Making decisions part 2

Apr 19 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

Here is part 1 of making decisions, based on a talk I heard from  Ruth Chang.

One of the points she made, and was made in a early talk in the show, was that decisions are hard because we don't have enough information. Or maybe we feel decisions are hard because we don't have enough information.

I recently had a young friend, the child of friend, who got into two graduate programs and was having trouble deciding which to accept. They were roughly equal in what they offered and the potential, but had different flavors to the program, and what my young friend would end up doing. I repeated to him one of the things I have always said about deciding what college to go to: the things that will make a difference to your ultimate experience, and your ultimate life path are unknowable at this point. Yes, you can maximize that good things will happen (i.e. take the grad school that offers you a stipend, which is non-trivial in the humanities). But, what will make a difference is going to be a casual encounter, a class you don't know that you will take with a professor you don't know exists. You cannot know what will be important, because it hasn't happened yet, and can't really be known.

One of the interesting points that Ruth Chang made about not knowing was that it doesn't even matter if you did know the outcome. Even if you had a video of what would be on either path, that doesn't mean one path is better, they may be equal, but different outcomes. We can't do everything. It's not that one is better, it's that they are different.

Sometimes we can go back and change recharge the path. She did, deciding between law school and philosophy, choosing the former, realizing it was a mistake and going back to the latter. But then, you've already changed the path. Going to get a PhD in philosophy, after law school, is not the same path as going to get the PhD right after college.

But, more often you can't got back and even do both options. This is part of the point from the previous post: make the choice and embrace it. Embrace the act of choosing.

I need to choose, right now, a couple of M1 medical students to join my lab for the summer as fellows. They will do work, learn research, and in some cases, keep a relationship to my lab and research over the next three years. The applications dribbled in last week, and I picked the 6 most promising to interview. Then, Sunday and Monday I got a flood of another 15-20. Yipes! I have to decide if I want to interview more (difficult because I have candidates meet with my lab group, too, as I value the lab group's perspective, and I'm asking my lab group to take their valuable time in making this decision). And then who?

I remind myself, Potnia, old thing, it probably doesn't matter. I've had mostly good but a few bad summer fellows. I can use some criteria to try and make sure I get good ones. But in the end, probably choosing among the 6 I will have talked with by the end of today is probably a fine decision, and that I'm not missing the one who will transform my research. Because, if there was one who could  transform what I do, I doubt I would be able to pick them out of the bunch with an reliability.


One response so far

  • shrew says:

    This really resonates. Trying to make some decisions about rotation students right now. My lab is so small and fledgling that the decision is important and hard. I would rather not belabor these decisions, but the whole rotation process seems set up to draaaag out choices that could probably have been made quickly with as much confidence and success.

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