The CMU Graduate School Experience, Six Months Later

Patrick Tumusiime
6 min readDec 31, 2021

And here I was setting a goal to religiously publish a weekly blog, this was until the reality of CMU’s idea of graduate school set in and I found myself drowning in the school routine that almost left me with no time to do any other meaningful thing without feeling like I was wasting very valuable time. Looking back a couple of months ago when the hype for graduate school was brewing in my mind, I naively romanticized about the whole experience in the hope that dwelling on the idea that, ‘it was a dream come true’ would eventually mask all the dark spots and allow me the privilege of focusing on the journey. Six months later, I’m glad that as much as the experience was far from what I expected, I’m still alive and confident enough to also add that I am a better ‘thinker’ than I was one year ago.

In all honesty, I love setting goals, targets, timelines , I can possibly take planning to a whole new level if necessary and that helped me through the 6 months of my first semester, however given the history of how all these plans have turned out in some aspects, I have also learned to tone in down and take it one step at a time, therefore 2022 will be that year when I won’t be setting any new long haul goals but rather much shorter and precise ones like the this 100 Days of Code Challenge that I started on last week.

As we look forward to the new year, Covid19 and all its never-ending drama aside, here is my unfiltered graduate school experience at Carnegie Mellon University Africa.

#1. The transition

Before moving to Rwanda, I scrapped the internet for any and all information on ‘How best to live as a graduate student in Rwanda’, I was surprised to learn that this was not a popular topic which meant that I needed to resort to other means of finding this information. I contacted a couple of former students that thankfully shared their experience (only Viola and Charity came through from among the many I contacted). Armed with this valuable information, I set out to find affordable accommodation options, there wasn’t much to pick from but thankfully I got a decent shared option which meant that I needed to also work on my people skills since the living space was to be shared. I love people very much and God knows I do but then I also love my space (All the introverts say Amen!). I have had to learn to accommodate people a lot more that I thought I needed to do because if there’s one thing that is guaranteed, it’s the fact that there will always be habits/beliefs that you don’t necessarily agree with but must tolerate to live harmoniously with the rest of the world. Transitioning to the place where I allow my space to shared with others and doing it freely is one thing I am still learning to do.

#2.The workload, pressure and never ending deadlines

No one ever told me that as a graduate student, I am expected to flawlessly handle work-load twice or even thrice as much compared to the normal graduate student workload(normal at the standard of a 2 year research graduate school course), while I expected that , Yes the work-load would be much more than normal, I didn’t anticipate that it would get to the point I’d be too overwhelmed that I re-considered the decision to continue studying because it just didn’t make sense that all this effort would eventually pay off( In $$). The courses indeed were interesting, and some were even fun like the IoT course that had me, for the very first-time tinker with a raspberry Pi and the Java Script Programming language. That same fun came with projects and assignments to complete and not completing but doing so excellently (grades do matter if I am to maintain my scholarship) within the stipulated period which saw me borrow some of the skills I had learned at my previous Job dealing with SAP project implementations that also had fair share of pressure and deadlines. In some of the courses I stayed up late in the night (This is apparently the normal life of a graduate student at CMU) just to meet the deadlines, this was in addition to all the cancelled weekend ‘plot’, all in the name of making sure that I keep up the pace and slack in any way as that would affect my deadlines. Knowing that I don’t work well under pressure, I have had to deal with impending panic attacks to keep sane while sometimes I have had to give up altogether for the sake of my mental health. In this whole mix, the icing on the cake is the pressure of teamwork that almost drives me crazy as I must deal with team members that are either just lazy or have higher priorities and since in reality, we don’t exactly always have the privilege of choosing our teams, I am picking lessons on how best to foster teamwork and remain sane in the process.

#3. The naysayers.

In our highly opinionated world, we will always have that group of people that seems to have arrived at the answer to the world’s problems which is that you can’t do much other than sitting back and relaxing since the world is self-distracting and the only way out is by saving yourself while belittling everyone else along the way. That is my very long definition of the ‘naysayers’ that I have encountered in the past 6 months. They will help you recall your statement of purpose and point out all the areas where you mentioned anything related to changing the world especially Africa, after which they will turn it into the trending joke of the day on social media. I admittedly have on many occasions even doubted my own statement of purpose since it has a very specific reference to change in Africa.

I intend to use my education at CMU- Africa to finding solutions to the low internet penetration in my home country, Uganda and also conducting research into why the internet cost is very high which inevitably will lead into proposals to stake holders in a bid to bring the cost of internet down and as such also trickle down to bringing the cost of doing business down especially for the youth-led startups that rely on the internet to operate.

I intend to use my education at CMU-Africa to influence the shift in the education system to a more practical approach especially when it comes to the incorporation of programming at an early stage and finding ways of making programming more fun and attractive to not only the youth but also the younger generation.

The above ‘dreams’ maybe far from reality, which is why they are dreams (for now) but for one to claim the right to decide which one of them is valid or not based on own insecurities is what I have had to learn to shield myself from and not to be one that propagates the same behavior by pulling others down.

#4. God is still God

Despite all the graduate school hassle, my relationship with God is on an all time high as he has dealt with me on a couple of habits that I’d struggled to drop, he has led me away from an unsettling congregation (This will be a whole other blog post) and above all I know understand where my passion is in this walk with him. Did you know that the ultimate purpose for all of us(Christians) is to know Jesus and make him known? Well, I am on a journey of learning how to do this through Christian apologetics that I fell in love with during my graduate school( See there’s some light even in this hard graduate school) and as I engage with the Bible, I have also learnt a couple of things about the Bible, one that has stood out for me is that I ought to read the Bible as a library and not as a mere book, something I didn’t know before . As you usher in the new year, my prayer is that you will find purpose and meaning in your walk with God and let that inform how you deal with life.

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