Everyone loves the feeling of finally being able to graduate—to finish what they’ve worked so hard to achieve. We like to pretend this is when things get easier, but it’s not. Life goes on. That means making difficult decisions and preparing for the future. I decided to write this to summarize my plans to anyone who’s interested or curious about what comes next for me and how I got to this point in my life.
I summarize it at the end in case you aren’t interested in the details.
My First Year at Tech
I transferred in to Georgia Tech in August of 2012. Coming in, the information I had estimated the funds I need to be roughly $20k or so. That was way out of my price range. That was way more than what federal student loans would cover, so I managed to acquire a private loan from Sallie Mae. I lived on campus the first year. It wasn’t cheap. After my first year, I realized I didn’t need as much as I thought. The tuition and other costs added up to $20k, but the tuition itself wasn’t nearly as much. In fact, federal loans were enough to cover it. All I had to do was find the money for living expenses.
My Second Year at Tech
The first step was housing. Rent and utilities was about $850 a month. I moved off campus and saved about $325. Of course, I can’t save what I don’t have. That’s when I decided to do a Co-op. It wasn’t specifically for the money. That was part of it, but I also thought I’d value from the experience. I think I have. It turned 2 years into three, but I managed to avoid Sallie Mae Loans. For a time, I seriously thought this was my future(1). I became stagnant and was ready to settle.
My Third Year at Tech (Now)
That would be the easy thing—to finish school, and begin making a life. Well, it would be easy in the short term until I realize this isn’t what I want to do. If you know me, you know I love science. I love learning about it and talking about it. It really got me thinking seriously about what I want to do. I began college intending to be an Aerospace Engineer (AE). I loved math, science, and space; it was perfect for me. Unfortunately, job prospects aren’t great in that field, but it’s so closely related to mechanical engineering (ME) that I should do ME first then I could continue on to AE for grad school.
Except, as time progressed, classes got further from the science and deeper into the engineering. It was bland, and I really lost interest. I had gotten to the point where I realized I had no interested in higher education in engineering. Overtime, my hopes of working in the space field had just sort of faded away. It’s the sort of thing where the further away from it you get the harder it becomes to do. Then in September of 2014 I had the opportunity to see a number of seminars, or talks, on various subjects in space and planetary science.
It reinvigorated me. I knew if I really wanted to do it I had to at least try. I had to make an active decision to pursue this in some way, so I spoke to one of the speakers, a scientist from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). He directed me to a professor in the Earth and Atmospheric Science (EAS) department here at Tech. And I went for it.
I sent her an email. No reply. But, I had enough to keep me pushing forward. I contacted one of the advisors in EAS to discuss my interests and opportunities. I looked around at a number of Graduate programs at different schools before talking to her. I had come to the realization that I just wasn’t prepared for it. Half the schools with planetary science expect a background in physics that I just don’t have. I had no research experience(1.5). My GPA (at Tech) was a 2.81 (as a result of my lack of interest my grades had begun to fall(2)). I did not feel confident in my chances. I planned to go for a second bachelor’s degree: rebuild my GPA, create connections in EAS for recommendations, and get some research experience. I had a clear plan to get into grad school.
I kept to this plan until December or so when I realized I made a mistake. I didn’t even try to apply. Some say you only fail if you don’t try, and I guess that mumbo jumbo is true. Except, it sure as hell doesn’t feel like it. I received my rejection email today from the department. Now, I knew it was coming. Even given my subpar qualifications, I realized the planetary science group didn’t have the funding for anyone. I only applied to Tech, and that was mostly because of the late minute change of heart. It was hard as hell to get everything I needed for the application. Like in the other areas, I just wasn’t prepared. That won’t happen next year.
After Graduating from Tech (Future)
As much as I would have liked to begin my graduate career next year, it is not going to happen, at least not officially(3). This semester I began doing research(4). I’ll continue doing that full time over the summer and part time in the fall. I’m already registered for a mix of EAS and physics courses in the fall. I am going to try and get the second bachelors by the end of next year, but it’s not that easy. My focus will be on graduate school, so that means getting the most out of my classes the research I’m doing without overwhelming myself with unnecessary courses for a degree I don’t even really need(5).
I’ll co-op part time, as my schedule allows, if my employer allows me to(6). However, it isn’t a priority. Research over the summer will be for pay (not great but better than none). This next year will still require some Sallie Mae though, but when I apply to grad school, I’ll be applying to the PhD program for at most places (as opposed to the masters program) because planetary science tends to be a PhD level field. This means, I should be funded once I get there(7). Then it’s all up hill from there.
I have a plan, and I’m fairly confident in that plan. However, things fall apart, and if this doesn’t work out… Well, those who can’t do, teach(8,9).
I applied to the graduate program in the earth and atmospheric program here at Tech. I didn’t get in. I have to wait a year to reapply to grad school. In the meantime, I’m working towards a second bachelors in the same program here at Tech. I’m still graduating this May though with my first bachelors in mechanical engineering.
1I really like McKenney’s. I enjoy the atmosphere and the people I work with. I don’t want to make it sound like it has anything to do with them. If I were working in this field, I’d want it to be with them.
1.5Advanced science programs are research based. That’s what it’s all about. You need to show them you are capable of performing research.
2Maybe I’m incompetent, but I had begun to do worse in courses that were supposed to be easier. That is, easier than some of the courses that I had actually done rather well in. This also doesn’t include classes I took before transferring to Tech. This was all the core classes AKA the easy classes.
3Everything I am doing is to work my way into grad school, so in that sense, I am starting my grad school career. I don’t like having to repeat the undergrad process, but as bad as it is, I’m luck to still be so young.
4I’m working with Dr. Britney Schmidt. I’m really enjoying what I’m doing and with working with Professor Schmidt. Soon, we’ll begin our first paper. I look forward to that because having a paper published with my name out will look great, and because I’m interested in seeing the process take place. I’m studying fracture propagation in glaciers (specifically Helheim) , and later we’ll do a similar analysis of the Europa icy surface. There is so much more I could say about this, and I will with time.
5Some courses are more relevant to me than others. I need to focus on these rather than trying to juggle other courses that are less relevant. Plus, it’s important that my grades in the fall good to show that I am capable and serious about doing this.
6Co-ops work where you work full time for a semester then go to school for a semester before you return t to work again. You do this until you’ve worked at least 3 full time terms. You can work more if you like, but I have, and will only do, 3. I have explained my situation to my boss, and he has, up to now, allowed me to continue working part time. I think he’ll let me keep going, but I haven’t had a chance to talk about it first.
7PhD students are funded usually with a fixed stipend ( a year sum, not very high); master students aren’t. Most programs let you enroll straight to the PhD program, and you can even get the masters along the way. Some require you to do the masters first. In which case, I’d have to find funding (loans) for that period of time.
8If I’m wrong, and grad school isn’t for me, I’ll reconsider what I’m doing, but then I think I’d try education. It allow me to stay within the science and to continue communicating it. That’s a “what if” sort of thing though.
9I’m updating this a few days later because I really should add that this is just a joke. I love my teachers. I’ve been so lucky to have had so many amazing teachers in and before college. Thank you to all of you, and I in no way mean to minimize the amount of passion and effort it takes to be a teacher. Thanks!