Wednesday, April 8, 2009

I am a Code Monkey!

When I was in college, there were rare occasions in which some of the professors around campus would be gathered together to discuss some topic. At times it would be as mundane as figuring out ways to improve student advising methods and at other times it would be as esoteric as discussing the metaphysical implications of of non-determinism. Whether mundane or philosophical, there was one thing I found I loved. I loved hearing these incredibly intelligent people talk about issues and bring their considerable intellect to these conversations. I would hear comments and thoughts presented with such acuity, with such insight, with a keen sense of where the truth lay. For a young student, it was the best poetry I could ever find. It was soothing and invigorating. I remember one particular professor, Dr. Ed LaMonte. He could take any idea and find merit in it and then deliver the meritous parts with a distinct manner and eliminate the failings.

I would hear these conversations, these discussions and a deep desire would rise in me. I desired more than anything else to be able to speak with such eloquence. I wanted to posses for myself opinions of importance. I wanted there to be good reason to be heard. I wanted in the conversation. With this in mind I set about finding something I could possibly be an expert in. I searched through many fields. I landed in physics. Physics presented the only course-work which required me to really think about my work and I was relatively good at it. I won't say it was without challenges and if you need proof you can go talk to my adviser in college, Dr. Duane Pontius.

I often questioned why I was putting myself through these challenges. Why would I put so much effort into something so obviously hard to accomplish - and when I finished college I wasn't done. I applied for eight different graduate schools. None of them had anything in common except that they were all physics programs. At the time, I had no idea what I was doing. You see, the way you get to a good graduate school is you do some research as a college student and then you get in touch with all the professors in the field you did research in. I did no such thing. I had almost no research experience other than a Summer program in which I learned I didn't like computer code administration.

Luckily enough for me, some one at Wake Forest University took an interest in my back ground so off to graduate school I went. This brought on more and more diverse challenges to face. First, I went to Winston-Salem, NC entirely by myself not knowing anyone there. It was very lonely at first, trying to make a life for myself. Further, I had brought on more mathematical pain. The level of work had increased and I was putting more time than ever into understanding this material these professors were trying to teach me. I eventually signed on doing research on black holes. There's a difficulty with studying black holes - you can't see them. In fact, all evidence to date for the existence of black holes is secondary. This means one must study the theory of black holes and for the one field of study with even minute funding, this means programming a computer to calculate black hole conditions. This means lots of computer code.

Today I am about to graduate and there are post-doc options for me - more options where I will program a computer to compute something about black holes. I came searching for eloquence and understanding. I came searching to find something I can do that would give people reason to listen to me. I came searching for a sense of direction. What I have found is that I am a code monkey. I write codes to implement other people's ideas. I write codes to test little tiny aspects of those ideas. I write codes that often have very little to do with what I am actually interested in. I came to graduate school to try to learn to be a great thinker. I am afraid what I learned was a set of marketable skills that often involve little real, original thought.

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