Sunday December 18th
Time and Validation
I’m back home
- As the year closes, I have a couple tasks left, and some I may try to push off into the New Year, but I honestly feel pretty great right now.
- I’m at home, and I already feel more rested, more like myself, and able to think about things deeply. I have a handful of papers to review :(, but there always seems to be something that bleeds over just a little bit during my vacation; I’d prefer for it to be a thing I get done sooner rather than later.
- This year was pretty great for me. Okay, I should say it was much better than my other years. A couple things happened to me:
- Some of the things (ha people??) that were actively working against my progress were removed / I didn’t have to interact with them. This allowed me to focus on what I wanted to do and I feel happier about that.
- I began to shut myself away from some other things that were toxic and prevented me from doing my work, with the help of my Pure Maths advisors, so I was able to spend more time on work. The particular advice was “you need to protect / shield yourself for a while from this stuff”. Great advice.
- While I came back from my summer internship and was immediately thrown into the Fall semester, I finally came to the realization that I hadn’t met anyone senior who particularly impressed me in research-industry land, and that helped me to focus on the fact that I was more dedicated to what I was currently doing. In particular, perhaps my calibration has been that so much of my interaction with persons in research in industry is navigating people with huge egos who think they’re the “best”, and I find that to be exhausting. The students from the schools they hand-pick for these opportunities also augment this mindset (something something amplifying bias and choosing a “Mini-me” version of yourself, yes, you..senior researcher), and the whole thing ends up feeling like a giant circle jerk. The image I always think about is a giant rooster puffing its chest over and over.
- I was once rejected from an internship opportunity in which the interviewer spent the entire time talking about how great he was, and all the things he had made during his time at the company. He was literally bragging for the entire time and of course, he was in a position of power because he got to write up how terrible of a candidate I was or whatever (maybe there should be more than one interviewer in these things). In the last 5 minutes, he asked me if I had any questions for him, and I just sat there and said “nope” and hung up before he did. The entire time I sat there thinking “wow, what a blowhard. I guess this is the lot they hire.” and about how much homework I had to do, or sleep I could have been catching up on instead. I guess I wasn’t “technical enough” and completely “not a culture fit” (I’m saying this tongue-in-cheek, of course; I had an offer the next day from another company sitting in my inbox, in any case).
- I think very highly of the people I’m currently doing work with, so I’m not really impressed by people strutting around because they got a free hoodie, a fat salary, and associate themselves in research with a company email domain; I’m impressed by a legitimate desire to mentor early-career researchers, to share knowledge, guidance and academic rigour; people who are open about and enjoy conversing with and working with others who ask interesting questions. And the truth is, those kinds of things can come from anywhere, so it’s not like only people at X schools (who are most likely to be homogenous-thinking and ask the same kinds of questions anyways), ask interesting questions. Sigh. But I digress. Honestly, if given the chance between having a name on my CV or not, at this point, I’d say not, especially if I detect a hint of an ego. I’m contacted pretty frequently for interviews / opportunities, so, with a bout of amnesia of my experiences, I did one interview potentially for summer and encountered this again, and hated it, and had a thought that I should just not even bother to suffer through this lot again, even though it was with a “prestigious” company. I just found myself hating the process, hating how they treated early-career researchers, like we were supposed to grovel for a position. I’m doing research; I don’t need this, I thought. So eventually, it became a bit of an internal joke to me, and I only half-seriously considered it as as serious thing that might happen, and half-feeling throughout the process that I was a bit of a sellout for even taking up the interview (the recruiter was really nice, and we ended up connecting afterwards, after they told me that they were officially a fan of me because one day, lacking sleep, I responded honestly lol). I wished some of these companies would do better, though. And yes, I felt like I sang in a $h!tty commercial for a stick of gum to pay my rent after the interview. Ugh.
- As you can tell from the line above, I was also legitimately happy to return and take classes this past semester.
- The stuff I’m doing right now hasn’t really made it to industry yet, so my enthusiasm completely waned once I became enthralled by it. There are a handful of people who are in research working on it in industry, but they’re literally…a hand-ful. I think highly of them and I think that they would be the only reason I’d consider running off at this point. Otherwise; hard nope.
- There’s particularly something “off” in some institutions where your energy is deliberately drained, which is not great. The thing is, systemically, we still weigh these institutions similarly, as though an inability to produce in an environment that is toxic and drains your energy should be in the same category as one in which you are supported, can collaborate easily and publish. Quite frankly, in some spaces, especially in the earlier part of my PhD, it felt like I was constantly having to fight and push back on things. I’m pretty proud of what I was able to accomplish, given all of that, but now I’m in a space where I can (hopefully) just focus on what I want. And that is an amazing feeling.
- A lot of this was because I (unfortunately; this is honestly something that should be done by superiors initially) had to explicitly set boundaries. I’m not in the ideal situation with respect to this, so it took a lot more effort, but I think for the most part it’s a lot better. And since I’m just doing research this semester, I really hope to stay away from and guard myself against these sorts of things that I’ll just call “distractions” for now. But if I had to do it all over, I would definitely say that I would push more for having people with more power around me advocate for my having more boundaries and just to be left alone. Because that’s really what I needed. I understand that there are some who are fascinated by me, my path, (how are you here? You’re a bit strange / out of place here) or who have opinions on whether I will stay or not, but honestly, they should be kept to themselves, because I really don’t want to hear it, and it won’t faze me. I don’t want to have “conversations” about pre-conceived notions, because they honestly aren’t helpful, and as my mom recently told me, “you don’t owe anyone anything”.
- 100% True. I. Do. Not. In fact, I owe it to myself to just focus on the thing I’m passionate about right now, and to stick to that, work on how I can be better, publish in the field, collaborate with my peers, and that’s it. And hang out with some fun, cool, Pure Maths friends in the process.
- I’ve been happy that the Pure Maths students in my department have never asked this of me; they never judged. They just saw me as another person who was excited about the things they were passionate about, and they shared information and opportunities freely and unselfishly. And I immediately knew that this is the kind of community I had dreamed of wanting in my heart since the day I started thinking about attending grad school. It was the same thing I felt at my first POPL, when I was the only student volunteer who was not a PhD student. Arms open; you’re one of us!
- Oh man, have they just held me SO much this year. I have mentors who are faculty (in all disciplines!), other Pure Maths student friends, etc.
- They are my people, my supporters, and I owe them SO much. I LOVE them and I’m so grateful this year for every single Pure Maths student, professor, who has thought about me this year, reached out to me in private or openly, just to support me, to be there, and to let me know “We are here for you. We see your passion and we’re determined to show you that we have a place for you here. Keep following your passion and don’t give up!”. Thank you SO much!!!!
- There is a game that is played in academia where if you are naive (raises hand) they waste your time discrediting you as “not serious”, in an attempt to have you waste your entire time proving to a bunch of people who, quite frankly, don’t matter, that you are. The truth is, if you take this to heart you will realize that it’s a game at some point (hopefully), because you will see someone with less experience or at the same level as you are who is not given the same rigour of judgment by these very people. Also human nature dictates that we more readily give credibility to those who are more like ourselves (social class, upbringing, comes from academic background, etc), so there’s that too. There is literally research on whose work groups of persons will cite or promote, who they see as “experts” regardless of background, based on homogeneity.
- These people talk about wanting “broader participation” and they do these things either wittingly or unwittingly, and it super sucks and is very wtf! If you spend your time waiting for them to give you the credibility based on your hard work, you may be waiting forever. You should just keep going in spite of them. The truth is, as a mentor of mine told me, you don’t really gain early credibility in Academia unless it is given / lent to you by someone senior. And since this is more common for some individuals than others, nothing you do will be enough initially until it is lent to you (see Hardy and Ramanujan as a textbook example, or go watch “The Man Who Knew Infinity”). So let it go and keep working.
- It is unfair, but this is the game. Just as in Hollywood, where someone with parents who worked in the industry can learn the ropes and navigating the system earlier, it may be the case that you might ask yourself why, no matter how hard you work, things aren’t “sticking”. Don’t do this to yourself. Just keep your head down and focus on what you’re doing, and stick with it if you enjoy it.
- Because eventually, rationality hits you, and you come to the realization that all of this was, in fact, just a game of gatekeeping, harbouring institutional power in a shoddy attempt of delegitmization that is both arbitrary as it is ridiculous. Don’t pay attention to it; it is honestly a waste of your time. And if you are a professor or senior researcher, call that stuff out; this is where you have the power to make a difference!
- If you are in a PhD programme, you are more than enough, and you can do this. And no one should be able to take that away from you, not another student who is patronizing or condescending towards you, or a professor who is a pain in your butt..leave them in their pitiful sadness that does not have the courage to fight you fairly but rather makes weak attempts to hit you below the belt in perceived moments of weakness.
- The truth is that the choice is yours whether you decide to walk away. It’s your own free will.
- On the ideology; it’s hot steaming trash, but honestly, unless you have navigated the space before, how would you know? And often, the people who play these kinds of games are backed by institutional power. I really think they should do better, but that’s one of the things that since I’m not quite there yet, I need to file away as “awful practices you don’t need to repeat / perpetuate when you have institutional power”.
- And no, I won’t read your thesis in the hope that you’ll “pick me”. Ugh. I need to take a shower now. My vision for this space is so much more optimistic than this individually-focused narcissism of a couple research-industry individuals who have fallen in love with their own reflection because of a title and a pay cheque. Whenever I think of the professors I’ve looked up to, like my PL mentor, I think about how much more they care about investing into early-career researchers, providing guidance, than about making everything all about themselves, as though I should just be a grovelling, fawning fan of their awesomeness (lol). Instead, mentors like my PL mentor and Pure Mathematics professors build you up. And the others fall so short in comparison; they couldn’t hold a candle to some of these mentors.
Before Grad school
- I was interning at a place in Silicon Valley, and I ran into a well-known researcher and engineer at fancy company in the Valley who showed up at an event in Mountain View, and I asked him, in the midst of all the other students asking if they had to get a PhD to do machine learning, (on the other hand) why I should want to work for the company at which they worked. At the time, he began pitching me that they had all this extra computational power, facilities, etc, and years later, he remembered our conversation when I was well into my PhD. I still feel the way I felt when I met him; there is just something missing for me that I’ve gotten in the highs of my life in grad school with the Pure Maths students and the workshops I have attended and the mentors that I’ve met that I’ve never been able to find so far in industry. And I just don’t know what to do with that feeling. And like an insane person, every time a company has woo-ed me (it is flattering!), I feel compelled to give them the time of day. But again, as my mom says, “you don’t owe them anything”. The feeling of my best times at Grad school: It’s like that feeling that Perri Knize spoke about in the book, “Grand Obsession”; from the time the author heard the perfect pitch on their perfect piano, they couldn’t get that out of their head. I’ve walked home with wet socks on cold, dreary days with my Pure Maths friends, having barely eaten all day, and I’ve just felt so happy. My heart did not desire much else.
So what’s new?
- I’m really excited about a couple things in the New Year. Two big ones involve the opportunity to interact with and do research with Mathematicians and be mentored by them in my field. I’m SO happy and excited for the opportunities. And..I get to catch up with some people who really had my back pre-grad school (one is an amazing female sound engineer, and the rest are Pure Mathematicians, which is hilarious…how did I not connect the dots before!?), which is SUPER DOPE!! Another friend of mine is also doing a postdoc at one of the workshop institutions (doing HoTT DiffAlg work; I went to her defense and learned a teeny bit about sections and fibers!), so I may very well run into her, too! And I may even also meet one of my professors’ postdoc mentors, too! (another Mathematician).
- I’m making my way through a Graph Theory book this break, that has around 684 pages and that I carried in my backpack through 3 airports, through customs and home. What I love about home is that (besides the occasional barking and crying of dogs begging me to play with them), it’s pretty quiet. That’s an incredible privilege I’m really happy to have.
- Have a Happy Holiday Season! And all the best for the New Year! If I don’t get back to the people I’m supposed to be getting back to for months now…um..sorry? However, as I had mentioned, I really needed to focus and work really hard this past semester, and put myself first, so that’s kind of the reason, quite frankly. In the past, I had noticed that when I prioritized others, nothing would get done, even though people would be happy with me. And so, I needed to be a lot more selfish, which is pretty much what I did this past semester. And I found it to be a lot more memorable than any other semester!
- Since I’ve written this post (maybe it’s just coincidence?) I’ve gotten a TONNE of recruitment emails. Again, I’m probably not going to be venturing in that direction unless it’s a unique opportunity in 2023 (because right now if you ask me, I’m going to say I hate working in industry and particularly with computer scientists (my experience hasn’t been great tbh with that lot; too many unnecessary $h!t tests; I’d prefer to work with mathematicians or scientists in other disciplines (but not CSyS; my experience has been worse with that lot than CS; very aggressively-toxic / “succeed-at-any-cost” vibes.)), but if the right opportunity or right people came along, maybe I’d change my mind?), or related to my current area of research. Thank you for your time and interest!
And That’s it.
Written on December 18, 2022