Three days ago I was in a meeting with the cooler committee, talking about new directions for the cooler design. Before I lead you astray here, let's be clear: this is a group of people convening to design a thermoelectrically powered vaccine cooler/carrier. This is not a committee of people who are cooler. This group of people is, in fact, pretty ill-qualified to make up such a group. My advisor's name is Prof. Jacobson and he calls himself Dr. J, so he's the big exception to that. He wears colorful button-ups and drives around in a silver Mazda coupe, and if there was a Cooler Committee for geriatrics in the world, he would head it until he died.
I had a few ideas I had hoped to get across about the efficiency of our design at our meeting, and I started with analogies to cars and air conditioning systems, talking about taking our ideas to extremes, and proceeded to make drawings on the board that were intelligible to only me. I doubled back on old points, went on to new ideas that I forgot I had, glossed eyes in the room in record time. I knew that I was in a room of bright, capable people, but I was just losing them. I wondered if my ideas were too weird, my communication was bad, or maybe I was just a different kind of thinker than these people. I wondered how I would fare in a room full of engineers.
So that was a little frustrating, although I think when the dust settled I got at least one of my ideas across ("We need to be cooler! Look to Gaga!). In contrast, the day after the meeting I had something of an epiphany. I've made a decision I'm happy with and even though it may not be a big milestone decision, it feels so definite and real that I'm quite satisfied with it. After waffling and wailing about decisions for grad school, whether to go to UNC or NCSU, what particular flavor of engineering to do (they make you choose one out of like twenty kinds of engineering for grad school, how lame is that?), I'm happy that I've found what I want to do.
I had tentatively settled on Biomedical Engineering for my post-graduate studies. Two days ago I was looking through online information about degree programs at NC State. I discovered sadly that I was already a month late on the deadline for the joint UNC-NC State Biomedical Engineering program (or eleven months early!). If I still wanted to apply for an engineering program at NC State it would have to be in another field. I had only recently decided I wanted to do Biomedical Engineering, so it was pretty easy to let it go. I went on to look at other departments. I cruised on over to the Biological/Agricultural Engineering site, where I saw a number of things that intrigued me dealing with environmental restitution and other topics, and then went to the Mechanical/Aerospace engineering site. I was on the 'Undergrad Requirements' section and saw that students studying Aerospace Engineering are required to design a flying machine that mimics animal flight as an undergrad project, which sounds pretty awesome. The graduate research section showed students working on 'eco-cars' and rocket frames, beating pig hearts and remote airplanes.
It was at this moment that my decision was made. I just thought, over and over again "I want to do that. That right there. That's what I want to do" I craned my neck closer to the computer screen to see exactly how they had designed the car, what shape they had used to make sure the car was aerodynamic. I've had to make tough choices before, but it felt like this one just came up and made itself. I wondered how I hadn't known this all along, how I didn't know I wanted to be an engineer since I was in elementary school. At that time my dad would take me to open houses at the Engineering school in my hometown, and I marveled at the solar car they had on display, built bridges out of toothpicks and marshmallows, and tried to hold textbooks a foot off the ground using only paper. I was over the freaking moon. Back then it didn't matter. You didn't have to play it cool for the ladies, didn't have to tell yourself to take deep breaths when the Book Fair rolled into the gym. Before the 'cool train' rolled into town (Springsteen plays softly in the background: "Pass you by, glory days...").
I know that this isn't how it usually works. I figured my decision would be the labored, iffy kind of one I was going through a week ago. I was prepared for it, ready to make a decision when I wasn't sure about the outcome, maybe one of my first adult-like decisions like that, like a decision about where to live after you graduate from college or to switch careers. This one, it turns out, is nothing like that. Shucks.
Responses to this Entry
If I've learned one thing over the course of my life is that there's never a single right answer--and no one has all the answers. Everyone, from the lowliest of plumbers to president of the world, is making it up as they go along. Every decision, no matter who you are and what it's about, is made by a human with no more insight than Joe "cool" Dawson. A decision isn't adult or juvenile--it just is. So don't worry so much about the "adult decisions." They're not borders you cross, or a shade of color the world turns when you make them. They're just the same decision you made back at the Book Fair, and either way life will go on, and you'll get another shot.
My two cents, at least
Posted by: Ty on January 28, 2012 3:08 AM
Thanks buddy. You must admit that choices feel a little more dire than which pencil topper to get with my Magic Treehouse book? We'll figure it out, anyway.
Posted by: Joe on January 28, 2012 9:53 PM
I think one of the most notable things I've discovered about Oberlin alums is that while we make an important "adult" decision, we are also not cutting out the possibilities of making other decisions in the future. I know that's not exactly a comfort, nor does it help you make a better decision, but it's sort of nice to know that making a big decision doesn't mean you're signing your life away completely.
Posted by: Ma'ayan on February 3, 2012 2:19 PM
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