27 September, 2010

Romanticisation, Research & Reality

As I've now hit that point in my mid-late 30's, I've had some internal conflicts recently see resolution.  This won't be one my traditionally long winded/verbose entries, though it won't be short enough for a micro-blog post either but here it goes...

Over roughly the past two decades I've been torn by issue of not attending university, especially one such as MIT, Stanford, Virginia Tech or UC Berkeley in pursuit of a Masters/PhD in computer science.  I feel that I missed out on the social aspect (aside from the excellent environment for furthering myself in a group setting in my field of interest/passion/expertise.   This is simply a recurring romanticised view I have over my regret.  I only envision the good parts, not the tedious drawn out study periods, the painfully boring pre-requisite programs/classes and lecture in mundane subjects solely to satisfy the higher education machine.  I am an autodidact and a fairly effective one at that.  University would have most likely quickly become the bane of my existence.  I experimented with higher education and within the first semester found the pace horribly slow and in the case of required classes, a horrible waste of my time and money (I paid the tuition with my own cold hard cash).   I opted to leave before wasting any additional money and simply continue to do what I had always done, educate myself for a variety or sources, as well as getting my hands dirty in my field of interest (amongst others for well-roundedness).

This brings me to one of the reasons which fed the romanticised ideal as prescribed in the previous paragraph(s); my research in the field of immersive virtual environments.  I have spent a considerable amount of time since my childhood in the areas of researching virtual environment simulations (e.g. simulations of real-world objects and scenarios).  This could entail human interaction with every day objects to be used for gaming or habit studies or to simulate atoms at the molecular level or even the macroscopic planets, interstellar bodies and galaxies in our and other places of the universe.  This is the kind of research which would have either lent itself towards achievement of my PhD or conversely, the focus of my post-doctoral research under a grant.

Finally, the reality (hint: it isn't all that bad).  Working in an academic environment in professorial/research dual/split roles would've been a wonderful way to go, though it wouldn't allow me the flexibility I currently have in terms of working from my home whilst raising a toddler, and being home for my elementary school aged child as well.  Do I get funding to pay for my personal pursuit/continuance researching simulations and their many facets?  No.  Do I have a surplus of time to allow me to pursue said interests after my family and work related endeavours are satisfied?  Not much at this point in time.  Do I feel that the overall balance of what could have been versus what truly is and what still may come my way is reasonable, fair and not worth feelings of regret?  Yes.  I'm rather happy with where I am as a Software Engineer for the past 15+ years and while I'd still love grant money to further fund my research, I can't say that I don't  enjoy some of the daily challenges of my already existing present-time workload.

Just because we might find ourselves in a situation that isn't exactly as we'd initially thought we would want doesn't mean that there aren't equivalent outcomes that still satisfy our initial hopes and aspirations.  I suggest that those of you who have dealt with the aforementioned conundrum, take a good long look at how you might still achieve the equivalent that fits best into your existing life plan and stop worrying so much about such exactness in realisation of ones dreams, otherwise they might never materialise in any recognisable form.