Tuesday August 24th
Apathy : It’s not right but it’s ok
- I’ve found myself this week experiencing profound apathy. In particular, things that aren’t important to me are purged and I simply don’t think much about them anymore. I found myself talking with some people online, and realizing it wasn’t going anywhere, so I just marked the conversation thread as spam and unsubbed (lol). And this has seemed to be a common thread for me lately; sometimes I will disagree with someone and in my head, think “this is going nowhere”, and just let it be (usually not my immediate friends, who I think know me well enough and can read me well). But I will pretend to acquiesce because it’s just less exhausting, even though I will make a mental note that I have moved on and it doesn’t matter. Maybe the world is changing, or I am changing, but it sometimes seems like it’s difficult to really have a conversation anymore. In lieu of conversations, it just feels like people are screaming their point of view, and screaming isn’t a conversation. Everyone seems so sure of themselves, which is strange to me, because I’ve always thought that the point of a conversation was to engage with another person; “con” means “with” in Spanish. I think back to the professor who told our class that as you get older, you accept things more as they are. I don’t think it’s as black and white; I think you just learn to spend your energy in ways that signify what is important to you instead.
- I look back on summer, and at my time in quarantine, as it seems to be coming to an end (they’re forcing us back to campus, I guess), and one of the things that seems to have happened for me is that I really don’t feel the need to be around people at all. I can’t say that I’ve been particularly social, but just thinking about being around people in a physical space, and having to engage with them, drains my energy. Perhaps I also need to rebuild myself a very hectic summer.
- I’ve started on the exercises this week for my cryptography summer school, and on working on a review and some work for a Maths Stats book club I’m in. It’s been very soothing for me. I’ve found myself in a space of constant meditation, where time stretches endlessly, often until the early hours of the morning. I’m apparently back on a schedule where I can’t get to sleep before 3am again, but I can also get a lot of reading and work done.
- For our workshop, we’re working on some exercises that are very familiar, as we covered two-thirds of the subject in cryptography class. I even wrote some Sage code for it yesterday! I’m waiting until the end of the month to purchase this book I’ve been set on getting; I can hardly wait. It’s on elliptic curves. I have quite a few, but I want to learn everything about elliptic curves. This will probably happen during a postdoc, or when I choose to pursue an additional master’s in Pure Mathematics, but I love the topic, and it relates to the research I’m currently doing.
- Oh, and one of the professors was drawing on brown paper like one of my favourite YT Mathematicians!
- A lot of academia feels like a molding into a persona; in many ways, it is based on what the structure decides you will be, and how much you acknowledge or acquiesce. In many ways, there is an impression of who you think you are, and what you think you will become, and that it is working either with or against what it thinks or determines you should be.
- “You are from a lesser school; therefore I hope that you have accepted this inferiority”, which has always seemed silly to me because in my mind, the point of a PhD and research is to become part of a specific community that holds your interest, in which you can produce work, regardless of your institution. However, the very institutions that hold our ability to be rewarded for our work, and essentially act as gatekeepers, have such parochial views. And it’s reflected in the ways even our peers see us. I’ve been asked at least twice since I’ve started my degree if “my school is a place where they hand anyone a PhD”. This is usually the kind of thing a student (and not a professor) will say, because students have not yet learned the art of diplomacy, so they are awkwardly honest (often in a way that can be quite embarrassing, not to mention rude and unprofessional (yes, even for you of “royal scholarly ilk”, much to my amusement). That (the statement inferring that because an institution is ranked lower it cannot contribute good work to a field) doesn’t even make sense, of course, but that mindset is a result of such a system. What it also seems to signify is that to some individuals, who should be academic peers, you are seen as “less than”. So how, then, if the goal is to contribute to a field, can judgment be “meritocratic and fair”. Seems pretty bonkers to me. What is also scary is that some of these students will go on to become faculty at these “lesser than” institutions, with their biases about what kind of work is produced. Are they even suitable to be the kind of people to inspire good work (or trust in the students for mentorship) at these institutions? Scary to think about. But I digress.
- You are instructed if you are less than to “jump through more hoops”, which I find simultaneously hilarious and humiliating. What is the point of granting an opportunity to engage with a field of study if you are not truly given a seat at the table? I want to change this, because I find it hypocritical and incestuous.
- To me, going to a lesser known school just means playing the game on “hard-mode”, which I’m always up for. If you achieve a high score on easy, it’s not as cool :) (to be clear, I have also engaged with faculty at higher ranked schools who have put in my head the thought of transferring, but I like my advisor and the work I am doing at the moment, which is the most important thing to me; if that ever changes, that will be another topic).
- I am always at odds with the impression or mold, because sometimes it feels like bad medicine; it is fed to me, but I know deep down that it isn’t true. And I hold fast to those bits of myself, afraid that I will lose it in this place. The part that is honest, sincere, and wants the best for other people. Is it compatible with this place? I’ve met some ruthless, awful peers by chance, and sometimes it seems that these are the kinds of people who will succeed. They are meant for this space, I tell myself. And they are rewarded for their awful behavior, and they are not as contemplative or remorseful, which works in their favour. And in the short time I have been here, I have already seen Academia reward their awful behavior. But is it sustainable? Time will tell.
- In many ways, you don’t make your own path through Academia; it directs you, based on a number of parameters. There are some that you do have control over, but there are others that you don’t, but everyone pretends that they are 100 percent self made, and that is folly. In that sense, there is a disconnect from reality.
- “I am here because I earned it”. Everyone who has made it wants to believe that. The alternative is too scary to think about. What if there are others who were better who didn’t make it. What does that say about them? What does it say about me? I find those conversations intriguing, but often people who have succeeded in this system neglect to talk about these things. We avoid real conversations. Does anyone have real converations in Academia? Sometimes when a professor is speaking, I reimagine them as a proud bird just shaking and showing off its feathers.
- And what of those who did not make it through? Do those who have keep in touch and still have discussions and engage with them, too? Or are they seen as the carcasses of the Colosseum games known as Academia?
- I had mentioned that I’d like to take a “vacation” home this winter break. If only to be in a place where I am not a second-class citizen, to reaffirm my hubristic sense of self-worth. Being here some days has felt like taking a beating every day, and being expected to wipe one’s scars and get up all over again the next day.
- Most of all, I miss the genuine conversations. Soul-baringly honest conversations that were intellectual, and challenging, but not flippant in a way that dismisses the other person’s point of view. For hours and hours. But being able to engage with a person in that way means that you can elevate them to be an intellectual equal, or at least grant them to opportunity to engage as one. If that isn’t the initial understanding….Anyways, I can’t wait.
And that’s it
Written on August 24, 2021