Why Go to Graduate School?

On the heels of last week’s job opportunity email, a friend asks: Why did you study EE in graduate school if you don’t want to design circuits?

GREAT question. Let’s look back at the Statement of Purpose I submitted with my grad school application:

When it comes right down to it, all I really want to do is build cool stuff. My medium of choice just happens to be digital circuitry.

These days, if someone wants to build cool stuff, I tell them to go work at a startup or something. I would never recommend grad school. Why did I have the crazy notion back then?

Sometime between junior and senior year, every Caltech undergrad has some version of the following conversation with their faculty advisor:

Student: Should I go to grad school and get a PhD?

Advisor: Sure, it worked out great for me!

Yeah of course my faculty advisor would recommend academia, he won a Nobel prize in Physics, I think academia worked out effing great for him.

Even when I became a faculty advisor to kids at the University of Sydney, we had similar conversations:

Student: Should I go to postgrad? (that’s what they call grad school there)

E: Do you want to end up like me?

And they probably thought Sure, it doesn’t seem so bad. After all, Elaine spends her days doing some teaching, telling kids what to do, and also she seems to take a lot of naps. I TAKE A LOT OF NAPS BECAUSE I’M TIRED FROM STAYING UP ALL NIGHT WRITING GRANT PROPOSALS BECAUSE I CAN’T GET ANYTHING DONE DURING THE DAY WHEN YOU KIDS KEEP BOTHERING ME OKAY????

And then I would say “YES go to postgrad!” because it was the only path I knew.

Most humans believe they made optimal life choices given their circumstances. If their situation sucks like mine currently does, it’s because of bad luck. Few will admit that they pretty much went the wrong way in life and lack the balls to change. And if you ask anyone whose life turned out great, well, they will tell you that was just incredible foresight on their part.

Now back to the original question. Why did you study EE in graduate school?

Confirmation bias.

Ask him if you should go to grad school.
Ask him if you should go to grad school.

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