During the past few days I have been reviewing applications of students and researchers interested in working or studying in our department. The quality of the average application in the pool is impressive.
I don’t know how much this may be due to the economy, the overall higher education levels in developing countries, the popularity of our department and/or our field, etc. Whatever the causes, the fact is that some applications are off the charts, and this has made me start thinking.
To start, I wonder if my application would have been accepted if I were submitting it along with the ones that I am seeing today. Probably not. Secondly, I wonder how accurately does the information in these applications represent the qualities of the applicant and his/her ability to succeed in this environment. There is only so much that can be communicated through these forms and papers.
But perhaps more interestingly, what seeing all these strong applications makes me feel is a bit jealous. Not in a bad way, but still, jealous. Jealous and a bit melancholic.
You see, I left my country five and a half years ago driven entirely by an insatiable thirst for scientific/engineering knowledge. The four years I spent studying here allowed me to reinvent myself and branch far out of what a typical person with a degree in Civil Engineering from the DR would be able to do. I learned a good number of really useful concepts, techniques, algorithms. My time was spent mostly feeding my brain new knowledge, and playing around with it afterwards: bliss.
But the time to do these things with such dedication is probably behind me already. As a tenure-track faculty there is less time for Mario the learner, because Mario the manager needs to come to existence. A good part of my job today is to ensure that others can effectively go through the steps that got me here and, although there is still a good deal of learning to do, it does not seem likely that I will ever be able to, for instance, become an expert in functional analysis or nonparametric bayesian methods, to name a few examples.
Who knows? Maybe I will. Regardless, I will still reminisce on how great it was to be a graduate student, with no other responsibility than becoming an expert, like a child…. like a child.
Last revised on 2012/01/29