Dan Schwartz called me this morning. He's a professor at Stanford, doing research on the intersection of cognitive psychology and learning, using technology as a resource to help people learn beyond their ability otherwise. He's one of the professors I want to work with there, and one I listed on my application.
He had a few questions about me. He asked a dozen questions... but it all revolved around one that he didn't ask. Together, it was this: "You've wanted to do everything, David, and you've done everything. You have an MBA. You write. You started a business. Do you really know what a PhD is like? Are you interested in doing research? Is this the right life for you? How can I be sure that getting a PhD isn't just another check on your list, or that you'll get bored/frustrated when year three rolls around and quit?"
The questions didn't catch me off guard this time. I knew what they'd be. They're the same questions that he asked my professor yesterday. But it's one thing to respond and vouch for someone you know is in it for the long run. But how do you respond to that for yourself? How can you convince someone that everything you've done in life up to this point is all pointing to the decision in his hand... especially when you look like no one else they've ever seen?
I'm graduating with an MBA. I student taught. Worked at a private school. Wrote curriculum. Published books. Did professional musical theater & opera. Started a business. Worked for a business consulting firm. Did research into best practices in student learning. Wrote a thesis on creating and modifying games for use in education. Worked as an educational game designer.
In my mind, they all point in one direction. They're all tied directly to understanding education at its core - communication. Communication in the business world - in marketing and HR. Communication in the classroom. In written texts - both creative and technical. In visual art and media. In consumer relationships. Internal communication and its impact. The use of technology in communication.
Doesn't it make sense that I would want a PhD? I've wanted to be a teacher for forever. I've paid my dues everywhere else, and now I can go back to the things I love most... right? The MBA has been a good experience, but every day I sit in a classroom as a student I wish I were a teacher. Running a business has taught me useful skills in understanding people, but the thing that makes me tick is teaching people - understanding how learning really happens.
Did you know that smells are linked to memories? If you close your eyes and smell a bottle of clove or cinnamon oil, your mind jumps in a thousand different directions, causing an emotional heave that ultimately ends depending on your past experiences. If you have good memories of baking in the kitchen, making gingerbread with your mother at 14, that may be the vision that appears in your mind.
Why are smells so deeply connected with memories? And how do they play a part? Are the memories piled on top of one another, each one getting buried deeper and deeper, or are they replaced? How many are there? How are they stored within the brain? Which specific chemical or chemical cocktail in the essential oil is the causal agent... and are memories associated with more than one set of stimuli? Is each stimuli associated with more than one memory, or are there only multiple based on the reality that smells are usually complex interrelated reactions with thousands of different receptors? And can they be used to improve cognitive skills and help people recall in the future... and if so, how?
I have a gazillion questions about learning. Things that I want to know. That I need to know. That I will learn, no matter what roads I have to cross or where I need to go or what I need to do.
That I made it this far - to a phone call on the day of decision - means that I'm in the running. That maybe the Stanford Graduate School of Education will be my future for the next part of a decade.
But it also means that he has misgivings... feelings somewhere in his gut that a stellar resume, perfect test scores, beautiful essay, and glowing recommendations won't be able to dissolve.
And that scares me... just as much as it brings me peace.
I don't know how I fared. I'm miserable at interviews. Being autistic comes with a high price... and while people will immediately mark me as charismatic, confident, and thoughtful, the more important pieces get left out. I'm miserable at catching cues and clues that I should. Miserable at knowing what to say. Miserable at everything.
He also asked me where else I applied. I didn't apply anywhere else, because I had an amazing experience at Stanford... and because I didn't want to take too much time from the people who were recommending me. It takes time to write, and I have a really hard time asking others for things that aren't absolutely necessary. Application to one school? Definitely. Applications to a dozen others, when I have no desire to go anywhere else? No. The difference between my experiences with Stanford and everywhere else were like night and day. But how do you explain having a series of profound spiritual experiences over the phone to someone that you don't even know?
I know the answers to his questions. I know that this has been the direction of my life and isn't just a passing fancy... that once I make a commitment, I don't ever renege. But does he?
It'll work out.
I'm just scared.