Reflections on the Past Week: 1/22/17

With regards to what has happened over the past two days (and what will likely continue as an ongoing saga), I cannot add anymore to the outrage. The wrongness of this executive order has been said many times and more eloquently by many more people than anything I could say. If I do have to add my voice to this issue though, it would be one thing: we cannot cede the fundamental morality in this fight. I don’t mean tactically (how we protest, free speech, etc.), but I do mean why we support immigrants and refugees.

An all too common tactic by those who support immigration is the stereotype of the acceptable immigrant. This may be the immigrant who “pays back” to their host country far more than what is received, often depicted as the post-graduate student/employee working in some STEM sector. Or the refugee fleeing from terror, hoping and struggling to make a better life for themselves, seeking shelter in their host country. We who support immigration must resist these images. In my mind, each person — no matter where the come from and no matter where they go — has the right to travel freely across borders. To me, this is a fundamental right of every human being and must be held sacred. Chicago cannot ban people from Rockford or Joliet entering the city limits, Illinois cannot bar people from Missouri crossing the Eads and river, why should America or any other nation on Earth be allowed to restrict the rights of Iranians, El Salvadorians, Somalians, Mexicans, Syrians, or Hondurans?

There are people I know with whom I disagree regarding the best way to build a society. We disagree over government intervention in the economy; we disagree on the appropriate balance of positive and negative freedoms. But I know that what we really want is that all people are able to live a happy and healthy life with the most freedom. We are for people. Donald Trump is not. Donald Trump is for himself and “his people”. We who are against Trump must remember that we are for everyone regardless of how good of an example one is.

Reflections on the Past Week: 1/15/2017

So remember how I said last week how I hated not getting anything done?

I didn’t get much done this week.

And yet…I don’t feel like shit?

It’s strange. Usually I feel terrible for not doing anything. I almost always have a fear that I’m perpetually falling behind everyone, in every aspect. Whenever I don’t accomplish my goals, I get down and not in the dancing/party/hip-hop sense. But this week, I just…meh. I don’t know if much has changed in my psyche. Maybe I’m exhausted after working so hard the past couple of months. Maybe I’m used to it. Or maybe I’m like Arsenal. They got it done this week. They left it to really, REALLY late this week. Nearly didn’t come up with the vital 3 points. But they won. It’ll likely change nothing. Chelsea will steam ahead towards the Premier League title, leaving Arsenal in its dust. But Arsenal and we, the supporters, can always still hope. Arsenal is known for being perpetually optimistic. We play Chelsea in two weeks, right? If we win the next game and that game, we can get close right? At least 5 points right? Am I a perpetual optimist when it comes to my graduate career? Or have I just decided that being top four is good enough? It gets Arsenal into the Champions League year-on-year. Why be best and miserable when you’re good and happy? When you have that inner contentment? I don’t know what happened this week. I’m disappointed but not miserable. Maybe that’s what matters.


I actually know why I’m not miserable. Arsenal won today so I feel good. Had they drawn or lost, I would have felt like shit and would have been talking about how like them, I dilly-dallied etc., blah, blah, blah. But I guess that goes back to the point. Arsenal won, weekends mornings are good, why bother to worry about not ‘accomplishing’, whatever the hell that means.

Reflections on the Past Week: 1/8/2017

It feels strange to make what you love doing as a career. You simultaneously want and are obligated to do work. Wanting to do work is sort of constant; your enthusiasm for it never really changes. I liken it to eating my favorite food, eggs. I never really get massive cravings for them, because I never take a break from them. Every Sunday morning, I have to eat them. They are just regular part of diet, something I expect to eat. I can’t say that about most other food stuff. It’s like that with nature and science. I never crave it because I choose to experience it constantly. That’s why I could never go to New York; I could never imagine myself living in a place so devoid of anything ‘natural’ (What natural is is a whole other discussion). I need science, I need nature, I choose to work on my academic studies naturally.

The obligation part, on the other hand, is perpetually fluctuating. Sometimes, you don’t have to get work done — there’s no deadline or not much to do — so you are free to do more, or less, academic work if you like. It’s your choice. When there’s more work, you have to do more. The choice is not yours anymore; it’s been dictated from the outside, usually by someone else. If obligation exceeds want, you begin to dread academic work. That’s why many institutions can ‘exploit’ academics. Our want for the work is so high — and most importantly, consistently high — we will accept many more obligations before complaining and becoming disgruntled.

When there’s work to do and I don’t accomplish much, I become dispirited, dejected, disheartened. That’s why this week was a bit strange. There was a lot of work to do and I accomplished a lot. I was able to secure a good amount of funding for a communicating science conference of which I’m a member of the organizing committee. A paper I have been working on — the first chapter of my dissertation — suddenly became clearer and was no longer much of a weight. Good results for another chapter have come in and the abstract I’m writing for a conference based on those results is almost done. I’ve been able to do a lot.

…And yet, I still feel stressed. Despite all that I’ve accomplished, I am obligated to do more. I still have to get more funding for the conference along with my main responsibility of helping to find speakers and develop workshops. The paper, though clearer, needs a re-write which also means digging through the literature again. Results are in, but computational errors mean a block by block search for and fix those errors. The abstract still has to be finished, and other non-scientific, non-academic problems need to be sorted if I’m to go. Accomplishing a lot means a lot of obligations with more still on the way. Though I have made a significant dent in my work, the obligation remains above the want.



Hi Meg!

Reflections on the Past Week: 12/11/16


That’s all I can really say about last week. Ugh…

Winter’s come in with an absolute vengeance. Currently, we’re getting temperatures of single digits, -15 to -10 degrees in Celsius. Snow is falling like crazy which is bad as I have to commute to university. This has all slowed my academic progress considerably as I have to be at campus to do work on my computer. The only option now is writing papers.


I don’t know why writing is so horrible for me. I love doing mathematics, coding, analysis. Even making pretty graphs I can do with much more ease than writing. I guess it’s because of the pressure. Writing in academia is all about getting a bunch of unknown people to sign off on your work. If I just had a blog where I put all my results, I don’t think I’d have much of a problem. But writing for publishing means writing for an unknown audience. An unknown, miserable, highly skeptical audience ready to pounce at your every failure. Unfortunately, there’s nothing else I can do. Publish or perish is the motto of academia. I have to write.


Reflections on the Past Week: 12/4/16

It’s like I dream when I die I wake up
I see all the people I disrespected and try to make up

One thing that’s never really talked about when it comes to academia is the social struggle. The mental side of it all — doing research, writing publications, getting grants — is obviously very hard. And though it is still a problem that needs more mentioning/addressing, there is still a lot of people who talk/write about it. Something that’s less mentioned (or at least not as explicitly) is the psychosocial aspect of graduate school. Being around people is hard. Getting acceptance from people is nigh impossible without going insane or becoming a dick. Academia is all about gaining acceptance from people. You have to convince people that your research — and as an extension, you yourself — is worth taking on, worth disseminating, worth funding. Justifying yourself day in and day out is incredibly draining and can suck out your soul. The only real solution to this problem is to find friends, genuine people who care about you, support you, and do what they can do to help you.

The past week felt like a compression of the past month which felt like the compression of the past year which felt like the compression of the past decade. Having a disease has a physical toll but also has a psychological toll. If life is like a bus, you’re on the street watching it speed past. At best, you’re constantly running after it, trying to wave to the driver to slow down and let you on board. I watch people zoom by in life, passing me, and I get depressed. Once again, the only cure for all of this is to find good friends who can lift you out of the depression. Unfortunately, when I get depressed I become paranoid and can be a dick to the people I care about. It’s hard to confront the things which make you upset. Entering that part of the mind is like entering an unlit cave with a man eating lion; I already have a hard time navigating a room, looking for a light switch. The only way is with someone by your side, arm in hand, to help lead you out. And to ensure that, you as well have to be ready for them when they need your help. It’s about being there for them, saying sorry when you do them wrong. And there are a lot of people I need to apologize to.

TLDR: I need a dog