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¶ on switching research groups
I met a student today who went through a lot of what I'm going through now in my academic life, and hearing his experiences was very encouraging. A couple years into his phd, Chris decided that while the stuff he was working on was neat and fun, it never really inspired or deeply motivated him. The projects he worked on were high profile and got a lot of attention, but didn't feel like substantial research. There weren't any theorems to prove, no experiments to run, no equations to solve, nothing to bind his work together in a complete and satisfying way. His master's thesis was more an engineering project than it was scientific research, and even though MIT is an engineering school, doctoral students are still expected to produce quality research results. In the end, he didn't feel like he was in the right place and switched research groups. Switching groups, while not uncommon, was still difficult, and raised a lot of questions. Was he betraying his old advisor by leaving? How would it impact his academic career? Would he find what he was looking for? Could he afford the 18-24 month setback it would cause in his doctoral studies? Definitely not an easy choice.

Hearing him talk was encouraging because I feel like I'm in the same boat he was in a few years ago. When I first applied to MIT, I really had no idea what it was I wanted to specialize in. The first sentence of my application essay pretty much said, "I like computer science. Sorry I can't be more specific than that." which I guess was okay with some people on the admissions board. I still didn't know what I wanted to do when I showed up, and ended up being more or less randomly shunted into my current group.

Without a focus of my own, it didn't seem like a bad place to be so I worked on the projects while trying to figure out exactly what I'm here to do. Now, I'm at the point where I've finished my master's degree and need to choose whether I want to stay where I am, or recalibrate my bearings and head somewhere else. The conclusion I've reached again and again since early this year, while not always decisive and firm, has been the same - it's time to move on. Since arriving two years ago, I've consistently found myself drawn to the topics and questions involved in machine vision, robotics, and artificial intelligence to a much greater degree than I am to the problems addressed by Project Oxygen. So sometime during the spring, I started looking for a new group to work with. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be, and disheartening at times, but after several months of searching, I think I've settled on a new group to work with.

Throughout all of this, my advisor Larry has been great. I've been able to talk freely with him about wanting to change topics and possibly groups, and he's always been supportive, even giving me advice on which groups he liked and what he knew of the other PIs I've been considering. I'm hoping that I'll be able to keep working with Larry to some extent, but things change so quickly around here that I really can't say much for certain.

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