March 20, 2020

Spent a good part of the afternoon wandering around the University of Michigan graduate school of engineering website, checking out the vibe, the professors… sorta getting the lay of the land, because, drumroll.. PETER COMMITTED TO UMICH.

u of Mi


He called us yesterday morning and said he was having a hard time pulling the trigger. He’d narrowed it down to two choices — University of Colorado, Boulder and University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

He’d had an incredibly fun time in Boulder a few weeks ago, when the graduate engineering department hosted prospective grad students and apparently pulled out all the stops. Peter really enjoyed the grad students and professors he met and was particularly impressed by the campus and its proximity to the Rocky Mountains, which, given his obsession with climbing these days, and his love for hiking and backpacking, was a significant draw.  There was some great bonding that happened over those three days, and he even went on a hike with a bunch of students, which sounded like it was a lot of fun. Plus he’s got a climbing friend — a woman who was part of his Livermore climbing and backpacking cohort last summer (his epic summer) — who’s a grad student at a nearby university.  They met up for a day and I’m sure she had many enticing stories about climbing adventures to be had.

Boulder is a great school and has a strong engineering department, and the culture and outdoor activities made it a very tempting choice. But… UMich has one of the best engineering departments in the country and they’re doing some cutting edge work in the field Peter wants to pursue (turbulence).

He was scheduled to fly to Michigan last week to be wined and dined and I have no doubt he would have had a great time. But the coronavirus pandemic shut everything down and they had to cancel their prospective grad student event at the very last minute. So he didn’t get the benefit of meeting anybody face to face, nor seeing the campus and community. He already knows it has no Rocky Mountains!

He did his best to talk with as many current grad students as he could, and got favorable input, and he’d already formed a nice relationship with his main professor (whatever that person is called), Aaron, over the course of a few months. Peter was Aaron’s top pick, and Aaron’s research is very mathy and computational.. So Peter’s wheelhouse.

M eng


So I get it. It’s a hard choice … the excellence and cachet of Michigan, versus the quality of life that Boulder offers. He’d been accepted at UCSD and UCLA as well, and declined both of those. He was also accepted at USC and attended their prospective grad student program, and liked it, but it just didn’t excite him the same way as Michigan and Boulder did.

He called us again in the afternoon to let us know his decision. He sounded a bit ambivalent, as though he was still tossing both options around in his head.. but he’d let Aaron know and that was that. It’s hard to imagine what the next 5-6 years of your life will be like in one place v. another, harder still when you haven’t even seen one of those places. It feels like a huge leap of faith.

Everyone says Ann Arbor is a great city, a college town a lot like Davis, with a vibrant campus life and, actually, a thriving climbing community (they say). It will be cold and slushy, and the winters will be long, and then the summers will be hot and muggy and maybe mosquitoey. But… in choosing academic excellence, and the opportunity to be a part of a small lab where he’ll have a significant role in its research, I think he made the best choice.