Thursday, February 19, 2004

Matriculation

February 19, 2004

This week's column is less polished than usual because I have a class to attend in half an hour, but it's also going to catch a lot of you off guard because it's not a venomous rant directed at stupid people (though it well could have been). This week I'm jotting a quick piece of Filler from inside the lovely Perry-Castaneda Library on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. I'm putting my Mardi Gras break to some use other than mental alteration this year specifically to look at UT- Austin's legal department and the philosophy grad school (both ranked amongst the top ten in the nation), but a large part of my visit has been to experience that all-important "vibe."


Austin has exploded over the course of the last decade or so thanks to its rising reputation as an intellectual town; in the '90s, it was actually being called "The New Silicon Valley." The students seem by-and-large interested and competent, but the representative of the philosophy department I spoke with today also said that many of the waiters, gas station attendants and trash collectors around here have doctorates because they were students who did not want to leave the stimulating environment. UT-A is actually the biggest university in the nation at the moment, with 50,000 students, and growing.

So what have I learned about Austin? It's a big city university, which means two important things:

First, it's well funded. This library has more floors than I had time to count on the way in (rumor has it that they own everything printed in the last 50 years), and some of the professors I've spoken with are quite renowned in the legal realm.

Second, in spite of the size of both the university and the town, people seem friendly. Though there's certainly a tendency against the homey customs of my podunk home town like meeting other people's eyes or simply saying hello in passing, everyone has been instantly responsive, conversational, and quite helpful as soon as I asked them a question, even if they didn't speak English that well.

In short, I'm impressed but not in love. If there's one piece of advice I'm happy I got before striking out on this venture, it's this: visit the ones that matter, but don't fall for the first one you see. I have several more stops on my quest before I make a decision, but my visit here has confirmed every good thing I've heard and given me a feel for what I'd be doing. Visit your grad school! It makes a difference!

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