For those unfamiliar with the command-line tool called sed (hi, mom and dad!), the title of this blog post is shorthand for "substitute 'Purdue' for 'Pakistan'."
In the last few days, I've:
Been accepted to graduate school - Purdue's PhD program in Engineering Education. I'm stoked; I've wanted to study with Robin Adams since I met her in October of 2009 and we talked about communities of practice and design and pedagogy and open source until the restaurant where we were eating dinner closed and kicked us out. This Thanksgiving, Sebastian and I drove out to Indiana to meet her and we talked until the coffee shop where we were drinking coffee closed and kicked us out. The first time I met Robin, I drove 3 hours back to my parents' house, devoured the class readings (scholarly! articles!) she'd given me, and drove 3 hours back out the next morning to sit in on a class she and Alice Pawley were co-teaching. The papers I'd read had been slightly beyond my understanding, but once I sat down at my host group's table, I was able to dive into sense-making with the rest of them, raw hunger compensating for my giant gaps in background knowledge. It felt sort of like Candidates' Weekend at Olin, except here my feeling of total awesomesauce mostly came from interacting with the faculty, whereas at Olin CW I spent all my (happy) time with other students - but the students I've met so far, briefly, have been super-cool and I'm pretty sure I'll find at least some friends on campus. I am watchful of my introversion and predict I will initially feel weird on a giant campus, but small niches can be carved out over time.
This is all still a little tentative depending on where my funding situation ends up, but what it looks like is that I'll be moving to West Lafayette this summer and beginning studies at the end of August. Work-wise, I'm still going to be at Red Hat doing the usual education stuff, but instead of being a full-time Raleigh employee I'm going to be a part-time (50%-75%) Indiana remotee to give me flexibility to figure out this "school" thing without killing myself.
My parents are thrilled that I'll be a 3-hour drive away and have already offered to help me look for a condo! and renovate it! and buy furniture! and - thanks Mom and Dad, we'll... discuss this once I figure out my funding, ok? and they've already told my brother that now he should get an engineering masters' and an MBA to sort of be equivalent to the PhD I'm going to be earning. (They're joking. Sort of.) I will also note that my Ama (dad's mom) required my dad and his brothers to get their Masters degrees before they were allowed to get married, because "education will make you competitive." When my mom asked her if the grandchildren would have the same requirement, her response was oh, no... my children, Masters - for grandchildren, Doctorate. And this winter in the Philippines, I was implored to finish graduate school quickly so she could live to see a member of our family get their PhD. Those... aren't the reasons I'm going to graduate school, and I won't be rushing through it, but it's nice to have my family be supportive of my school choice for the first time (I was initially forbidden to apply to Olin, and 12-year-old Mel fought a 2-year uphill battle for permission to attend IMSA), regardless of the reasons behind it. (They are genuinely happy I've gotten into a good program. And they know Purdue is a good school. Because my mom's brother-in-law (who's also my father's childhood friend and classmate, etc. etc.) went there. Therefore: good school.)
I've thanked many people individually and still have many individual thanks to go, but thank you to all the mentors and role models and colleagues and friends who nudged me here over the past 8 or so years - professors from the Teaching Open Source community who've hosted me and talked with me about the life of academia, professors and administrators I had at or met through Olin who inspired me to want to be like them, classmates who noticed before I did that I lit up every time I worked on engineering education, students I TA'd who told me dude, Mel, you should really be a teacher, coworkers who supported me in going for this weird world they didn't fully understand, friends who sat with me through periods of doubt and yelled at me to write my essays already. I know it's only the beginning, but it's been a long and slow and deep opening of my world so far, and I'm looking forward to it continuing.
Deferred Pakistan. Okay, this is "last few weeks" rather than days. Many of you haven't heard of this before, but I've been talking with Habib University Foundation in Karachi, Pakistan since June 2010 about an invitation to visit them for a year - their "Partner Year" (for non-Olin folks, that's a year of curriculum prototyping before classes formally begin) - and help them build their CS and EE curricula from the ground up, and build the school itself as an organization practicing "the open source way" from the ground-up. What happens if you build in radical transparency, open collaboration, "release early release often," and so forth into everything from homework assignments to the faculty handbook? We're excited to find out. I've been a little quiet about it because I was trying to make sure radical transparency was actually okay here before I started going for it, so I'll be more verbose about it in the future.
But startups, especially startup schools, change quickly. (This is the cue for anyone in Olin's early classes to start laughing at the magnitude of this understatement.) And while it's exciting to be in the thick of all that change, rolling with it (and I won't say I haven't been extremely tempted!) - I'm working with them for a reason. And that reason is to bring the open source way into academia, using Habib as a living sandbox as well as a school that matters, the same way Fedora is a living sandbox for the open source way as well as a distribution that matters. And while I could easily adapt to fit a lot of other roles, this role - open source community engineer in academia (for lack of a less awkward and more descriptive term) - is what I want to play. And as it turns out, they're not quite ready for that role next year. I would be useful, just not as useful as I could be later on, especially if I get more academic experience under my belt before that "later on."
So I'm off to grad school first, and we're figuring out ways for me to stay in the loop in the meantime, and at some point I'm quite likely to go there for a semester or two, but as a "visiting researcher" or someone from within academia rather than "so, we brought this random person in because she knows things." Makes more sense to the system we're working with, gives us more options for funding, and gives everyone - from my parents to my boyfriend to my friends to my extended family to my mentors - much less of a heart attack. (They have been incredibly supportive, every one of them, since day 1. Which I realize is very, very difficult to do when someone you care about is announcing that she's going to work in a country you usually see in newspaper headlines alongside words like "earthquake," "revolt," and "terrorist attack." That takes a lot of trust and a lot of love, and I'm... more grateful for that than I can say.)
And dude. Grad school. I could have Pakistan count for credit. That would be sweet.
Celebrated Chinese New Year. It was actually the most depressing Chinese New Year celebration I've had, because this was my first time celebrating it away from friends and family. My "celebration" consisted of wearing a red shirt for the day, going to the library, and calling my Guama (mom's mom) and parents (who were hosting a number of my cousins) in the evening, and my brother Jason the next day. Instead of feasting on noodles and spring rolls and oranges and other traditional noms and getting red paper envelopes with lucky money in the middle of a noisy hullabaloo full of red-attired Chinese relatives, I sat in my apartment and put a can of my Ama's tuna fish into a pot of lentil soup, because fish is traditional (except you typically have a whole fish out, not a can of tuna) and it's food from my family. (For those of you going "wait, that's not vegan!" - one thing I neglected to say earlier is that I'm allowing myself 2 non-vegan meals for the duration because I knew I'd need leeway to slip for hanging out with my decidedly non-vegan friends.)
So yes. Lonely Chinese New Year. I made up for it the next day by having dinner with a giant group of technology educators and high school students at the office, and I'll continue to make up for it by brunching with a friend tomorrow morning. I need to constantly counteract my tendency to be a shy introvert.
Burnt falafel two different ways in one day. Neither wok-frying nor baking/broiling produced decent falafel from the batter I made earlier this week. I now grudgingly accept the necessity of onions and flour in the batter as moisturizers and binders; I had hoped that chickpeas, parsley, and lots of spices would suffice, but no - you get brown patties that look decent but crumble into powder when you touch them, and taste like seasoned sawdust. They are, however, much redeemed when thrown as protein into vegetable curry that needs thickening.
And on that note, I shall eat my crumbly-falafel-thickened vegetable curry and begin the day.