I had all these grand designs for Spring Break. They were certainly ambitious: in addition to finishing the final chapter on my thesis, I was planning on doing all this reading, etc. But I spent almost the whole time with my family, which made everything worthwhile. My life has been so insulated of late, and therefore writing anything interesting for this schoolblog has become increasingly difficult. Well, let me recalibrate that statement: I could write about many things, but finding something of substance has been hard mainly because I have spent the balance of the past two weeks in airplanes, behind the wheels of automobiles, as well as hunched over my laptop.
However, these past two weeks have been some of the most significant ones I can remember. I began Spring Break in Ann Arbor, Michigan -- certainly one of the loveliest towns I've ever visited. I also spent time shuttling back between Michigan's Art and Architecture Building and Tappan Hall (where the University's History of Art department is situated). I have never been to a University that openly displays its intellectual and capital wealth the way the University of Michigan does. It is an amazing place. The students and faculty I met were all great ... and I had a very happy visit to the Midwest because of it.
In case you have wandered outside the grad school threads, you may already have a sense of why I was at Michigan: I am considering moving to Ann Arbor during the summer to continue my schooling. So, like many of the readers on this thread, I too had to endure the peril and thrall of the admissions process. I've applied to, been accepted to, and must choose between PhD programs in architecture. I've been very happy with the results of this process. However, I have also lost a lot of sleep over it in the past couple of weeks. Choosing a PhD program is not only the most important academic decision I've ever had to make: it is also the hardest.
There are many reasons for this, all which could be boiled down to the same issues one sees in the grad school threads: prestige, finances, location, mechanics. But it is the scope of the commitment that is a little daunting. I knew this from the start ... but now that I have to make a decision before April 15, things are very different indeed.
I consider myself very lucky for having the options I do for continuing doctoral work. I am also lucky that I will be fully funded for at least four years, wherever I go. But this was never an easy process. Almost three years ago, when I decided that I was going to pursue a career in academia, I visited several different PhD programs. I met with professors, some well-known, others just starting their careers -- and I was met with the same response across the board. I was told that I was not qualified by virtue of the fact that I did not have an architecture background.
As you can imagine, I was a little stunned. By that time, not only had I had successful careers in law and in the entertainment industry, but I was finishing a degree in urban planning, and also had taken classes with architecture faculty at UCLA. I certainly felt qualified in some shape or form. I was resolute knowing that I wanted to pursue a PhD. And so, I decided to take a 2-year "detour" and complete the MED degree at Yale School of Architecture. It is a small program within a small school. It doesn't have the presence that the design programs there have. After all, when someone thinks about the Yale School of Architecture, everyone thinks about the faculty, the visiting critics, that 5-axis robot (which is pretty cool, by the way), the studio travel, Perspecta, and whatnot. To the best of my knowledge, noone thinks about the 5+ students there who are engaged in serious historical/theoretical research. These people have been part of my normative academic universe for a little over a year now -- and though I have learned so much from them, so much so that I can only approximate their dedication and zeal to the writing of architecture history and theory, I only ask readers to keep their scanners wide open in the upcoming years. You will know who these people are.
I guess I write this because I occasionally come across a post in the grad school threads where someone expresses disappointment for not having been accepted to the school of their choice. I find myself admiring the resolve that some posters have when faced with this circumstance. The responses range from the comical to the forlorn. Some will cut their losses and leave. Others will try again. Most will bide their time, improving their portfolios, work experiences, etc.
I wish that back in the day, when I faced similar issues while applying to jobs, law school, business school, and even film school, I had a similar source of support -- much in the way that Archinect can be in these circumstances. I guess the most obvious answer for this is that online communities did not really exist back then (or if they did, they were weaker and less developed than they are now). Now, many years later, and on the brink of deciding between PhD programs ... I appreciate the manifold failures and disappointments I had to endure. There are more to come, sure. But somehow, I feel like I am on terra firma for the first time in years.