I recently graduated with a B.Sc. triple major in STEM with high honors and all that jazz. I was accepted into a number of great graduate programs ranging from computer science and applied math to aerospace and astro engineering. I chose a computer science PhD program for two primary reasons:

  1. Computer science is extremely useful for anything and everything, either directly or indirectly. It’s an indispensable toolset for all fields of research I’m interested in.
  2. Funding. Many of the other programs that were of significant interest (e.g., Purdue’s Aero/Astro) were also not funded.

Also, I just plainly enjoy the experience of programming (most of the time).

Currently, I am entering the 4th week of my first semester in the computer science program, and my concern of having made the wrong choice is growing larger by the day. Let me explain.

The university that I am at has another program that is very unique, meshes well with my diverse STEM background, and is where my passion has unequivocally been bound for as long as I can remember – let’s call this program as Program X. Only one other institute (MIT) in the nation has Program X – I applied to the program at MIT, but as expected, I wasn’t accepted. This program at my current university has extremely stringent application requirements – I was deficient one upper division unit so they wouldn’t let me even apply.

To clarify a point: I applied to my current university out of genuine, independent interest in the CS department, not because Program X happened to be here as well.

Now, this semester I am taking two graduate level computer science courses and two other courses. One course is Machine Learning – a topic that I am very interested in; if I had to pick, it’s the CS topic that most piques my interest; that, or numerical analysis. The other CS course is just some colloquium.

Regarding the other two courses: my current advisors are HRI/HCC/HCI, and this is my projected field of research in CS. Since HRI/HCI has a potentially large role to play in the field of Program X, I was able to make a case to my advisors for taking two graduate level courses in Program X.

Herein lies the source of my growing concern.

The two courses in Program X are everything I dreamed they would be, I am already pulling well ahead of the other students in the course and outperforming them (so much for the program deeming me deficient), and my heart literally races every time I step foot into either of those classes. One of the classes is quite technically challenging, and as a result I’ve been staying up until 3am and waking up at 8am just to get in more study time – and I’m not nor ever have been a morning person.

I don’t feel this way about Machine Learning. Not even close. I just don’t and won’t feel this way about any Computer Science course or research. I’ve realized that to me, CS is just an incredibly powerful tool to do other cool things with, but I am thinking that I can acquire that tool set on my own (I know I can) while having my primary engagement in a field that I’m actually passionate about.

I’ve read numerous articles, blogs, and posts about the key to a PhD being passion, as well as my own advisors having advised this to me in my course selection: pick classes I’m passionate about and interested in. I’m not really passionate about any of the CS courses, and I’m barely interested in most of them. When I look at the catalogue of courses for Program X, I can’t contain my excitement. (How do I tell my advisors that I’m not passionate about my own field??)

Now I feel trapped and that I’ve made a horrible decision – but it’s not too late to fix this since it’s the onset of the program.

Options

I might now be eligible to apply to Program X at my current university, especially since I am taking their courses and doing well – and these two courses would fix the issue of being 1 upper division unit short for application.

Is it possible to leave a program at a university for a different program in the same university? How could I tactfully go about this? Do I reach out to the graduate coordinator of the program now, or should I wait until the end of the semester when I have a definite record in the two courses to demonstrate my proficiency?

Should I reapply to MIT’s program? Would they view it as diligence on my part, or would they view it as inconsistency? E.g., “He started that program and now he’s quitting to want to come here. What makes us think he will actually stick with our program?” Despite the failed hypothetical logic, it is a possibility. Anyone with deeper insight into how my current situation and aspirations could potentially be viewed would be great. I can only speculate from a limited perspective…

Alternately, I can resubmit my application to Purdue this December, get in another semester of teaching experience, graduate courses, etc. here at my university, then leave for the Aero/Astro program at Purdue next semester and in be in a program that much more closely matches my passions.

I apologize for this haphazard and potentially discoherent stream of thought. Hopefully someone can make some sense of what I’ve written and have some insight to my situation.

I greatly appreciate the time and consideration anyone has put into reading this and thinking about it.

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