Monday, May 23, 2005

First-year recap: school choice addendum

One area I wanted to write about a bit in my earlier post but forgot about was some more on the issue of school choice. Those of you unfortunate enough to have been subjected to it will remember that I had a really hard time deciding between Berkeley's Bioengineering program and MIT. As somebody put it, I was flip-flopping before flip-flopping was fashionable.

I originally didn't think I'd really be interested in the Berkeley program, but my visit really changed my mind, not least because the program seemed be much more laid back than the MIT computer science [EECS] program, another program I was considering. The Berkeley faculty presentation was laced with lots of jokes and slide transitions that showed people doing outdoorsy stuff in the area around SF [ie skiing, biking etc], whereas the MIT EECS presentation started off with one professor telling us what the academic requirements were, and all the ways to flunk out of the program; this cheery intro was then followed by about 30-40 professors each telling us, in staccato machine gun-style delivery, what their area of research was, in 2 minutes or less. Welcome to MIT !

In the end, I decided to go with MIT [obviously]. Part of that was familiarity: I visited MIT a bunch of times as an undergrad because one of my best friends was there and
I also lived in Boston for a year after college and liked it. Part of it was the faculty: I thought there were [marginally] more faculty doing interesting things at MIT than at Berkeley and thus more people I could see myself working with/for. What really swung the pendulum, though, much as I hate to admit it, was the "MIT mystique", the often-heard notion that MIT is -the- place to go for a scientific/engineering education. That, and the fact that I'd made two previous attempts to go to MIT -- once when applying to undergraduate schools and once when applying for grad school during my senior year in college. Both of those attempts could reasonably be called half-assed, for various reasons, and neither of them worked out. Even though, in retrospect, it's a good thing that those attempts failed, it did leave me with a bit of a complex about MIT. So, given that bit of personal history, I figured if I turned down the chance to go to MIT, I'd always wonder whether I really could have made it here and I didn't want to be in that situation. Hence, MIT.

In the past year, I've discovered that people here, just like everywhere else, put their pants on one leg at a time, so to speak. Sure, there are some people here in comparison to whom I'm basically a lab rat [like a 17-year old computer science PhD student, and a math professor in his early 20's], but they're a minority. Having erased that particular doubt, my main goal now is to get out of here as quickly as I can ;-)

From a science/research side, if I had to choose again, knowing what I know now, it'd actually be a much harder call. Berkeley's Bioengineering program has rotations, and is run in conjunction with UC San Francisco, which has a medical school, so it fits both my previous lessons about school choice. In addition, there are people working on synthetic biology [like Jay Keasling and Wendell Lim], on malaria genomics, on developmental genetic regulatory networks etc. Basically, because it's run in conjunction with UCSF, which has a great biology department, there are twice as many biology professors to choose from as you'd get in a normal program. So, given my [more informed] interests, Berkeley actually has an edge over MIT.

All that said, I'm happy with my lab choice and projected area of research; it's not like I'm now dying to go to Berkeley. Which, I guess, leads me to my

Third lesson learned: at a certain level of quality, you can't really go wrong, science-wise, with any school you go to.

... something lots of people told me, but I didn't fully understand until now.


Post a Comment

<< Home