I guess I’ll make things clear right away. Working in academia can be very, very difficult. It’s hard to get paid to do research at a top school, with all the competition with the freshly minted PhD’s from last year and tenured professors in their seventies clogging up positions. Politics are rife, with tenure often being a measure of how your colleagues enjoy you rather than the true quality of research. You also have to deal with students, of which a select few will be whining at you, barraging you with complaints about grades …. Last, but not least, you don’t get to start being a professor (unless you’re extremely gifted and got a PhD at 25 or younger) until you’re almost thirty, and that’s as an assistant professor with meager pay. So this begs the two-part question: Why do I want a career in academia, and why do I think it’s right for me?
The first is that, as a deaf student, I don’t think I’d function well in many fields that my classmates at Williams seem to be gravitating towards. Investment banking, finance, private equity, and consulting seem to be all the rage here, and probably reflects how popular economics is as a major. I’m sure I could get a decent job and a living following the finance route, but that requires so much communication between me and clients, and I’m not sure if many would enjoy a deaf person working with them, all other things being equal. I think that, due to my natural tendency to study a lot of material in depth, I’m more suited towards graduate school and the PhD track. I’m primarily studying computer science, economics, mathematics at Williams, and I’m probably going to pursue a PhD in computer science. I don’t want a PhD in mathematics, since I’m not sure how well I’d be at conjuring new solutions to math problems, and I find computer science far more interesting. Economics is also interesting, but computer science may have more opportunities for me outside of academia should my quest to be a professor hit a severe gridlock. (I have backup plans!)
In that respect, Williams is a great place for me to start my prospective career. It’s a fantastic institution known for the quality of its research and the close interaction between students and faculty. The ratio is seven to one. I haven’t gotten involved in true research yet, but I’m hoping to start as early as the fall 2011 semester. I’ll probably ask around the computer science department and see if there’s any interest in a research assistant to help them with some grunt work. After all, I need to start somewhere. And in the summer of 2012, I hope to land a research internship at a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) in computer science. Unfortunately, Williams does not have a computer science REU — it has a very prestigious REU in mathematics — so I’ll have to apply elsewhere. I’ll have to aim *wide *since REU’s are super-competitive to get into. I would guess that almost all of them have acceptance ratios of 10 percent or less for students who are not already in that school. Ouch!
That’s looking far ahead in the future, though. I’ll update this more later.