Thursday, February 5, 2009

Inflection Point

Weekly lab meeting with my advisor was today, and in the course of discussion my advisor made the comment to the group that I am "at an inflection point." And I have been thinking about that, and I think he is exactly correct - that describes this point in my career nearly perfectly.

The trip to Singapore marked the 10th anniversary of the Singapore/World's Best School partnership, and also the official end to the program. This means that each subdivision of the partnership has to plan its end-game, what it wants to accomplish as the final contribution to their respective fields.

In my lab, last summer a large group of students undertook a major project we dubbed "microfactory," or ufac for short (mu-fak, sounds slightly dirty but it's not, just geeky - mu is the symbol for micro). Ufac had some very specific goals we were trying to reach over the course of three months in the summer. We almost made it, we were so close but ran out of time before classes started up again.

I am getting to the point, here, hang with me.

Point 1
So my advisor has decided that our lab's end-game is going to be Ufac, Part II. So there's the first inflection point I've been thinking about - the focus of the lab is now going to streamline down to Ufac II as we use up the rest of our money and look toward the future. I am really excited about this - my research fits perfectly with this project, and I was really dissapointed last summer when we didn't quite reach our goals. I think if we can get it to work it will be a major contribution to my field, the culmination of 10 years of knowledge gathering.

Point 2
The only problem is that most of the students from last summer are trying to graduate, and won't be around for Ufac II. So the second change going on around here is a bit of reorganization in personnel. Normal weekly meetings with my advisor have always been his two PhD students and myself. But since they are now both in the home stretch to graduating, he will be meeting with them one-on-one. I will be meeting instead with the newly formed Ufac II group - which is myself and the only other two students from last summer who will be around. That will be biweekly, and I'll meet one-on-one with my advisor on the inbetween weeks.

Point 3
This one-on-one in the inbetween weeks is because I am also trying to graduate - although only with my Master's, and I'll be staying for a PhD. I actually turned in the first half of my thesis to my advisor today - yay! - for him to review and return to me with comments. I aim to be done and have the thing signed by the end of February.

Point 4
Which is good because in May I am taking the qualifying exams to be admitted into the PhD program. This is a high stress operation, requiring an average of three months to study. I don't want to be worrying about the Master's thesis while trying to study for these things, and I need to start studying... well, yesterday.

Point 5
And then as soon as I finish with quals, I have to decide what I want to do for my PhD. I've just started thinking about this recently, trying to figure out how the Ufac II project might lead into a PhD research topic. It's odd to focus on the long-term planning, since I've been spending the last year and a half working on my master's topic. But hey, that's why I'm calling it an inflection point.

So to sum up this lengthy post: I am currently changing all at once the focus of my research, the people I work and meet with, and my degree status. I need to begin to study for qualifiers, and begin to think about long-term PhD plans.

Quite an inflection point. I'm crossing my fingers that I'm at the local minimum, and it's all up from here... :)

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