I can definitely say that working here has given me the opportunity to see certain things through other people’s eyes. Cooper, to an extent, has offered me similar chances, but not like here. Recent discussions, both with my peers in the department and ongoing discussions at my old high school, have made me look at my current situation with a different point of view.
I always knew that the University of Illinois is a good school, especially if you’re heading into engineering. It is ranked nationally in the top 10; it is home to the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. But–at least when I went through the cycle of applying to undergrad schools, it was #4 on my list of four places. I got waitlisted at my top two, Caltech and Harvey Mudd (they were tops primarily because of location), and accepted at Cooper and U of I. Now, between the two of them, I chose Cooper without hesitation. Hmmm… New York, or Champaign? Not a hard decision, if you ask me.
A similar mindset took hold as I applied to grad schools. Unfortunately, of the four grad schools I applied to, I only made it into U of I (the other schools were all California schools; I have some theories as to why I wasn’t accepted). I deferred my application for a year, which is what brought me to Pitt, working in MRI research with my senior thesis advisor, gaining experience and maybe hopefully polishing my resume with a published paper or two.
Now, there are a handful of grad students that work in the MR research department: most of them are international students for whom English is not their first language. The ones that work for my advisor are students in engineering, either electrical engineering or bioengineering or something along those lines. I haven’t really talked with them enough to know how long they’ve been here, or how they got here, or when, etc.
We did talk once or twice about schools, though. I mentioned how I applied to U of I and was accepted, and they immediately commented that I must be really smart. Apparently, a lot of international students apply but a small percentage of them are accepted. We talked about how the university is a very good school, “better than Pitt.” I’m sure that if they had the chance, these guys would be in Champaign instead of Pittsburgh.
It makes me think that sometimes I take for granted the opportunities I’ve been given. Do my laid-back tendencies make it more difficult for me to see the worth in any given set of circumstances? Or is it something else?
I think IMSA also had something to do with my perceptions, at least towards the university. It’s a commonly-held notion that most, if not all, people who apply to UIUC undergrad from IMSA are accepted, and for a lot of people the school tends to be a safety school on their list of colleges. I know it was for me, anyway. Does that diminish the status of the school in my eyes? I don’t think so, but then again, I’m always comparing it with other schools that are as good if not better, and UIUC will always lose out in my mind when it’s competing with a school of the same caliber in, say, California or in New York, simply because it’s in Illinois. (land that I love, don’t get me wrong.)
Another thing is the realization about the advantages that growing up here offers. Access to a high-quality education is huge. Being a native English speaker, by itself, gives you a leg up in academia. Am I making the best of my opportunities here?
The discrepancies in education backgrounds also makes itself all too apparent. It’s unfortunate enough that some of the students here don’t speak English that well, but they also don’t have a lot of experience in delivering oral presentations. (Every week, one of us gives a short presentation on the topic of our choice–usually something related to work–and every week the presentation drags on and on because either the person is ill-prepared to present on the topic or can’t respond adeptly to the questions that our advisor throws at him.) The end result is a weekly meeting that’s supposed to be fairly short (under one hour) but drags on into close to two hours of hell. Maybe I got off easy when I gave my first presentation or something, because it was like buttah, more or less. I’m not sure whether to give credit to both IMSA and Cooper having given me opportunities to strengthen my presentation skills or to chalk it up to just being lucky. I’m more inclined to trust my “extensive” experience in giving presentations.
(which reminds me, sometimes I think some people could really use some instruction in presenting…’cause their presentations have bored the absolute crap out of me. One thing–you don’t sit down and just blabber on like a talking head, unless your name is Fred Siegel, in which case you can pull it off. I mean, you at least need to sound enthusiastic or be energetic. The attitude of the presenter quite easily infects those in the audience.)
In any case, it just makes you think sometimes.