Looking forward: A Doctorate Program

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So a bit of some personal news (which you can safely ignore if you’re not interested in my personal life!) — I’m excited to announce that I have decided to accept an offer to the Computational and Data Science Doctorate Program at Chapman University in California. I came to this decision after a decently long period of deliberation and thinking things over, and weighing opportunities at Chapman against my other offers. However, having just finalized everything this week, I am ready to announce Chapman as my home for my doctoral studies in the upcoming years.

There are two main aspects to my decision — why computational science, and why Chapman?

Williams Hall — Chapman University (Photo by Tom Arthur)
Williams Hall — Chapman University (Photo by Tom Arthur)

Why Computational Science?

From Physics

For the first few years of my journey in higher education, I had always believed that I belonged in Physics. Well, all my friends were in Physics and I didn’t really know otherwise. But even before that, there was so much I had admired about the beauty of Physics. The quest for elegance in our models. The creation and taming of new mathematics to fit our purposes. The relentless and ages-long drive to unify everything into a single, beautiful framework with as few assumptions and axioms as possible, and the fact that from such simplicity, things weave themselves together to create such stunning complexity.

It wasn’t too long before I realized that I was a little out of place amongst my peers, and (apparently) a long tradition of physicists.

I had often remarked that I would have just as much joy in figuring out the “physics” of a made-up universe — that the joy was in finding the mathematical models that would describe it and finding out the implications.

Apparently — and who knew! — these days, most physicists are driven by a desire to understand our own physical world.

I looked back on all of the physicists of history who I admired — Gauss, Gibbs, Metropolis, Heisenberg — I looked up to them for their ability to invent and draw from new mathematics to tackle their very real problems at hand. The fact that Gauss is just as popular in Mathematics as he is in Physics is a true testament to his genius. And while Gibbs is known for revolutionizing thermodynamics and statistical mechanics as we know it, I more admired the intricate maths that he pioneered and invented, just to solve the problems at hand.

Maybe, instead of taming the world, I was more fascinated with taming thought?

Taming Thought

Anyways, over the course of the first half of my final year at my undergraduate university , I talked to more and more people and received a lot of suggestions on what was for me. I owe a lot of where I am today to the people who helped me during this stage, and for the people who took time out to invest in guiding me. I found myself spending a lot of time in the Applied Maths department of my school, and I eventually stumbled upon the field of “Computational Science”, which was presented to me as this interdisciplinary blend of Physics/Engineering, Applied Mathematics, and Computer Science. It basically involves pulling in from the entire landscape of maths and applying it to developing new computational techniques, models, and methods in order to solve vast and complex problems in the real world across a wide variety of domains.

Really, it seemed to represent everything that I had been interested in and was pursuing on my own time, for the past year or two. It represented everything that interested me in the “real” lab positions and jobs I took. In everything I did, I attempted to ask “how much of this problem can I turn into a problem in computational science?”

The path sort of all clicked together — in Physics, I was always a bit more experienced in computation than my Physics peers. In Computer Science, I was always a bit more experienced in maths than my CS peers. My peers were often times better grounded than me in their respective fields, but I always recognized myself as one of the few with that specific and unique interdisciplinary blend. Surely, there were people like me — surely I wasn’t alone. And after finding out about Computational Science, I realized that I wasn’t.

I knew that I could easily and eagerly spend my entire academic career focused on pioneering new methods and models and theories of computation and applied maths. And I knew that it was really what I had wanted to do all along.

Not only was it what I was apparently passionate about this entire time, I saw it as a very important field in the coming ages. With computation and data science more important than ever in the fields of medicine, engineering, health care, economics, defense, artificial intelligence, and in simply rethinking the way we live life — I was excited to be able to be a pioneer in this new field that had the potential to impact so many sectors of the world. It was exciting also because it was such a new field that there was much room for innovation, and people today still are only beginning to partially realize what was even possible with computational science. If I can look back in sixty years at the world around me and see a revolutionized world and believe that I had a part in it all, I don’t think I’d be regretting anything.

These were big motivations, but most of all, I was motivated in my shift by just simply following my interests and passions. The rest is a nice bonus!

In this decision, I sort of was saying goodbye to my first love, Physics. But in a way, I really wasn’t — this was the part of Physics that I loved this entire time, and I am not the first in History to make this choice. I was eager to apply all of the intuition and tools and insight that I learned from studying Physics and finishing a B.S. on it to this field that needed — more than any other — someone who came from exactly that background.

Why Chapman?

After doing the above soul-searching, it came time to finally send out my applications. I collected the best of my references and wrote out my personal statements, researched schools and faculty, and submitted my applications to a very narrow and selective set of schools, from a variety of programs and fields — from Physics to Electrical Engineering to Computational Sciences (picking from universities on this useful SIAM journal list). I only picked programs where I felt I could apply what I mentioned above. I was even able to manage to get a much-appreciated recommendation from a distinguished person in the Haskell community that I admired very much, a professor at University of California, San Diego.

The months passed and the offers and rejections came. As expected, I did not receive an offer from my few choices in pure Physics, but I received offers from places in Electrical Engineering and Computational Science — Chapman among them.

Every place I received an offer from offered their own unique benefits — from the reputation of a big name to strong ties in favorable industries, and the like.

Probably the first significant event in my decision to accept Chapman’s offer was my meeting with the Chancellor, Daniele Struppa — a brilliant mathematician who literally embodied everything about the field that I loved. A chancellor who still was active in research, he showed me how he himself worked in the fields of biology, geology, meteorology, and ontology, and many more by simply looking at the problems and linking concepts of applied mathematics. With knowledge of the wider context of applied maths, he was able to look into problems and find just the tool that was missing.

He shared with me his vision of Chapman’s future in the sciences, and much of it reflected his own philosophy. He dreamed of expanding Chapman as an established name into industries and fields I was excited to be a part of. And I saw myself able to not only be a part of a growing field but to also be a part of a new movement and a very grand vision of an up-and-coming science university, and maybe (just maybe!) even being able to help shape it.

The fact that Chapman was home to an impressive list of top world physicists (including a 2013 Nobel Laureate involved in discovering the Higgs mechanism) didn’t hurt either!

Still, even with this, I still was not yet fully decided. My other offers were from schools that weren’t just up-and-coming — they were already established!

However, when I looked at their doctorate programs (in comparison to Chapman’s), I couldn’t help but feel like I’d be compromising myself. Other departments had aspects that I could apply what I was passionate about to. They had advisors an teams that I could — if I twisted myself in just the right way — apply my interests towards. However, everything about Chapman’s program seemed to just fit like a glove. The objective, the courses, and the projects and advisers, as I began to realize, were almost as if they were lifted straight from my dream school — my dream program! If I could write my own doctoral program, environment, and culture, it would almost exactly match the environment, culture, and program of Chapman.

When I realized that, I realized that I had made my decision.

Onward

So…that’s it. I’ll probably be using this coming summer to transition into Chapman and the faculty there, and maybe find a team I could try to contribute to. And then I’ll be starting in the fall. I’m excited to see how this journey winds up in four years, but I know that this is the start of an exciting next stage of my life!

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