It’s that time of year again. Students in Japan are both preparing for the end and the beginning. My lab has seven students up for their masters degree and a bevy more undergraduates who are both preparing their final reports and studying for entrance examinations leading to another two years of study. I write this in between final thesis presentations from members of my academic clan, err laboratory. It’s this never ending annual cycle of new students in and new students out. And for most Japanese engineering students at the big three universities (Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka Universities), that’s it. They’ll stick around until they are twenty-three or twenty-four, graduate for the last time, and transition into the workforce for one of the several enormous and sprawling companies that have become the mainstay of industry in the “Land of the Rising Sun”. Every once in a while, some unlucky or foolish chap will decide to throw another three years onto the pile and continue on towards a doctorate in their respective area of study. I guess that makes me either unlucky or foolish (or both). And here I am in the waning days of that academic study wondering if I am both ready to finish and ready ready to move on. And thinking about whether or not I made the right choice.

What the hell am I talking about? Of course I made the right choice.

It is so easy to be overflowing with self doubt and decision paralysis in a world where more opportunities continualy spill out from behind every corner. I should be reflecting on how fortunate I am for this plethora of choice, but instead the worry, the doubt, and the varying shades of fear come creeping in every now and then. How do I really know that I am making the most of the time I have? I don’t and I never really will. And the knowledge of that very fact eats at me. Perhaps now is a good time to learn to let go of that visegrip on control and outcome I’ve tried so desperately hard to maintain. But that’s what engineers do, don’t they? They minimize risk and strive for predictability and repeatability. Engineers hate it when that doesn’t happen. I hate it when that doesn’t happen. I hate it when I doubt if I’ve made the right choice and have maximized the possibility for the future.

That annual cycle of students coming and going, pardon my imagination, can be found in the metaphor of a flowing stream. New students come in just as fast as the old students go. Sitting on the banks you can see them float on past. I can imagine that’s how the professors feel from time to time. They sit and watch new youth come and go. As a doctoral student the flow of time is a bit slower; I see faces speed past me, towards the rest of their life. It’s even more poingent when I know I came back here to skirt the uncertainty of “the real world”. These young engineers enter that world for the first time. Albeit, it’s a little different here than back home, but facing the impending decisions that come along with graduation is something I’ve faced, endured, and retreated from. The finality of it all is what really gets me.

At some point, it’ll be “pencils down” for all of us and we’ll need to move on.


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