Contemplate Well Thy Choice


I am heavily weighed upon by the pending ending of my time as a graduate student and the consequent need to formulate a long-term strategy for myself in the professional world.  While the horizons are broad and the options varied, the likelihood of each choice to be taken decreases rapidly and proportionally to the number of them there are.  The purpose of this entry, then, is to delineate them systematically and to describe their pro’s and con’s as well as to attempt to find some mechanism by which to weight them in accordance to their conformity with my overarching life goals.  Without further ado, let’s begin.

The first and most obvious course of action is to continue my ascent up the fabled ivory tower of the academe, which in other words can also be called pursuing the academic career route.  In particular, this entails enlisting for postdoctoral research with whoever will take me whose research interests align with mine.  This option is quite disadvantageous from the financial point of view.  Nevertheless, it offers great satisfaction in terms of challenging work environment and stimulation of my intellect, a factor of great importance to me.  The second option is to pursue a position in the wide world of industry.  I am currently becoming very interested in working either for emerging start-ups or incumbent behemoths, granting that my job involve cutting edge machine learning techniques to make software ever smarter.  Finally, there is a third option, which is more nebulous than the other two, that involves going freelance and attempting to make it in the wild west of mobile application development.

Before I delve into any of these options in further detail, I should now give a brief outline of my own broader life goals.  My interests are unequivocally within the domain of artificial intelligence and the casting over of smart algorithms from carbon-based to silicon-based implementations.  While I’ll readily admit that I am as of yet a novice in this domain and have only a little experience in implementing such algorithms in real-world applications, I feel more motivated than ever to pursue the requisite knowledge and skills that would enable me to excel therein.  Wherever I end up, I have the highest hopes that I will be advancing my technical expertise in this domain rapidly and effectively and will be shortly on my way to becoming an authority in the field involved directly in the most cutting edge research on AI there is.  I do not believe it does my case any harm to admit my nascency; on the contrary, it is a statement of the germination of a seed that was planted long ago, in the hazy fragments of memories of scientific inquiry from my earliest days.  From here on out, mere persistence of watering is all that is required, and the sapling soon turns into a veritable giant.

Another ambition I direct myself towards regards that of financial stability.  I have stagnated in this pit of public paucity for long enough.  I am served by daily reminders of the scarcity of resources for research in the institutions of scholars.  Perhaps I should not be so quick to cast judgement on the whole institution, but rather just on my particular vantage point on it.  It is, after all, dependent on case and circumstance whether or not a particular researcher or a university is well-funded.  But I cannot deny the fact that the whole experience has left a bitter taste in my proverbial mouth.  This is surely one of the strongest reasons for my inclinations to leave academia, the allure of proper compensation for my hard work and effort, and the desire to be contributing something of immediate value to society, rather than the at-times seemingly trivial investigations of the academics.  I yearn to provide a good or a service to the world, that is sufficiently useful and for which I am deservingly remunerated.  Lofty talk aside, however, there is also no denying that I am yearning to be able to afford a comfortable lifestyle without the worry of financial insecurities constantly hounding my insomniac hours.

Another complicating factor is the desire to remain in Southern California, near to my friends and loved ones.  Although I am not in principle opposed to moving somewhere radically different, I would do so very reluctantly and would favor choices that would enable me to remain where I currently am.

A few years ago, I recall making the statement that what will determine whether or not I remain in academia was the success of my graduate work, and specifically whether or not any of the work that I have done would be published in well-respected scientific journals.  At the time, I was specifically referring to the work which has since then actually been published.  There remain a handful of projects that I intend to submit for publication in the remaining year, the outcome of which will also influence this decision.  The reasoning behind this was that I would feel very discouraged to pursue the academic option if I did not get enough of a head start during graduate school.  I have simply seen too much of the “publish or perish” environment to feel that I even have a fighting chance to make it if my graduate work never sees the light of day.  That said, postdoctoral research is in part intended to further the depth of one’s CV before one can obtain a faculty appointment, so there is always the possibility to be resuscitated that way.  But again, this would all depend on the caliber of the researcher who offers me such a position where I would feel it worth the salary sacrifice in order to really gain a foothold in the scholarly quicksand that many are often sunk in.

The downside to working for a company that is often conveyed to me is the lack of freedom in deciding the research and work that one undertakes.  There is usually a very strict hierarchy in a business setting and explicit milestones to meet.  There are pro’s and con’s to this system.  On the one hand, it may prove to be stifling to my creativity and curiosity, and I may also be forced into subordination to an unpleasant superior without any leverage on the situation.  On the other hand, the sense of direction and specificity of the working goals may be an advantage in reducing uncertainty and the riskiness of an open-ended project, as is many times a source of disillusionment in the university.  In general, I am perhaps better suited to the open-ended style of work, and have always thrived in the freedom to explore projects, but the cost in terms of financial stability needs to be balanced with this benefit.  If I am able to successfully climb the academic ladder and reach a position with a sustainable salary, then this would surely be the optimal situation for me, enabling me to pursue my own research program and simultaneously enjoy the benefit of job security.  Whether or not I can certainly attain that level of success, however, remains quite uncertain given the circumstances.

The allure of working as a freelance software developer is certainly strong.  That would enable me to completely determine the course of my future and the day to day decisions of work.  But this option comes with a great deal of risk, in terms of running a successful business.  It will also be subject to a great deal of inertia in the initial launching of a startup and developing it to the point where it is generating a noteworthy revenue stream.  However, in this remaining year of my graduate studies, I will continue learning the Android development language and attempt to get to the point where I have at least one application on the Google play store, whether this is generating revenue or not.  At that point, it will be easier for me to determine whether I have what it takes to make it in the fiercely competitive world of mobile apps.

So to wrap it all up, I am not anywhere nearer to making the informed decision that this has to be.  I find myself trapped in a hall of mirrors, with every available avenue blending and distorting into the other, with no clear path to take in sight, and much confusion and hesitancy as to which directions to pursue.  I will continue to contemplate my choices, hopefully with wisdom and discernment, until clarity is attained.  But as it currently stands, I couldn’t be any farther from being able to make up my mind.  Perhaps a certain degree of surrender is called for here, as I have come to find that many of the opportunities that arise do so unintentionally and suddenly.  I will be ready to pounce on the opportunity should it choose to make itself known, but in the meantime will continue to peer across the kaleidoscopic future and marvel at the infinities of possibility, until such a moment that the many coheres into the one.

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