USA Graduate School

  My first impression of the United States was very nice. Three years ago, I arrived at Bradley International airport at around 1 o’clock in the morning after 30 hours on the flight. Although I was a bit disappointed by the small airport I was instantly attracted by the music of insects and the smell of the grass lawn when I arrived at my apartment. The next morning, the birds woke me up and I realized the city I am going to stay for another two or three years is not like New York City or Shang Hai. It is a quiet and beautiful town and my apartment was located in the forest. I felt like I was camping in the mountains. The first time I saw a taxi here was two months later. There are no buildings more than 4 floors and you can barely find one inch of naked ground. The weirdest thing was that people never take one or two hour breaks in the middle of the day. They kept working until they finished their work for the day. Even now, I still miss the time when I can take a nap before I go back to work in the afternoon. After living in Beijing for four years, everything here is so different. But it is different in a good way. At least I can focus on my study now without too much distraction.
  In the first month, I was taken care of by a visiting scholar, who was heading back to China soon. He taught me how to drive, cook, and took me around so that I was able to live independently when he left. I realized that it was a huge mistake that I didn’t take my father’s advice to learn some basic cooking. I can make food but it never tastes as good as it does at home. American food was not bad but that wasn’t something that I can live on. Happy times always went by fast. Two months later, my independent life in the United States started. The first thing I realized was that I needed a car badly. Storrs is so small that there is no necessity for public transportation to be well developed. It will take me three hours to walk to the lab in the morning. So when the visiting scholar left, I bought the car from him. That was an old Toyota Camry with fairly high mileage but that didn’t bother me. At least I have something that can take me to school and to grocery shopping. I did make some friends but it is a luxury here to expect other people to help you whenever you need. Everybody has their own difficulties to deal with.
  When I decided to come to the USA graduate school, I spent almost a year to prepare for the GRE and TOEFL exams and get the application process done. Then I came to the states and realized that their college students spent their time so much better than we did. They have three months for summer vacation so they work as volunteers in hospitals because they want to go to medical school later. They do part time jobs in pharmaceutical companies because they are interested in how things are working there. In other words, they are learning practically and they make their decisions based on what they saw and what they knew. We make decisions simply based on what we heard from other people, which may or may not be right.
  One interesting thing is that more and more students come to the USA for graduate school right after college. I was one of them but now I don’t think it was very smart to do so. Doing research in the United States is not just doing what the advisor told me to do. I need to have my own ideas, which are usually based on a good collection of background knowledge and research experience. I had a very hard time understanding the significance and research approaches at the beginning of my study. It took me even longer to make my own thoughts and put them into an experimental test. I was lucky that my advisor didn’t give me too much pressure but other professors might not be as nice. If he is not satisfied with your work, he has the full power to get you out of the lab because he is the one who pays you. American students usually work as a lab technician for a year so that they will have a taste of what graduate study feels like, then decide if this is what they want to do. So I strongly recommend students to work in a lab for at least a couple of months before they choose research as a career.
  It is still a bit early to decide whether I will go back to China or stay in the states after I get my PhD. There are so many things that one has to consider. Living in the United States is very comfortable. I can buy a big house with a beautiful garden and it should not be a difficult thing. The relationship in academia is quite simple. If you do good science, everyone respects you otherwise there is no way to establish your own position. I can travel around the country any time during the year. Transportation will never be a problem. But things are also different for foreigners. There are a lot of other things that we can’t enjoy in the USA. For example, I want to share the happiness with my family but my parents don’t want to come to the states. I want to hang out with my friends but I don’t have a lot of friends here. The American life style doesn’t fit me very well and it is not possible to really become a member of this society. It is quite true that the United States is heaven for kids, a battlefield for young adults and the tomb for old people. I was so sad to see an old gentleman going to the shopping mall by himself last Christmas. More importantly, I believe that science doesn’t belong to any country but a scientist should always remember his/her homeland. I might not be able to change anything all by myself but we can make a difference if everybody thinks this way.