting rather low with my research interests. If you haven’t heard, basically I’m interested in the gamification of education. At least, that’s what I like at a high level.

You see, I want to merge some of my everyday passions with my research, so that I can enjoy the day-to-day grind and benefit from the result. In general, I enjoy the arts, video games, education, and technology. Naturally, I figured I could combine them to form a comprehensive project.

As a result, my initial concept is basically Augmented Reality Music Education which kind of makes a cool phonetic acronym now that I think about it (#ARME). As the name suggests, we would use an augmented reality headset to improve music education.

In fact, the idea is pretty simple. The headset would provide some sort of visual overlay on the world which would assist in the learning and practicing of an instrument. In addition, the headset would receive audio data that could be used to assess performance. With this performance data, we could easily gamify the system using achievements. Then, to add to the enjoyment of the system, we would include social aspects like the ability to share and compare achievements with others. In turn, we would have managed to gamify music education – at least that’s the idea.

Of course, I am open to just about any project that sounds enjoyable. 🙂

The Take Home

Despite the humbling experience of the past couple weeks, I am very excited to get into research. I just have to remind myself that life isn’t about comparing myself to others. I need to continue to work for myself like I always have, and I will be successful – however I choose to define that.

I’m really excited to dive back into academia!

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