Wednesday, December 30, 2015

"Grad-School Persistence" from Pissed Pumpkin.

It's the lull between Boxing day and New Years Eve, and the relatives have been put on planes towards their assorted homes, which means that it is time for that most professorial of pursuits: hurriedly banging up some letters of recommendation before the deadline.

It's only one student and only two schools for the nonce, but against my judgment and advice it needs doing.

Not that I think Persistent Pattie is doomed to failure in grad-school. On the contrary I imagine that she'll battle through and emerge triumphant on the other side.

No. The problem is that she has clawed her way up to a solid job offer at a local high tech manufacturer, and she wants to go off to study [documentary-ready, but utterly unemployable sub-discipline] for another five or six year if she's lucky.

In a way I can't fault her. She got an unremarkable education at
the crappy schools around here, failed to make anything of her
first go at community college, got knocked up and ended up
divorced, with two kids and working as a receptionist. Then she
checked out a pop-sci book by [telegenic science guy] from the
local library, fell in love, and conceived a Mission in Life (tm).

That brought her to the doors of my rather dingy ivory tower
where she passed in sequence college algebra; our gen-ed physical
sciences survey and trigonometry; the first semester of our
physics-for-people-who-need-some-physic-background (algebra/trig)
class and calculus; and then the real physics for scientists and
engineers. She changed majors to physics and math and forged on
into the dizzying reaches of the upper division.

Then she landed a (paid) summer internship at the aforementioned
technology firm and turned it into an on-going (paid) internship.

She's also found time to hold up one end of a toy research
project I conceived, run down funding for a trip to a big
conference get an abstract on our project approved for the
conference, do some out-reach, bring the Society of Physics
Students back to this place, bring it's associated honor society
here for the first time and got herself elected to said honor
society. All with two kids at home.

This last semester she turned in her application to graduate in
the spring and her boss made her an offer of permanent,
professional employment as a development engineer.

That's the fucking GOLD MINE, girl!

But she wants to go to grad school.

And so, I toil over a letter that will make just the right pitch
(play up her strengths, manage to avoid mentioning her weaknesses
without seeming to avoid them, and so on) to get her what she
wants and ruin her life. She's a little weak in a one important
area, but she has such a fantastic life-story that I fear she'll
get it on the strength of that alone.


  1. Could Persistent Pattie take her advanced degree back to an industry R&D job?

    1. The problem is that she wants to pursue studies that are not related to the job she has been offered and have little relevance to most industry position. This is stuff that makes a great documentary but keeps a few hundred people permanently employed worldwide.

      If she wanted to so stuff related to the work she has been offered her employer would subsidize the work (they've said as much).

      She's a promising student and a pretty extraordinary person, but shooting we all know what kind of crapshoot she'll be getting into if she tries for an academic research position.

    2. I just had a similar (agonizing) conversation with a student. When I pointed out the crapshoot aspect to her she said, "Well, if that's true how did *you* get a job???" It's a problem when the only ones they see are the, for lack of a better term, survivors. Ultimately, though, perhaps we have to let them make these mistakes, much as it hurts? I really feel your pain on this one. Good fortune to her: may she be one of those who come out of it well and strong and happy.

    3. About 20 years ago, while I was still teaching at a certain tech school, one of my students asked my advice on a decision he had to make: accept a job offer in what he had just studied or apply to a university and take engineering.

      I told him that studying engineering involved a lot of hard work and that he might not succeed as only he could make the final choice. I suggested that he think about where he would be in 20 or so years and whether the decision he had made (i. e., job vs. university) would have been the right one.

      I think he took my advice and gave the matter careful thought. Several days later, he told me that he decided to take the job because there were other factors that he took into consideration. For example, the city where the job was located offered him certain recreational opportunities, such as hunting in the nearby area.

      More important, though, was that he appeared to be confident that he had made the right decision. I never heard from him again, but I'm sure he was satisfied with his choice.

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