What’s Your Purpose?–A Graduate School Story


Though we shared a similar reaction, Jim Quinlan and I responded differently to filing our graduate school applications. When we met during our Ph.D studies at Carnegie Mellon University, the topic arose as we started the “how did you get here” conversation.

We attended different schools for our bachelors’ degrees in electrical engineering. He graduated from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU,) and I graduated from the University of Maryland. As undergraduates we both filled out the applications for graduate school and paused at the section, “Statement of Purpose.” Both of us were not sure what our purpose was, what we wanted to study further.

Jim thought, “I think I should stay in school to figure it out.” He wrote something and ended up staying at CMU.

I thought, “I think I should work a bit to figure it out.” I accepted at job at IBM and ended up at CMU.

Our pause when faced with “what’s my purpose?”  brought about different paths to graduate school. We both took risks with our choices. Jim’s risk: he may have ended up working on something he didn’t care for. My risk–I may have never returned to school to pursue a Ph.D. We both ended up at CMU; we both completed studies on subjects we enjoyed.

Different paths yet both successful.

Have a productive day,

Anne Meixner

Dear Reader, What memory or question does this piece spark in you? Are you considering graduate school and not sure what to say in the statement of purpose? Please share your comments or stories below. You, too, can write for The Engineers’ Daughter–See Contribute for more information.

Additional Reading

A quick search found me a couple of links with advice for applying to engineering graduate school.

Dartmouth’s College of engineering has some thoughtful guidance.

Prof Jason Hong has a page with links on applying to graduate programs and life as a graduate student.  It’s purely chance that he is a professor of Computer Science at CMU.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Daniel Arovas says:

    If your friend Jim Quinlan was a summer intern at AT&T Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, NJ during the summer of 1985, then I’d like to get in touch with him. We were roommates that summer (housed on the Rutgers campus) and became friends, but after a few years I had lost track of him. I’m now on the physics faculty at UCSD and I’ve wondered from time to time what became of Jim. Please forward him my email if the two Jim Quinlans are one and the same.

    1. Anne Meixner says:

      Hi Daniel,
      Thanks for your comment, and glad you somehow found this post in your search for Jim. I don’t know all of Jim’s work background since we met in 1988 which is the time frame of this story. Am going to guess it is. I looked in LinkedIn and see that he has been working for Broadcom in the Boston, MA area. It’s great that you have thought of him from time to time and want to contact him. I suggest you try reaching out via LinkedIn. When I wrote this post I sent Jim a message via LinkedIn, I didn’t get a response, so I surmise he isn’t on there that much. Suggest you look into a mailing address and send him a card.

      I hope you share this post with your students as they consider the whys and whens of graduate school.

      Have a Productive Day,


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