Because if it isn't the right idea, it will become incredibly obvious that this is the wrong decision for Right Now as soon as I finish writing this.
I'm not going to apply to engineering grad school. In fact, I have no plans right now to go to engineering grad school - and by extension, no plans to become an engineering prof.
This could change. I am not saying that I'll never have plans to go to engineering grad school and become an engineering prof; the option is still open, and I hope someday I will again. But right now, I do not.
If I pursue my PhD in EE, it should be out of love, not duty. I have a strong sense of like for EE research - maybe even a love of some of it (like hearing aid technologies). But I can't say I'm passionate about it at this point to the same degree that I am passionate about other things, and to try and force that passion would be counterproductive. I haven't found myself up until 5am reading papers on cochlear implants yet, but I am compelled to do community work and teaching in a way I can't ignore. I can't stop doing that any more than I could stop eating or sleeping. But I can stop doing engineering in the way we currently define it by the things we teach our academic undergrads. It's painful, and I miss it, but I won't die.
If you love something, let it go. If it comes back, it's yours. If it doesn't, it never was.
What I am going to do: I want to go to education grad school. Masters. And then educational sociology, because I'm hungry for that - I have been up at all hours of the night reading the research, trying in small ways to do it on my own, for over two years now. So now those are the only places I'm applying.
I planned on doing education and sociology before, but always alongside engineering, as if the engineering gave me some sort of validation that I was still okay, something that I could do so I could (if I had to) call the education and the sociology "just" stuff I'm doing "on the side." In other words, dismissing it the way I am afraid I'll be dismissed because I'm doing this - going against the value structure of a culture that I love and have been fighting to belong to for a goodly portion of my life.
So I'll be studying engineers - but not studying engineering.
I mean, I'll probably be taking engineering classes as electives. Because I do love it. And there are things I'd like to learn to make better, and because signal processing math is nifty, and because I want to finally come out the other side of calculus of variations, and because it's fun to read papers about semiconductors. (And because I hope that somewhere in those engineering electives will be the impetus that sets me on fire for researching this exact thing! in EE or CS so that I do go get that second doctorate - but that's me trying to force that love again. No. Let it go.)
If I have to choose between being a maker and being a mirror to makers, I'll choose the latter. I want to be both; I love both. I'll try to be both as much as I can. But there are better makers out there than I ever shall be. And I can be a darn good mirror. So I should optimize for being a darn good mirror first.
I am still an engineer. This doesn't make me any less of one, nor am I any less an engineer than anybody else. It's still a large part of my calling, who I am, and who I will be. (It's funny, how something can go from "no idea what that is" to "core part of my identity" in less than 7 years.)
And then if along the way I start staying up until all hours of the night doing free body diagrams again, and love it - like I used to read Feynman in high school until I fell asleep (at 3am, with the book sprawled open on my stomach) - then yes, engineering grad school will be in my future again. I hope it will. I'll be looking for that hope, and moving towards it whenever I get a glimpse. But I should do what I love and what I care about right now. And right now what I care about is community, and understanding it, and understanding learning in community, and shaping things that way.
I'm going to try this thinking on for size a while - I've been so deadlocked on moving forward with grad school that I'm being forced to conclude that this is the solution that I've been avoiding. And the moment I said it out loud, there was relief - and terror. So I'm going to go wrestle with that terror now. Out to the woods - I'll be back later in the evening.