Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Call for procedure for attaining maturity

This is me trying to pin down my thoughts on this matter; coherence may not be high. You may recognize these as the ramblings of a bewildered young person who's (still) going through the whole "know thyself" transformation known as the dreaded Growing Up.

First: I am going to grad school someday. Even with the inherent unpredictability of the future, this is one of the events that has the highest probability of happening at some point in my life (pretty much the only other thing with higher certainty is the item "Mel dies.") This will probably be in engineering, and I want to become a professor someday. I will probably also at some point work in industry in some capacity, but as a way of gaining a better perspective for what I should be doing in academia. End statistical disclaimers here.

However, over the last year and a half or so I have been steadily realizing that now is not the time for me to go there. I'm not academically mature enough to be a graduate student; although intellectually I believe I can handle the material (I've been devouring research papers and graduate textbooks for fun for over 3 years with no trouble), I don't have the ability to focus on a research topic (or even know what I want to focus on!), work constructively in a lab for a long period of time, or manage my time on independent projects. I need to learn how to handle responsibility, and I need a broader perspective; in short, I'm not going to be ready to go to grad school by the end of May. (Nor am I sure that I am mature enough to go immediately in to industry. I'm pretty much not ready for "the real world.")

I could probably fake it. I've been fortunate to have access to great classes and teachers, awesome libraries and information sources, and a brain that's quick enough on the uptake to fudge my way through things without developing much intellectual maturity. (Y'know, study skills, on-timeness, scheduling, actually preparing for things ahead of time instead of wandering to the whiteboard without a clue of what the lecture's been on...) I think a lot of Olin and IMSA kids did this through middle and/or high school; I've also been doing it through Olin and have so far been passing classes and all that other stuff because I can improvise and am shameless enough to do so.

However, without developing self-discipline and maturity, I'm not going to do anything close to what I could do if I was able to responsibly manage my time. This phrase is too common: "man, Mel can do all these things when she's distracted... imagine what would happen if she focused!" I want to learn how to focus because I do want to find out what happens. I don't want to waste any potential I could have to do good. (I don't think I have that much potential, or no more than anyone else - but what I do have, I want to use right.)

I'll be taking a "year off" right after graduation to travel, volunteer, and work on an independent project in engineering education that I really should describe here at some point. I've spent the last 9 years cramming content into my little skull at top speed, and this is the first real chance I've gotten to step back and take a breather, really reflect. I've got time and space to grow, and the willingness to do it.

What do you think are the most important things an incoming grad student (or adult in general) should know or have, and how did you obtain them? I'm not too worried about learning specific types of content, although if you have a favorite textbook or want to say "Learn Linux and LinAlg! It's EVERYWHERE!" that's cool too. I'm really worried about... well, maturity. Responsibility. Being an adult that can handle those things instead of an arrogant cocky punk kid who pretends to try, but in reality thinks that everything is a fun game. (This is my attitude towards the world; it's a lot of fun, but it leads to me blowing stuff off that should not be trivialized, and that needs to change.)

I realize that this is something that will happen anyway; maturity comes with experience, which comes with time. I'd like to hear your thoughts, thoug h, O People who art Far More Wise than I.


Cheryl said...

Mel, short on time today, but of course your entry caught my eye, so I will start by admitting I only skimmed it. That said, while you can have a sense of "I'm not ready for the real world", I honestly believe that a good way to be ready is to go out and be in it. Not true for other things; I think that people who are not ready for kids shouldn't have kids, but anyone can learn about the real world through do-learn. I also think a year off to pursue dreams that are more "out there" is an experience not to be passed up! As for necessary skills, in my recent self-evaluation of my performance at work, I find myself most wanting to have better self-esteem and people skills. The end.

chrismurf said...

I'm afraid I can't speak as a voice of reason or maturity, despite being in what I'm told is a decent grad school :-P I have "Ooh Shiny!" Disodrer to this date. Not sure how it will work out through this whole grad school thing, but so far life is good. Don't stress yourself out too much about being "prepared" and "mature". I'm sure you'd be fine in grad school Mel, even if you came next year.

That said, as a VOP I'm always an advocate for 'taking a year off'. But don't take a year off to study / prepare for grad school. Take a year off to do something cool, or something that makes a difference, or both. Go someplace that we've never heard of. Live in Fiji. Work in Namibia. Help out in middle school classrooms in DC public schools. Do all three at the same time.

Whether you take a year off or do something immediately, don't stress - you'll be fine no matter which path you take I'm sure.
- chris

L33tminion said...

I'm pretty sure that most "mature" people start out "faking it". (And that many never get beyond that point.)

Those individuals that develop real maturity quickly tend to do so in less-than-pleasant circumstances. There's no need to rush.

pdf23ds said...

Have you looked into whether you have ADD? If so, medication could make a huge, huge difference for you.

pdf23ds said...

Oh, yeah. I was going to link to my post about this. Silly me.

pdf23ds said...

Well, damn. I linked the wrong post. It's this one I was talking about, sorry.

Mel said...

Thanks, Cheryl, Chris, Sam, and Chris. I'll reply through email individually in just a bit.