Musings on the Future, Part I: Academia

Junior year in high school is when your parents, teachers, and other superiors start to ask you seriously, "What do you want to do with your life." They don't mean any harm by it. They're curious. But after you've been asked this question, sometimes in the variation of "Where do you want to go to college?, over twenty times, it starts to induce anxiety.

How do you respond? You say something simple, idealistic, and often related to a major that you'll end up changing twenty times in the next three years.

The question dies down for about four years, and then you're a junior in college. When they ask you the question again at this riper stage of your education, you feel that your answer actually matters, thereby inducing more anxiety. After all, you have a little bit more than a year until you graduate. You have some choices:

1. More school, eventually leading to a real job
2. A real job, eventually leading to the need to return to school in order to advance further in your chosen profession.

This week, Princeton's Class of 2015 will receive notification of their admission. It's been three years since I opened the emails, one by one, from every school. The last two were Princeton and UPenn, and for Penn I'd been admitted to their dual-degree program in the School of Engineering and Wharton. That was the first time I ever made the choice between intellectual curiosity and career-orientation. And now, with a year until graduation, I'm at a similar crossroads, along with many others.

Today I attended the Translation and Intercultural Communication Lunch talk where my good friend and  honorable member of my Tuesday cooking shift at the International Food Co-op, Abigail Bowman, was giving a talk about her thesis: "Snakes and Sexuality in Present-day Anatolia." She's a Near Eastern Studies major who is translating two short stories by Murathan Mungan, a contemporary Turkish author who, in these stories in particular, deals with themes of sexuality and otherness within traditional motifs of Turkish folklore and symbolism.

Abby was a natural. She'll make an excellent professor. She delivered an engaging and informative lecture that was better than any I've seen this year, with the possible exception of her thesis advisor's, Robert Finn's discussion of translating the work of Orhan Pamuk. She's considering going to graduate school in Turkey and then becoming a professor one day. Her performance today was certainly inspiring in terms of the meaning of academia and the fruits academia has the potential to bear.

I should give it more thought, even if I don't see myself going to graduate school immediately after college. After all, I can always go back to school. I can't always go back to the workforce.