Sunday, September 13, 2009

Stumbling into life aspirations

This summer, I knew that I had one year left in my undergraduate education and that the time to make a decision about my career was fast approaching. I've been torn for some time between two different career paths: teaching in a seminary and teaching at a university. I love to teach the gospel, so seminary teaching appeals very much to me. That said, I love teaching just about anything. I'd be able to provide more for my family as a professor than as a seminary teacher, and I think that teaching computer science would be a great use of my natural logical abilities.

Seminary teaching would not require an advanced degree, but computer science teaching would. Since I'm not yet sure which way I'll go, I've been preparing for both eventualities. That means that I took the GRE this summer and that I started to look into research opportunities, TAships, and signed up for the next seminary teaching class. I hope that as I try these things out, I'll have a better idea of what to do.

Besides the question of which career path I'd like to take, the route of computer science requires an answer to another question: what will be my emphasis? I enjoy many aspects of computer science, but although I tried to familiarize myself with many of the current topics in CS, I failed to find something that I was sure I wanted to study indefinitely. A research topic was the subject of much thought, study, and prayer throughout the summer.

I started doing some research with a professor who taught one of my classes last year. I wasn't at all sure what I wanted to research, but some of his work sounded interesting and I decided that I'd never know unless I tried. So I decided to jump in. I started my research in parallelization on Thursday.

Towards the end of my first few hours in the lab, a man came by and spoke with my advisor briefly. The two of them left shortly thereafter for some sort of meeting. Someone pointed out that the man who had just walked past was featured on a flyer in the hallway. His research sounded interesting, but I figured I wouldn't see him.

I left a few minutes later. I passed an auditorium as I was leaving the building and noticed my advisor speaking in the front. He was introducing Matthew Might, the man whose research had sounded so interesting. I slipped in the back and noticed another professor and friend of mine seated nearby and sat next to him.

As Dr. Might spoke, I quickly became fascinated. Fireworks began to explode in my brain: he was talking about something that really made sense - something that I could actually study for my whole life!

In the midst of the pyrotechnic spectacle, the professor seated next to me leaned over and asked if I would TA for him. I had decided during the summer that I didn't have time to TA, no matter how qualified I was or how much I wanted the experience. My initial reaction was that I had no time, although I wanted to accept. While still observing the shooting stars that seemed to originate from somewhere near the projector screen in the front of the room, I tried to come up with a way to fit a job as a TA into my schedule.

I suddenly realized that I would most likely be able to count my research as a class and drop another, thereby freeing up more time than I would spend as a TA. A brilliant, smiley-faced shape erupted in the sky, accompanied by a resounding cannonade.

I asked the questions, filled out the paperwork, and made the changes to my schedule that were necessary to accommodate all of this.

I'm tempted to think of this as happenstance, but I know better. The Lord heard each of my prayers this summer and answered quickly and powerfully. In so doing, He reminded me that He is watching over me and will always act for my benefit. I know that God loves me enough to show me wonderful opportunities. By extension, I know that He loves all of His children in the same way.

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