Saturday September 3rd
Summer 2022 or How a (brief) Affair with Wall Street made me unexpectedly Fall in Love with Research
It’s almost midnight
- I’m still not unpacked, and strangely the door to my bathroom is completely torn down, so I guess I’ll have to live without it for a few days. Strange, but not wildly strange. Welcome back, I guess.
- I haven’t fully unpacked yet, but I have a generous helping of Caribbean food to keep me going for the next few days.
- Interestingly, I will be presenting work and on another plane again soon, in a place with Caribbean food. When I come back, later that month, I will have to present a talk on another project that I haven’t begun prepping for, but will probably work on as soon as I return from my trip. I am already scheming about how to possibly pack more roti, but not so too much. Perhaps just eating a roti there will be reward enough. It will be my first in-person poster, and I am so stoked. I also realized how silly it is to “just make a poster”; it took a LOT more than that for me. I agonized over every space, used a colour picker to approximate a particular hue, and stressed over font-sizes and whitespace. It was not “trivial”. I found myself wondering, after an advisor meeting for feedback, how anyone would ever figure all of this out on their own, and how silly it was for me to ever believe that someone could “just make a poster”. I guess one might say “just make a poster” in the way a person might say that they casually “just made a movie” to someone who painstakingly uses 16mm in a Bolex camera with Kodak Tri-X 7266 Reversal Film for projection at a movie theatre. We might speak as though we are doing the same thing, but are we really?
- I was thinking of making a post after I present on how mine was made, in terms of:
- (1) how I came up with the design and how I decided what tools to use
- (2) what tools I used and what did and did not work
- (3) the design to print process
- (4) finished product and costs
- (5) how your department can support you and what questions you should ask
- (6) other tips and tradeoffs based on my experience (timelines for printing, costs, sponsorship for costs, etc)
- I also come from a background of taking CAD and draughtsmanship classes (on vellum!), and I love LaTeX, so I have very strong opinions on posters, as it turns out. Strong in a way that when some less time-intensive suggestions were made, I was nodding and the back of my mind I was like, no I’m not doing that you cannot make me. Funnily enough, my Pure Maths professors both agreed with my general thoughts, and I was really happy about that.
- I found a random blog where someone was complaining about crappy plots and did an overwhelmingly terrible poster, which made me burst out laughing, but there were things that were just not known that I had to either figure out or ask questions about from people, and for each person, I got a different answer, which meant I had to make a choice based on what I thought the result might be.
- “So what are you doing on your last day?” someone asked me recently, making small talk. The answer was obvious to me “Graph Theory homework”, I responded. My mind had already shifted to my next task. I need to understand this; this is where my mind is right now. I had heard it quite frequently throughout the summer; “You seem to really like Academia”, to the point that one of my mentors even spoke about wanting to go back (If you ever read this, I’m sorry for my bad influence!). Groups of people would congregate by me with a smile. “I want to hear more about what you were talking about the other day” someone would say. Someone else would get really excited and mention that that was something that they loved during their PhD. Maybe I was a bad influence. I joked that someone could not take my space when I was gone, and they responded, “you’re not coming back.” I responded “that’s mean. How could you say that?” and they responded “I meant that you’re going to end up in Academia”. I told my mentor about it, and I asked why someone would say such a thing, and they responded “because it’s obvious.” I realize now that they acted out of wisdom and love for where my heart really was.
- When I get excited or am passionate about things, I am brimming. I’ve felt that so much with my interaction with the Pure Maths world. Really? Academia? Me? Do I? I think when I was speaking in general positively, it was typically of my experiences in Pure Mathematics, and to be truthful, I have been enjoying it a lot. I found myself really excited about the classes I was going to take, and the research I was doing with my professor. It’s been a bit rough in that I literally am learning things from the ground up, but some of the papers are pretty wild and really creative, and it sustained me in a way that pulled me back into wanting to return to school.
- I find myself strangely, when reading Graph Theory (or mathematical cryptography) papers, sucked in. I want to pick through everything, in a way I never felt when reading some papers in other fields. It’s very strange. It feels easy to focus and get lost in them. Perhaps my love for sketching will even come in handy, too! One of the things I have been thinking about is how to “see” graphs in a paper when an author describes what they are, or the properties they have. I’m learning to get better at that.
- I gave a couple talks this summer at various institutions, which was awesome, and it made me realize that another thing that was valuable to consider about my future is a place that would give the freedom to do that sort of thing. I’m contacted quite a bit by various organizations, and so there are a lot of things in my orbit at any given time. It would have to be a unique organization that would give the space for that. In many organizations, the expectation is that your association is with their brand (and that that is what gives you your value / identity (??)), not necessarily that you are a brand onto yourself. And that is highly problematic for a person like myself, and is something that I ran into for some of my other internships.
- On the last day, another intern unexpectedly told me “you know, you really impressed me.” She hesitated, pondered and then added, “You’re really… inspiring. You asked so many questions, too. I really liked that.”. That was surprising, and wonderful, but some of these questions are simply my trying to probe for the next direction of where I want to be, where I see myself going, based on the responses I receive. And I’m still working that out.
- This summer, I also learned a bit about entrepreneurship, as I took part in a workshop and even reconnected with friends doing quite well in that space. I learned a lot about the transition from taking a research idea / process into a scalable business that generates income. So that’s pretty awesome. I sort of wished there was a session for PhD students in grad school where they learned about IP law, or a session where an IP lawyer could speak with them about the value of, and generating IP, etc. Even if it’s not something someone cares about, it’s good to know the regulations / understand the economic impact / value.
- This summer was incredibly productive. I collaborated with no less than five (yes, 5) research projects. Not all of them may be fruitful, but it’s okay. That’s how it goes and I learned something from every one. Some are also a lot more long-term than others. I found that I was most excited by the ones that were questions that took longer to answer, where I have to work myself up to get to understanding the question on a deeper level. I’m still learning things for those projects, but the questions are still interesting, and I still think about them daily.
- I also gave five talks, met up with mentors at various companies, and was recruited heavily for research positions, in a way that seems daunting right now, as I am sorting through and now responding to things.
- I’m prepping to give talks; two in September, the research symposium, and sorting out things upcoming, while trying to keep up with classwork. It’s a tall order. I’ve had to turn down other opportunities but am at the stage where I am so happy with two-three-ish long-term projects in particular that I am working on that working on other stuff matters less. And maybe they’re not directly Computer Science-y (at most, they are more theoretical computer-science-y?), in the traditional sense, but I find them to be the most interesting things I’ve done so far, and that’s a good feeling.
Here are some photos from this summer
- I went to K-BBQ with an industry (not my internship) research mentor!
- I went to a play with a long-time friend and mentor
- one of my neighbourhoods; Little Italy.
- one of my nights in midtown
- watching the sun go down in midtown
- Some kind of crispy rice and matcha dessert
- On my way to give a talk at Columbia and to meet an MIT researcher friend.
- A cryptographer friend gave this to me. I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart :)
- swag from one of the projects I worked on over summer, that I’ve been thinking a lot about.
- Purple yam and ube things are all the rage in NYC. These are Ube mochi donuts, I think.
So what is the next adventure?
- I’ve realized that it’s better if I don’t think about this as much, and just enjoy all the things I’m doing right now. I’m really excited for some upcoming things before the year ends, and will definitely post about them.
And that’s it.
Written on September 3, 2022