Saturday, November 28, 2015

Insufficiently Hardcore

Forgoing the usual Thanksgiving post, although I have much to be grateful for, because I'm thinking about other things.

WARNING: Self-centered post ahead.

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Burning Out - Thomston
I'm coming up, don't worry now
I'm too young, to worry about
Burning out, burning out

Lieutenant Sarcasm introduced me to this artist a few weeks ago, and I've been listening to this song on repeat. I identify with it quite a lot.

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On Thanksgiving, as we do every year, my family went to a party with a lot of other Chinese ex-pat family friends. The food grew steadily more Western for a while in middle and high school, but has since turned a corner. Turkey is dry, and much inferior to the three kinds of fried noodles on offer.

By this time, most of us kids are in college. Some have already graduated and are working real jobs in the real world; my own sister is a senior. We spent a long time talking about college, about classes, about dorms, about the experiences we've had.

Whenever I talk to people at other schools I become more and more convinced that Stanford is easy compared to other schools. Not just because we have grade inflation--legitimately easier. I complain about school frequently and don't get enough sleep, but I'm definitely not suffering as hard as some of my friends at other schools. Of course I work hard--but if I work hard, then I will get the grades I deserve. That's not something that would be true at all other schools. I'm not sure if my brain is working as hard as other students' brains are, at other schools.

Are we as technically rigorous? I don't know. My friends at other schools seem to be doing harder math than me.

Berkeley Civil Engineering is hardcore. Berkeley civil engineers built California--and yeah, they've got numbers over us, but practically every other industry talk I've heard has had a Berkeley alum presenting. That says something.

Before long, I'm going to have to start thinking about grad school. Most of my upperclassman friends in civil are coterming, meaning they're staying an extra year at Stanford to get their Masters' degree. I think that, at this point, that's probably the default option. But I don't know if it's the best option, or the right option, and I know that since I'm a low-energy person I need to be extra vigilant about not just picking the default.

What if I applied to Berkeley for grad school? Their Energy, Civil Infrastructure, and Climate grad program fits well into my interests. What if I applied to CMU? They have a Sustainability and Green Design concentration too.

I'm happy at Stanford; happier, I think, than I would be at any of the other universities I got into. But is it worth it? Am I going to be a subpar engineer?

This break, my main task has been to prepare documents for the study abroad internship program, and I'm asking myself throughout the process, where could I possibly be useful? What skills do I have? Yeah, I can program, but I've never taken a single CS class. Yeah, I can do math, but so can a computer. Yeah, I can file papers, but so could a trained monkey. I suppose that it's valuable that I can learn quickly and that I'm not intimidated by unfamiliar software. But I do not know any kind of CAD, I have never worked in a machine shop, and I don't know BIM. These are skills that I could have learned by now that would make me useful, and I'm going to keep putting off learning them because "I don't have time."

The thing that makes me a good fit for Stanford is that I am an ambitious idealist. I'd like to think that I'd do great in a strategic or steering position, because I like finding patterns/"the big picture" and I like thinking big. But I need to be a competent engineer first.

I think a large part of my current frustration stems from my situation, now, as a sophomore who doesn't know enough. I am one-third of the way through college and I don't feel as though I know anything yet--but I have learned things, and I shouldn't forget that even though the bulk of my learning still lies ahead of me. Things kick into high academic gear for me in junior year (hello to all CEE classes). Stanford is a shiny name but it's not only a name, and it's frustrating not knowing things and feeling as though other people at different colleges are racing ahead of me--but I'll get there. Just because I'm not hardcore now doesn't mean I won't get hardcore.

The foundation is important. I'm not even close to done. I'm building.

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