Sunday September 29th

It’s just a PhD…and other thoughts

I’m at my school’s library

  • I’m taking a mini-break while working on an assignment that is a mix of 3D motion detection and neural networks. It’s generally the assignment that takes up my Sunday and Monday; the rest of the week is taken up with classes, my other assignments for my two classes, and TA-ing.

  • I’ve joined a Slack outside of school that is functional-programming based (my friend at my Spring internship introduced me to the space) and it’s a great group of people. Every week, a bot reminds us “what did you learn/ build this week?”. It has really been a great activity for me to post there once a week what I’ve accomplished. Someone on the Slack joked that I was “making them all look bad” by the sheer number of tasks I had accomplished, but I’m also in grad school, so I just laughed about it. My school also has a weekly Wednesday scrum, but that is usually more a research-driven scrum than one for general accomplishments.

  • I gave a talk this week on open source and my (very limited) experience, for students at my school, in the hope that one of them might find motivation in contributing to a project. I’m thinking that at some point, I’d like to organize a thing whereby we can all commit to open source of some sort, so that it’s something the students have experience doing, or can at least say they did.

  • I also attended SCRAPS, which is a Complex Systems pizza meetup during lunch time, where people talk about research they’re working on or did. The guest was a guy named Ben, who just completed his Master’s and is starting a job at SANDIA labs next week in New Mexico. I enjoyed his presentation a lot, because it was a great example of showing what the technical interview is like for a research position (in his case, he’ll be continuing on as a research statistician). I’ve really found myself gravitating towards the Complex Systems group and I enjoy learning about their data driven experiments a lot. It’s really cool here, and the students are smart, interesting, and very creative.

It takes a while for me to realize where I am

  • I did a bit of hiking yesterday with a group, and found myself chatting with two really nice graduate students; one was in an Accelerated Master’s in History, and the other was in Physical Sciences. I was recounting a story of generosity and kindness from my advisors and one of the students remarked “wow; you must be really good at what you do!”. That startled me a bit, because I certainly don’t feel that way (especially after my stint in Silicon Valley, where talent is everywhere). Another person in our group heard that I was a computer science major and remarked “wow; you guys are geniuses. You can build anything”. I was pretty silent after that, and said that I didn’t feel that way, because coming from the West Coast, where flames are thrown daily at people who are in that field because of the negative impact we’ve had on communities and for our arrogance and self-righteousness, those compliments don’t feel right.

  • Another student, while I was giving my talk earlier this week, remarked “You were in California? Why are you here, then?” It occurred to me that I was, in fact, not in California anymore, but having lived there for so long, my mind assumed that everyone in the room knew that the photo I had shown was indeed from San Francisco. And oh, that question of “why are you here?”. That has plagued me for most of my life, because I’ve never completely fit anywhere.

But why am I here?

  • There is a lot I think I can mentally find in this space. It’s grounded, small enough for me to exist, and is full of creative and interesting people who are authentic. Many of their values line up with mine, even though, in many respects the people here are quite different from myself.

  • One thing to note is also that the work is challenging (at least for me), but I keep pushing myself, because the harder it gets, the more I realize I want to be here. Until I am thrown out, I am going to keep pursuing a PhD. I haven’t felt more engaged by the work, and more intellectually stimulated in a way that is also my job in a long while. And unfortunately, most of what the workforce in tech is providing is not particularly interesting to me at the moment. There are some places, but they pretty much require me to continue my path.

  • So I want to make the most of my time here, and I keep pushing myself, but I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing by doing this, because I could have an easier PhD life. But it’s difficult for me, knowing all the things I’ve been through to get here. I want to make the most of my time here. My advisors have reassured me that what I am doing is the right thing, but I am too immature mentally to really understand if it is. I guess only time will tell.
  • Most of my trepidation comes with the realization that this is one of the few places (barring losing my funding) that I have the freedom to fail. It’s really an amazing experience where you are not only given top-notch guidance, but also this space where you can pick and choose ideas you are interested in. I legitimately am looking forward to picking classes for next semester, not based on their difficulty, but by how interesting they are and how much I think I could benefit from learning the tools they promise to provide, and the ideas they introduce.
  • Grad school; there’s really nothing like it. It’s amazing.

Here are photos from our Hike

  • A few photos, including a tour of the Ben and Jerry’s factory!

Written on September 29, 2019