It’s been two years. Two years since we stepped into the Hariri Building for orientation. Two years since we began our journey working with gnovis. Two years since the word “interdisciplinary” became a fixture in our vocabulary. We have now reached a crossroads in CCT, where we leave behind the Car Barn and embark on the next phase of our lives. As we prepare to walk across the stage tomorrow, our graduating staff would like to impart a few words of wisdom to incoming CCT students. May your time at Georgetown be as fulfilling as our own!
The graduate school experience can be overwhelming at times. Do your best to create balance by making social gatherings a priority. Even in an interdisciplinary program like CCT it is easy to confine yourself to the silo of those who take similar classes, are interested in similar topics, or come from similar backgrounds. These gatherings are important places that mix different people together. They were, for me personally, when some of my most important cognitive incubation happened. I was able to try out new thoughts and theories, I was learning, on people who were on other academic tracks. This so often resulted in fresh perspectives and really good questions that helped me grow intellectually.
Another piece of advice: there are a million amazing opportunities at CCT, the larger Georgetown academic community, and in Washington D.C., don’t jump at the first thing to come your way. Take a little time to weigh some of the options and choose the one that is the best fit for you. And don’t overcommit! This is a pandemic that sweeps through Georgetown each fall when the unstable force of over-achievers meets the immovable object of Washington D.C. opportunity. The resulting collision not only makes you less effective at each of the the tasks you committed to, but it quickly results in a mind, body, and soul that is run down. I know most of this sounds like the “work/life balance” that has become a hallmark of business kitsch, but it really is important. This this coupled with the fact that many of the things you’ll count as valuable from your grad school experience will be outside the classroom e.g. important friendships or useful contacts in a desirable field. Do your best to think holistically about the grad school experience and weigh each opportunity in light of what you hope to achieve. Lastly, make real personal relationships with the professors. Unlike some programs, the professors at CCT care deeply about the students and devote their time, energy, and resources to help you along in whatever path you’re choosing. Don’t pass this up.
TL;DR version of my advice: People have different abilities and go eat food if you’re stressed.
There will be many times in grad school when you will doubt your abilities. Your classmates will answer questions in class mentioning theories and terms more obscure than 99 Luftballons; and you will start to question your place in the program. Eventually your general outlook on life in grad school will dwindle into a weak ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and you’ll be constantly wondering if you’re “smart” enough.
I urge you not to be discouraged. CCT is filled with such diverse characters from very different backgrounds and we shouldn’t aim to measure our talents against the yardstick of others. If all else fails, I have found that the garlic parmesan chicken wings from Wingos on O Street are a general stress reliever.
There we go, practical advice.
If you’re anything like me – and probably most CCTers – you live to explore every opportunity that you come across. Every path no matter how deviant from your own seems so interesting and appealing that you would be cheating yourself if you didn’t dive in. You feel a strange mix of exhilaration and incompetency when surrounded by new ideas, topics, and experiences, and you feel an overwhelming need to explore them all. Don’t worry, in CCT, you’re not alone.
You might not be a roboticist or maybe you don’t see yourself as a statistician, but engage in those conversations and take a couple of those courses anyway! CCT is a place that widens your perspective, enhances your skillset, and cultivates meaningful conversations. Embrace every opportunity to do so, but always keep your own health and sanity as a top priority. Spreading yourself too thin will cause you to lose sight of your purpose. But holing yourself up in one field of study or one group of like-minded individuals will limit your potential. Find the balance.
I say this because this is the personal battle I fought while at CCT and I hope to offer a little guidance to those who might face it in the coming year.
I will tell you this: There is a good reason why you’re on your path. Own it. Mold it and shape it, but don’t ever lose it. It will be tempting at times to try out the path of another, and I urge you to do it! But don’t ever lose sight of your own. After all, this is the one that brought you here to CCT. You have your own unique experiences, interests, and knowledge to share, so share them with your friends and colleagues on their own journeys of exploration. Stay true to you and what brought you here, and let the ideas that guide CCT help you shape your unique path into your next phase of life.
What an amazing thing you are. You can imagine! When you are imagining something, your mind is a unique undulation of fields. Although ineffable, your imagination is very real because it is you and you are very real! You are the prism creating your version of the truth. You alone subtly shift the wider reality. Yet only with others can you move it in new ways. Only with your friends does the world become pliable and fun.
I came to CCT lost. I was a mixture of seemingly disjointed skillsets and knowledge bases. I majored in political science but spent my work time practicing photography and overhearing about information theory and computing technologies. I got to experience incredible demonstrations of directional speaker arrays and a 3D cave that you can step inside to be immersed in imagery. My undergrad was an incredible experience. Yet the whole time and after, I felt so disjointed. How did all this connect? It had to, it is all part of the same world!
I spent much time brooding. I was trying to put it all together so that I could know what to do! Eventually my family and community helped me realize that I ought to try something instead of brooding over a mythical perfection, so I reached out to my favorite science fiction writer and started a chain of connections that gained me a mentor and acceptance to Georgetown for an MA in Communication, Culture & Technology.
I have realized that “not knowing” something or someone is nothing to be feared, it is instead a wondrous moment of rejoicing: it means you’re about to have a chance to learn! You are about to have a chance to grow, and you owe it to yourself to take those chances.
If you find yourself like me, feeling lost, try to understand as I have learned that we are gifted with the opportunity to love the moment, and we all choose to love in our own ways. So ask your heart what you want to do, and set out with all your courage. You can shape the world; you are a powerful creature called a human who can imagine forms and build them into reality. Find friends to help you and never stop learning. You are the guardian of your limits, only you can unleash your potential.
So TL;DR go to grad school and hang out with awesome people, it’s fun.
Life’s lessons hit you when you least expect it. Sometimes things happen that completely change how you see yourself and the world around you. That’s what happened to me during my tenure in CCT. There were moments over the past two years that were as triumphant as they were tragic and with each of these moments I learned what really mattered to me and why I was put in this particular space at this particular time. I found that what was most important to me, what would take up most of my focus at Georgetown, would be what I had unconsciously fought for throughout my life.
With this in mind, I would like all of the incoming CCT students (and our second year class) to remember to always stay true to themselves. Cliched yes, but we forget how easy it is to get lost in the shuffle. It’s even easier to make the priorities of others your own. Never let this happen. Always keep what is near and dear to you close throughout your time in this program. Who you are–whether that’s a big city girl with strong ideals or an immigrant trying to navigate your way in a completely new space–will motivate you. It will push you. It will drive you. Sometimes, it will drive you crazy. But that energy, frenetic and unyielding, will make you unstoppable. I hope that for those of you with passion and grit, the next 1 to 2 years will shape you into a person that you can be proud of in the next 20.
Final note: Don’t spend all of your time in the Car Barn. You’re young and in one of the greatest cities in the world; explore it while you still have all of your mental faculties!