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What to do with my life?

  1. Apr 10, 2013 #1
    Hi all,

    I've browsed this form for a while and have gotten some help but now need to ask some personal advice.

    I'm currently a junior in chemical engineering at a top-20 engineering school. I don't know what I want to do with my life. My original plan was to go to grad school, get a PhD in chemE, then do research at a national lab. I did a REU last summer and loved it, and I'm doing another one this summer. I've been doing undergraduate research with the same professor for two years now. The thing is, I don't know how much longer I can take being in school. I'm starting to feel very constrained and frustrated that I'm not benefiting society or really anyone at all. I worry almost incessantly on how my future actions will impact society. I'm very interested in nanotechnology for medical purposes, but I can't shake the feeling that an invention could potentially be used for "evil" purposes; I'm weary of the responsibilities associated with being on the cutting edge of science. Looking back, I've learned much more outside of the classroom (both in lab and even with friends) than I do in class. I dread going to classes because it stifles my creativity. When I was a freshman, I had all of these great (read crazy, impossible) ideas that filled my mind. Now it's all I can do to complete my work, and I have no brainpower or will left to explore on my own. Is this what grad school is like? If it isn't already clear, I really don't like learning in the classroom setting but love doing research on my own and collaborating with others. I think that's really cool.

    I'm considering getting a job as a traditional chemE after I graduate for a year or two, then seeing if I hate it and want to go to grad school. I have numerous hobbies that I derive pleasure from, so if my job allows me to exercise my brain a little, I think I'll be able to enjoy life more than I am now. That is, if I could even get a job. All of my friends will have 1-3 summers of internship experience, whereas I'll just have the REUs, which aren't really all that relevant. I'm also scared that I could never force myself to go back to school after leaving it if I did take a break. My counselor recommends I go to grad school, and if I hate it, then just leave. He also told me I would regret not going for it, so I'm sure to never shake that thought from my mind. I'm not a quitter though, so I would stay in it even if I hated it. I'm also worried that if I do go to graduate school, my chances of getting a job outside of research would be decreased. I want to keep my options open.

    I would greatly appreciate it if anyone could offer me some advice on the matter. A few people I know personally have offered me advice, but it is all very biased (professors telling me go to grad school).

  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 10, 2013 #2


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    relax big guy. you are way ahead of the curve. you may need a little break and (contact with/work in) a day to day job to remind yourself of the larger picture.

    basic point
    ; you are fine, but you are losing sight of that right now. don't worry. grad school is very hard, you might want to teach/work awhile.

    but you will be fine when you fix on where you want to do. i'm not worried about your ability or future, but give yourself a little slack.

    don't do what someone else wants you to do, but what you are attracted to. they may be right, but it is not a one and done deal - when you know you want grad school it will very likely still be there. talent is always in demand.

    remember, grad school is not in the business of giving largess to untalented people, they are out scouring for people who have the ability to succeed. when you go to grad school you are doing them at least as big a favor as they are doing you.
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2013
  4. Apr 13, 2013 #3
    Thanks for the encouragement. :) I think I was just hitting a low spot the past few days and have re-set my sights on grad school. I can't really imagine myself not doing research.
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