SAMIR: So it was spring of 2017, and I was sitting in my mentor’s office. And I had a decision to make. I had received an offer, a couple of offers, to work at JPL the following summer, and I didn’t know if I should accept them.
And if you had asked me whether I should accept them a couple of years prior, it would have been no question. My own background, I grew up in Orlando. I watched space shuttle launches, every single launch. I came to MIT, and it was super clear I was going to be an aerospace engineer.
I chose Course 16. I absolutely loved Unified Engineering. I loved what I was doing. And getting an offer from JPL, especially my junior summer when I could get a return offer potentially, was just the goal from day one. But at the time, I had started to consider some other opportunities. Even though throughout my MIT career I had been part of Rocket Team and worked on aerospace UROPs. I was also involved in a couple of other areas at MIT.
So I was very passionate about international development. I was traveling to El Salvador a couple times to work on compostable toilets and water filtration with MIT’S D-lab. I was very passionate about public policy and taking policy classes. And that all culminated in the Fall of 2016, the political climate was very tense, and I felt very motivated to go make a change and do something.
And so here I was trying to make a decision about what I wanted to do. And it felt like I was going to make a decision for the next 20, 30 years. What I was going to do this summer was going to affect the path I took after college and beyond. And I had to figure out what I was going to do.
And I wasn’t really worried about making the choice. I was worried that I was going to end up making the wrong choice, looking back on it. And I was worried that I wasn’t giving my other passions, like international development and political science, the opportunity to be something more. That had always been something on the side to aerospace engineering, and I just didn’t want to find out 30 years from now that that’s what I should have been doing instead.
And so I go back to that decision, and I decide that I’m not going to go to JPL. I decided that I needed to give them a chance, much to the dismay of my parents. And I decided to go to Washington DC. I did the MIT DC program, and I worked on Capitol Hill for Representative Capuano, who represented MIT at the time.
And I spent the summer talking to as many people as possible in all of the positions that I thought I might see myself in. So I was talking to people in law firms and lobbying firms and think tanks and public offices and at the NSF and all over the place, trying to get a sense of whether or not I could see myself there.
I did actually more than just go to D.C. I UROPed for a political science professor. I signed up for the LSAT and took the LSAT to potentially become a lawyer. And then I ended up back in the office with my mentor. And it was the fall of my senior year. I had to figure out what I was going to do after undergrad.
I had to figure out if I was going to apply to grad school and be an engineer or apply to law school and be a lawyer. And I was trying to figure out what I should do, and my mentor said, let’s think about the previous summer– try to figure out what I liked and what I didn’t like.
And I really enjoyed a lot of what I did that summer. I liked being in public policy. But looking back on it, I realized a couple of things. As much as I enjoyed giving towards the capital and talking to the chief of staff, I found myself in the Air and Space Museum every other weekend.
And as much as I enjoyed going to briefings of all types, the ones I enjoyed the most were the ones that regarded artificial intelligence and space policy. I really enjoyed writing memos and even answering phone calls, but the stuff that I really enjoyed was writing some scripts to automate the responsibilities I had in the office.
And so it’s not that I didn’t enjoy Washington DC. It’s that I realized that I really enjoyed aerospace engineering a little bit more. And that was important to me. But I still had to figure out what I was going to do. And I was still thinking about whether or not I didn’t be– I still had to figure out what I was going to do. But I was worried that I wouldn’t enjoy being an engineer for 30 years. Maybe I would have enjoyed public policy for longer than I’d enjoy being an engineer.
And then my mentor, he said something to me that really opened my eyes. And it’s obvious now, but it was not at the time. And he said, you’re not making a decision for the next 20 or 30 years. You just need to make a decision for the next five years. And that opened up my eyes.
I was worried about doing something, and a single thing, for a long time. And then I remembered that summer, and I realized I had talked to plenty of people who had gotten their engineering degrees and then ended up working on the Hill. And vice versa as well. I talked to a lot of people who had worked in policy for a while and then had gone back to engineering.
So this entire time I had been thinking, am I going to do engineering or am I going to do public policy? And that was never really the question to begin with. And so I decided that I was going to go to grad school.
And that’s what I did. I am in grad school now, and I’m studying aerospace engineering. But I’m still interested in policy and international development. And I’m still working on those things on the side. And I don’t know what I’m going to be doing after grad school, but I know that I don’t have to make that decision for another couple of years.