About midway through my internship, my supervisor asked me the fatal question: what are you going to do next? Even so near to the end of my studies, the honest answer was that I wasn’t quite sure. I had for a while thought I would end up in grad school, but at that point in time I was leaning towards employment. Having spent a fair amount of time in undergrad — transferring schools once and experiencing not a few changes in direction in my studies — not to mention feeling the pressure of dwindling cash and mounting student debt, I had thought it might be time to try to levy some returns on my educational investment. Nonetheless, I was having trouble narrowing down my options – software development, product management, tech writing? In particular, I wondered how I could find work that allowed me to utilize skills from both my philosophy major and computer science minor.
It was when I began working on a side project at my internship that I began to formulate a clearer answer. My company, a blockchain startup, was working on a pilot project with few major scientific publishers, exploring the use of blockchain to create a distributed database for sharing peer review data. My job was fairly simple — to write a blog post explaining the technology behind the project, aimed creating publicity for potential collaborators. I found that the issues I uncovered in the course of conducting background research for my post really piqued my interest. I learned about what’s sometimes called the peer review crisis, a nebulous set of problems including, among other things, that is a not a rewarding process for scientists, done for free and offering little change for recognition. By building a single system to standardize and share peer review data, the project my company was involved in aimed to offer reviewers a chance for more recognition and to create greater incentives to participate. These questions hearkened back to a philosophy of science course I took, where we examined how the scientific process, often neatly idealized, was a historically messy business, affected by political, sociological, and political factors; in contemporary, professionalized science, the publishing process is among the most prominent of those factors, with far reaching consequences for how, and how well, science works.
At any rate, I’ve digressed a bit, but this experience reminded me of what I really enjoy – digging into big issues and thinking about them critically, with a broad lens. Moreover, the issues that I explored during my internship fit broadly together with my existing academic interests in the interplay between, technology, science, and society. I’ve decided that grad school may be the route for me after all. This fall I’ll be applying to programs to attend next year.