Photo by Patrick Tomasso

PhD: the final six months

This month marks the start of the half year of my PhD that I have left before my submission deadline. Since it’s pretty much a hard deadline, I have to take this time seriously. This is where I scream and pull my hair out.

Actually, no! I’m not going to do that.

Instead I’m going to tell you about what I’ve been thinking about lately about the whole PhD thing and how I’m going to tackle the last bit of it! I don’t know if all will go according to plan, but it never does anyway! The important thing here is that I’ve kinda figured out how to deal with it and I haven’t been freaking out about it.

What the deally yo

My perspective on the PhD has changed quite a bit since the beginning of the year, and I think it’s going in the right direction. The urgency of the deadline forces you to stop “navel gazing,” as they say, and start doing things with a different mindset.

I’ve turned a corner in the last few weeks. I’ve stopped worrying as much, and starting taking more action. I’ve been pretty good about stopping myself when I start to worry and ask where the worry is coming from and what would actually ease it. I ask myself, what is it that is actually worrying me or bothering me and how can I fix it. I know there is much to be done, but worrying about that fact isn’t going to make it any easier.

I think a lot of PhD students worry about their progress, and I think this is our downfall. There aren’t clear ways to measure our progress, and so we end up trying to compare where we are with where others are. But PhDs are inherently unique. One person’s situation will be miles apart from the next person. There is no easy way to measure how you are doing and know if you should be speeding up or slowing down.

This kind of thinking inevitably leads to more worry and more self-doubt. In the end, you have to realize that and say to yourself, this is my PhD, I know it best, and I know what’s going on better than anybody.

The next half year

The time I have left will be mostly spent on analysis for my last data chapter, and writing it all up. I have the first 2 data chapters mostly written up (though the second one may need a little extra work). My first data chapter is currently under review at a journal…exciting! Even though it isn’t a great journal, I’d still be happy to get it out the door and published!

Through all of this, my main priority is still to get my health back in order and try to keep it there. A side aim is to do more traveling that I would regret not doing when all this is said and done.

Rough plans for PhD:
Be awesome at my last data chapter
Get my first 2 data chapters published!
Explore next options and make some life plans

Health goals:
Continue no wheat
Do better at no garlic or onion

If you are interested in knowing more about my health goals, let me know. I haven’t talked about it here specifically, but I’ve been dealing with some gut issues for the past few years and I’m in the process of sorting it out.

Travel plans:
2 weeks in July and August – Singapore
I’m planning on going back to meet up with my advisor there and my lab group there. I’ve been a bit out of touch since I moved to London, so it’ll be nice to spend a little time with them.

September – Edinburgh
I’ll have 2 friends living in Edinburgh in September, so I must make it up to Scotland! I haven’t seen that part of the country yet, so it should be a fun adventure.

October onwards
Not sure yet. I might stay in London, or move around before I hit up a conference in Australia. I hope to finish a final draft of my dissertation by the start of November

December – Australia
There’s a big conference in Melbourne at the start of the month, and then I hope to visit friends around there and in Sydney. Maybe I’ll pop over to New Zealand while working on edits for my dissertation.

Onwards and upwards

The best part about finishing up soon is thinking about possibilities for what’s next. I’ve been keeping an eye out for opportunities that would interest me, such as postdoctoral fellowships and other jobs. (e.g. It’s still a small dream of mine to work at Wired magazine.)

I’m super excited about my future, whatever it holds in store for me!

PhD: the final 6 months

Photo: Patrick Tomasso; dan carlson

Street art in Praga district of Warsaw, Poland

3 days in Warsaw: My first shot at a self imposed writing retreat

I haven’t traveled as much this year as I was hoping to, unless you count the short trip home to New York to meet my niece. One of my biggest regrets after finishing this PhD would be not traveling more around Europe while I had the chance. To remedy this, I’ve been trying to plan short, 2 night trips. Last month, I went to Warsaw, Poland, with my laptop and some writing targets!

3 days in warsaw

About Warsaw

About 80% of Warsaw was destroyed by the Nazis in World War II. There are only a few areas that were left relatively untouched (~30% destroyed), some of which I saw on a walking tour of Praga:

Much of old town was rebuilt according to paintings to try to recreate how it was before. I didn’t spend that much time exploring, but did get to taste a bit of hipster vegan food culture in Warsaw.

Surprise! Vegan places all around!

This was a welcome surprise. I didn’t think about food in Warsaw, even though I do have some dietary restrictions at the moment. I was floored to find all the delicious and hip options for vegan food.

Why a writing retreat?

Sometimes it’s nice to get away for a few days to get a chunk of work done. By dedicating the entire trip to specific targets or goals, it might be easier to focus and you’d literally be taking yourself away from the usual physical distractions that you might have on a daily basis. It can break up the monotony of a routine, and also impose a more real deadline than just an arbitrary date.

The day-to-day

On Day 1, I flew at around 8AM from London. I did a some work on the plane, then after I got into town, I checked into my Airbnb and went to a nearby cafe to get some work done. I had a great vegan burger for dinner and headed back to plan the next day and get to bed at my usual bedtime at around 11 PM.

Day 2: I got up at 8 and took a nice 30 minute walk to a cafe across the street from a park and near the University of Warsaw. It had great big windows, so all the natural light could come in! Then I went for a 2 hour walking tour through the Praga district across the river.

Day 3: Went to a cafe after checking out, got some delicious lunch at the bistro next to it, and went back to Cafe Kafka. It was my favorite cafe on this trip! then I got the bus back to the airport.

How’d it work out?

I found that the week leading up to the trip was just as important as the trip itself. I had to get things done by the time I left so that I could do the things I was planning to do while on the retreat. I did get quite a bit of work done, arguably just as much as I would have if I didn’t leave London, and it was nice to have a different rhythm of going to cafes to work. I was so happy that it was working that I immediately wanted to plan my next retreat, which I’m leaving for tomorrow!

Next stop, Copenhagen!

Tomorrow, I depart for my second writing retreat this year. I’m going to Copenhagen! Unfortunately much more expensive than Warsaw, but I’m very much looking forward to the world’s best coffee and another great city to explore on foot! This time around, I am hoping to finish up the writing for my second data chapter…

This PhD thing is lonely and difficult, but I think I’m getting over a big hump now. Hopefully I can keep chugging along at a good pace!

I found out I was an aunt on Facebook

Yesterday morning, I had a big surprise when I was standing at my desk on campus. I had a new niece! Granted I knew she was coming, I didn’t expect her to be early. She was due 4 days later, but I guess when it is time, it is time.

Looking at the photos for a second, I had a brief moment of ::check who posted photos:: ::check baby’s surname:: “Oh…That’s MY NIECE!” ::commence freaking out::

Although I’m happy to have had the news with photos and video nearly right after it happened and from across the pond, a part of me felt conflicted about her online life having also started pretty much from the time of her birth.

Is this the new normal? Is this the new reality?

I’m not trying to say this is good or bad. Either way, this is what happened and also happens for many other babies being born nowadays.

What do you think? This might be a super loaded topic, but I think it is important to think about.

Are you a parent? I remember some friends not posting about their children on Facebook until after a point. For some people, I didn’t even know they were pregnant until the child was born or several months old. How do you decide?

I’m not trying to judge parents, and I understand parents feeling defensive about their decisions (because they get a lot of judgement from everywhere), but I’m just curious about what people are concerned about and what they are not concerned about. What do they discuss, and do they discuss? I just wonder about the implications of a life lived online, and what choices are being made for new humans who cannot yet make those choices for themselves.

Anyway, in about 10 days I’ll be in New York, trying desperately not to cry while holding my niece for the first time!

Elisabetta Foco via Unsplash

Open letter to decent men who want to become great men

You are a decent guy. We talked, we laughed, we bonded over a few things. You seemed normal and nice.

When I told you I would only be willing to meet up again as friends, I meant it. It was not an open invitation to, a few days later (on Valentine’s Day no less), invite me to your place. When I turned down your offer, you said “oh, why” as if that other conversation never happened.

You can’t talk your way back, that’s called conning.

If you want to be a great man, you don’t ignore that conversation. You take it to heart. This woman was trying to tell you she didn’t want to be with you in that way. You should respect that, and expect that it won’t change unless she decides that it will change. You can’t talk your way back, that’s called conning.

When you continued to say that it didn’t have to be serious and that it could just be fun, you disrespected me again. At that point, I had pretty much told you “no” twice already. A woman doesn’t want to keep having to tell a guy no. It goes from potential friend, to blocked on WhatsApp, in seconds.

When you then finally said “that’s a shame, it was fun”… Yes, that’s a shame. That’s a shame that you don’t realize you’ve been shooting yourself in the foot with every message for the past 15 minutes.

You are not a disrespectful person, but this behavior is disrespectful. I want you to know that, and internalize it, so that you won’t treat women that you meet in the future this way.

I’m telling you this because you are a decent man, with potential to be a great man. I know that maybe you never had someone to tell you these things, or teach you how to be around women. I’m sorry that you had to learn this way. But there is hope. If you can really understand what I’m saying here, and not blindly feel offended, then there is a chance you can avoid these mistakes in the future. I hope you do.

Photo credit: Elisabetta Foco

ShouldYouMoveToSingapore

Should you move to Singapore? (A decision tree)

Moving to a new country is never an easy thing. I sometimes think about how both my parents came to the USA with no English, and very little resources. I don’t think today that I would ever do that!

They did it because they knew there were opportunities in the States that they would not have at home in China. So, whatever your reasons are for thinking about moving to somewhere new, in this case Singapore, remember that it’s your unique situation and your own decision to make. And of course, if you are bringing your family with you, that also changes things. (One thing to be aware of is that Singapore has weird visa laws regarding children born in Singapore. If you don’t earn above a certain pay grade, you’ll have to constantly renew the child’s visa until something more long term can be worked out.)

Should you move to Singapore?

This diagram is just an aid to help you along with perhaps considering a few things that you may not have thought of on your own. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments!

ShouldYouMoveToSingapore

If you are looking for more information about life in Singapore, check out these posts:

Graffiti art of face on side of building Street art in Camden Town, London, how I feel sometimes about British English

An American’s guide to British English or how to not feel like an idiot in London

Not all English speakers use the same terms and slang, just like how in many places where people speak Spanish there are differences. There are a few embarrassing ones, and a few that make your head tilt sideways and go “huh.”

I’ll try to add to this list as I go along, but here are the main ones that I’ve discovered in the last year.

The list follows this format: [British word or phrase] = [what it means in American] with my personal notes in italics.

Day to day phrases

You alright? = How are you?/How’s it going?
It took me a few months to realize that they weren’t questioning my mental or physical state or making fun of me, but were just opening up the conversation with a general greeting.

Pulling birds (i.e. To pull a bird) = When guys are talking about getting a girl or hooking up with a girl
The term “bird” in reference to a woman is a bit derogatory. I felt this as an instinct but it has been confirmed by 1 British woman.

mate = informal way of referring to someone
two a penny = common
bloke = dude
few bob = some money
bobby = police officer

The embarrassing ones

pants = underwear or panties
trousers = pants
braces = suspenders
suspenders in British English refer to something like garters that hold up stockings
rubber = eraser (in American slang, rubber can refer to a condom. British slang sometimes uses it this way too.)
fanny = vagina (in American usage, fanny is the butt e.g. fanny packs aka bum bags in British English)

Food

chips = fries
fries = thin cut fries
crisps = potato chips
aubergine = eggplant
rocket = arugula
pronunciation of fillet as the noun is “fill” + “et”
pronunciation of scone is with the “o” like in “on”
washing up liquid = dishwashing soap
fairy cake = cupcake
rasher = a strip of bacon
cob = some kind of sandwich/bread roll (this is frome a friend who says they used this word when he went somewhere in the Midlands)

Activities

fancy dress = costume party
pub quiz = trivia night

Others

flat = apartment
flatmates or housemates = roommates
In the context of knitting and crocheting, wool = yarn
jumper = sweater
garden = backyard (a garden in British English doesn’t necessarily have plants or grass)
torch = flashlight
refuse sacks or bin liners = garbage bags
subway = underpass

The confusing differences in language use or convention

In British English, they use the “t” form more often instead of “ed” for past tense of verbs. For example, “I learnt about British English on this blog post.”

The ground floor is not equal to 1, i.e. first floor is not the first story, the first floor is the second story. So in the lift (elevator), you have to look for G if you want the ground floor, and 1 is the floor just above that floor.

In general, I don’t understand why Brits choose to say things with the double s sound, in words or phrases like crisps, or refuse sack. I find it very annoying to have to pronounce them, and it takes so much more effort.

I’ve listed the ones that I found most confusing in the time I’ve lived here, so hopefully these are the most helpful for you if you are planning on visiting or moving to the UK!

Have I missed any crucial ones? Let me know in the comments!

For more exhaustive lists, you can check out these pages:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_American_and_British_English
http://projectbritain.com/americanbritish.html

Pebbles scattered in sand

2015 #AnnualReview Part 5: Lessons learned as a PhD student

This year was an eye opener for me regarding my research and the PhD process. I feel like I’ve overcome a few hurdles, and that’s prepared me to really punch it in during this final year of my PhD.

Previous posts in the 2015 Annual Review:

You can find guidelines here and here, and inspiration for this post on lessons learned from this post by Chris Guillebeau.

What I’ve learned

I think I’ve figured out the best way for me to function for the remainder of this PhD. It might be different for others, but I now know myself a lot better and can adjust my research strategy accordingly. I do think there are some more general lessons that I can share, and hopefully others can benefit. It is difficult because each PhD is different, and each person is different. So naturally, this is very generalized and nonspecific.

Lesson #1 You are essentially self-employed
Figure out a routine and schedule that works for you. If you work better at night, go for it. If you like working more in the daytime, that’s ok too. If your advisor protests, make your case.

Lesson #2 Don’t get stressed, get even (more focused)
It won’t help anyone to get overly stressed out. A certain amount of stress helps push productivity, but try not to let it build to a point where your health is suffering and you can’t get things done. Some things are out of your hands, and that’ll happen. I’m not great at this one yet, but I’m more aware of it than I was before and am working on it.

Lesson #3 It’s ok to not be working all the time
Just because other PhD students spend more time in the office or lab, doesn’t mean they are necessarily more productive. If you can be efficient with your time, there is no problem with not “working” all the time. Most people spend significant amounts of time on Facebook, online shopping, or other side projects anyway. There’s no point in comparing yourself to others.

Lesson #4 Take care of your mental health
Mental health and depression in PhD students: read this article and this one too.

Lesson #5 It’s ok to feel like you still don’t know anything
Impostor syndrome can be crippling. Sometimes I get into a spiral of feeling like I still don’t know anything, I haven’t done anything, and I should have done more by now, etc. Take it one piece at a time, and little by little you’ll realize you do actually know something about something.

What works for me

I’ve pretty much figured out all the things that are important to me to live the lifestyle I want, including health related things. I feel good about how the last few months went, and hopefully I can keep it up without feeling like I’ve lost momentum from the holidays.

These are the general points that have been working for me the past few months or more:

  1. Planned exercise sessions
  2. Making lunch for a few days at a time
  3. Avoiding rush hour
  4. Alternating between analysis mode and writing mode, each for a few days at a time
  5. Giving myself time to research things that I don’t feel confident in, practicing self-compassion about it
  6. Letting a few days pass if a certain decision is stressing me out
  7. Meeting up with friends
  8. Not worrying about finances, putting budgeting on auto-pilot
  9. Breaking my workday up: Doing more analytical work in the morning, and more reading and writing in the afternoon
  10. Not using technology in the evenings, avoiding email and social media after dinner
  11. Daily morning meditation

It’s a work in progress

I’ve heard many times that you never actually feel finished with a PhD. You just have to cut it off somewhere and be done with it. I am starting understand that now, and the idea that you can’t be a perfectionist about it. I’ve found a new determination that I hope will carry through 2016.

If you read the articles from the links in Lesson #4, I think it’s crucial to have a support system, either near you or virtually. It’s ok to talk about things with other students. Then they’ll realize it’s ok for them to talk about their issues too. We don’t have to all pretend that things are going swimmingly when they aren’t.

I’m a little unsure if deciding to do this PhD was the best choice for me, but I’ve committed to it and I’m going to see it through. I still think it will open up opportunities for me that would not have been available to me before, so all in all I don’t regret it. In any case, I’ve grown a lot in this process, and look forward to continuing to progress this year!

Photo: Colton Brown

Snowy winding road

2015 #AnnualReview Part 4: Travel and notable events for 2016

I know this is a travel blog, but I haven’t been doing much traveling lately. I have a few things planned for this year, though, and hopefully I’ll get to a few new places in Europe and in Asia by year’s end!

This is my fourth post as part of the Annual Review. Previous posts:

I followed these guidelines from here and here. Inspiration for this post from here.

Summary of 2015 travel

I went to Singapore, Thailand, Spain twice, New York three times, and Italy. Within the UK, I went to Yorkshire, Wales for a tournament, St. Albans to volunteer for a tournament, and Brighton for last new years and again for a tournament.

Plans for 2016

I randomly turned on BBC News this morning and there was a program on Myanmar (Burma). Since I might be going to meet a collaborator in Bangkok again this year, I really want to take the opportunity to go to there. The only way is to go through Bangkok. You can only get a visa from there, and you have to get a flight directly into the country. It’s been something I’ve been thinking about since earlier in 2015 when I met some people who were getting their visa to visit at the time. I’ll write more about it once I start researching it more!

To hit some more of my cultural goals this year, I’m going to plan to go to more events and explore more of London while I’m still here. I don’t work well when I feel like I’m in a repetitive rut, so this will help break the monotony and also get me excited to be here again. You could say I want to cultivate some kind of “tourist mind” or “traveler’s mind” if you are into terms like “beginner’s mind” from the meditation and yoga world. It’s too easy to become complacent when living in a place long term. It’s partly why as a New Yorker, there are many things I haven’t done there that people who visit would not miss.

Some initial travel and events for 2016

January
Les Miserables (London, UK)
Swing dancing lessons

Feb-April
Moving house (not sure where yet)
Secret speakeasy bar (London, UK)
Weekend trip to Spain (tentative)
Week long trip to NYC (not booked yet)

June
World Ultimate and Guts Championship (WUGC 2016) in St. Albans (if I make it onto the women’s masters team!)

July
Singapore and Thailand (tentative)
Myanmar (Burma) (tentative)

August
Sister-in-law’s wedding (New York, NY, USA)
World Domination Summit (Portland, OR, USA)
UK Ultimate Nationals

December
EcoHealth 2016 conference (Melbourne, Australia) (tentative)

No dates yet for:
Hand of God (London)
1+ more musicals in London
1-2 concerts in London
1 short trip in Europe
Short trips around the UK (Scotland, Wales)
Rollerdisco in London
Harry Potter World

In the meantime…

I have some ideas for what I want to do around London and the UK, but haven’t thought about when or how yet because I need to know what my ultimate season will look like. Things will start to ramp up this month, with trials starting up and clubs deciding who they want to take. I’ll see what happens! I would be happy either way, whether I make it onto my team of choice or not.

The more important trips I need to plan are the ones to New York and Singapore. I want to meet my niece who is on her way and due in March, and I need to go back to Singapore at some point this year. My advisor asked me to go back for the entire year, but I felt that it was not in my best interest. Maybe I’ll write more about that in the future.

I hope that if you find joy in travel, that you won’t limit yourself to reading and watching videos about it and actually put your mind to doing it! Keep up to date with my plans by checking out my Travel Plans page. Happy New Year!

Photo: Jon Ottosson

Fireworks against starry sky

2015 #AnnualReview Part 3: 2016, the year of conviction

In the first part of my Annual Review, I talked about how 2015 went. Then I wrote about my goals. The last bit of the Annual Review process is to set a theme for the coming year and write out a summary for what I’d like it to be like.

The theme for 2016

I want 2016 to be the year of conviction. I’m using the definition “a firmly held belief or opinion.” What I mean by that is I want to believe strongly in myself and what I’m doing in 2016.

I feel that I’ve especially not had confidence in my PhD work. I don’t need to be the best, but I do need to have more confidence in myself so that I can complete this work. It’s hard, and I’m sure there are many books and blogs about this, but a PhD is a lonely road. One of the hardest parts is that you have to stop yourself from comparing yourself with others. In addition, your struggles are uniquely your own. Though there might be technical things that you can get advice and help on, the ins and outs of daily independent research are specific to your own work. Consequently, all advice is largely general and unspecific. Talking to people helps, and the PhD group in my department has gotten closer this semester so that is a move in the right direction.

This year’s motto

My motto for this year is “No more floating” because sometimes I feel like I’m just floating through life.

I want to have greater confidence in my choices in life, in the path that I’ve chosen (and to finish things on path like the PhD). My approach to life has generally always been that things will work out, and it has been harder to hold that view in the last few years. I want to go back to that, but in a more active sense than the usual passive one that I’ve had in the past.

Last words…for now

I finished writing up this Annual Review while in the airport during my 3+ hour layover in Madrid on Monday. It was nice to have nothing else on my plate, no internet to distract me, and just my words and people watching to pass the time. I wondered if those people sitting around me at Starbucks were happy with where their life was going, and where they were flying off to next.

I’m feeling good about 2016. I think the biggest conflict I will deal with is the struggle between whether to go home to New York after the PhD or somewhere else. In part, that isn’t up to me because I don’t decide where I find a job, but I also feel the pull of my family and my hometown.

As my mom says, “whenever what,” things will work out!

To the year of conviction!

Photo: kazuend

Jakub Sejkora via Unsplash

2015 #AnnualReview Part 2: The Goals

I wrote yesterday about what went well this year, and what didn’t go so well. That was the first part of this Annual Review process to review 2015 and start thinking about how I want 2016 to go. This post is about the specific and measurable goals that I’ve set for 2016.

Last year, I started this process but I didn’t follow through with setting all my goals and specifying the actions needed for each goal. I also didn’t go back to my goals each month or quarter to check my progress or update what actions needed to be taken to work towards the goals. This year, I’ve filled out the spreadsheet template so that I can keep updating it each month and use it to stay on track for meeting my goals. I think it’s a good idea to come back to goals periodically, or else the only thing you’ve actually done was set the goals and not take any action towards them. The chances of actually achieving them will be quite low without reassessment and action.

I’ve broken down my goals into several categories:

Travel and culture

  • Explore London (2+ excursions each month)
  • Trips in Europe (2+ trips during the year)
  • Cultural and musical events (3+ events during the year)

Learning

  • Read 6 books (3 fiction, 3 non-fiction)
  • Language study (Chinese, Spanish)
  • Attend the World Domination Summit (ticket for side events)

Health and social

  • Cook new recipes (1 per week)
  • Finish creative projects (2 per quarter)
  • Meetup events (1+ per month average per quarter)

Work

  • Close out chapters quicker (PhD, finish 2 more by end of 2nd quarter)

Family and friends

  • Get friends and family to visit London (parents during the summer)

Financial

  • Save enough money to go on trips (~500 GBP)

I wish I could have more goals in the Financial category. With my student stipend and the cost of living in London, it is really hard to save much money. With everything, I just about broke even the past few months and maybe saved a little bit of money over the entire year. This is with a little help from my parents paying for flights home.

I plan on doing some short trips during 2016, and some of those may have to be ultimate tournaments. I didn’t spend very much on playing ultimate in 2015, but since I plan on joining a club team and maybe a Great Britain (GB) team if I make the cut, I’ll have to budget quite a bit more money for ultimate. At least the Worlds tournament will be in the UK and quite near London, so if I get to represent GB there it shouldn’t cost too much. Since ultimate is important to me, I don’t include this as a goal but as a line in my budget. Any trips on top of that would be something to work towards.

On a related note, something I regret about 2015 was not exploring more of London. I don’t usually get travel guides, but I dished out 10 GBP when I first got to London and haven’t put that book to good use. My approach for this will probably be to pick a neighborhood, walk around checking out shops and maybe working from a cafe for a few hours.

In my work life, I want to be more efficient. I had one chapter that was truly dragging for the last year or so, and it took some mental effort to get through it and get it to a decent state. I don’t want to have that kind of struggle again with the next chapters, especially because this thing needs to get done! Something that has helped me with perspective and focus has been to analogize how I approach ultimate to my research.

Overall, I hope that my determination to keep to these goals will be sustainable this year!

Photo: Jakub Sejkora