I've spent the past month dealing with various tasks such as presenting at the Cornell AI Seminar, teaching a NESCAI tutorial, studying for finals, and giving my dissertation proposal (called A-Exam at Cornell). Now that I've successfully passed my A-Exam, I'm officially a Ph.D. candidate and on the clock for graduation in two years.
But for now, I thought I might take some time to reflect on a few lessons that I've learned thus far in grad school. Although I didn't have many pre-existing notions or expectations when I first started, my experience thus far has been a very pleasant surprise.
In the fields that I've been exposed to (which ranges from social sciences to computational sciences to life sciences), research takes form in very social and interactive ways. I had many doubts entering grad school, including whether I had the creative strength to undertake novel research. From the outside looking in, it often seems like progress requires some magnificent burst of insight that I could only dream of replicating. In reality, progress mostly results from dedication and learning from others to understand different viewpoints. This enables us to take more well-rounded approaches to tackling new problems.
Perhaps the most important goal I had coming in was to learn as much as I could. This would be my way of paying penance for slacking off (at least in my courses) during my senior year at UIUC -- although to be fair, I was doing some other interesting stuff. What I've discovered instead is that typically, knowledge for its own sake is hard to justify at the end of the day.
The best research yields insights which, at least indirectly, positively impact our quality of life. While it's impossible to say whether any particular avenue of pursuit will yield fruitful results, a good researcher makes good bets. As such, usually one of those bets will pay off, often in unexpected ways. When the research is in a high-impact area, the lessons learned can usually be applied in more general ways to other areas as well.
I still have two years remaining before they kick me out of Cornell, so my approach to research might change in the meantime. But for now, I'll just take it one day at time, wearing slippers at work and coding deep into the night. Now if only they had a towel service in the CS building, then I wouldn't have to walk a block to the gym to take showers. That's all for now folks. You can check out my latest paper if you're still bored.