Status Update

Hello readers,

I have received word that my mother thinks I am “maybe in Morocco, maybe in Germany, and maybe with someone.” I love this; it’s beautifully ironic, since my mother was the one who originally suggested that I make this blog more of a topic-blog rather than a day-in-the-life blog a few years ago. It seems that I have finally accomplished that goal.

In the interests of clarifying my location and status with relation to other people (I think the one thing this blog still maintains is an update of my mental state), I thought I’d give a quick summary of what I’ve been up to. I’ve been posting bits and pieces of it, but nothing like the cohesive coverage of the old days (…I’ve read a few of my blogs from 2011. So interesting.)

I am currently in Cambridge. I took a week off about three weeks ago to go to Morocco with a friend (she used to be a participant in my experiment!) and to participate in CHaOS, Cambridge Hands-On Science Roadshow, which I wrote about in my last post. My next big event is my viva on August 1st, which is when I defend my thesis to an internal advisor (professor local to Cambridge University) and an external advisor. After my viva, I either pass with no revisions (rare), pass with minor revisions (what I’m hoping for), pass with major revisions (not optimal), or fail. There are a few other divisions within that, but that’s the gist of it. Most Masters students don’t have vivas—this is a full-on viva, in the same format as a PhD viva. But my program does, so this will be my last thing to finish before I graduate in October after various committees have looked over my re-submission and evaluations.

My viva is on Monday. That Thursday I take my last European trip, where I’ll be in Berlin for two days, Frankfurt for two days, and Paris for less than a day. The middle part of that travel is visiting my friend Sanja; the ends are on my own. I’ve had no problem traveling in Europe by myself, though I’m very glad I went to Morocco with a friend.

After that I’ll return to Cambridge where I’ll pack up and get ready to leave Britain. It is very sad to leave my lab and some of the people I’ve met here—I’ll see Stephanie and Vasili for the last time before my viva, there are many acquaintances who I would have loved to spend more time with, and I’m loathe to leave my labmates. (Incidentally, Leslie, the friend I traveled to Morocco with, also found a job in the Bay Area, so I’ll see her again.) But I am excited to head to Berkeley on August 11th. I’ve discovered that I really do enjoy the American culture, dealing with our historical problems from specific ingrained perspectives. I enjoy our problems being our problems, not evidence for why that other country is crazy. (Vilification of other countries is not new. It’s been really nice being here because it brings into the spotlight what countries and cultures the US vilifies. This is simply for the reason that they’re not the same ones as every Cambridge student vilifies, which brings my cultural ideas from “ground-truth” to “opinion”.)

I think I’ll miss out by not living outside America—because things that seem normal are brought into perspective, and this is even after talking to mostly Western Europeans. But I’ve concluded that America is home. It’s been funny watching myself conclude things this year. On the one hand, I observe my relief in reducing uncertainty. On the other, I know I’m closing myself off to possibilities, and it will be much harder to change back—it will require much more evidence and effort—if I’m going to change the conclusions I’ve made about myself. I have been interested for a long time about why peoples’ opinions are more static when they’re older, and this seems to be part of it.

(Isn’t it strange, too, how I’ve always been after growing older and being more mature… but I’m now in a place where in a few more years I’ll be wishing for the other direction? Maybe I’m wrong about this, but it’s something I’ve been sensing recently, since the average age of people I interact with is late-twenties.)

So I leave for Berkeley, where my wonderful extended family will help me move in, and three days later my program starts. We start off with a “Neuroscience Boot Camp”, where we’re going to spend a week using different techniques and learning about neuroscience at its many scales. (My interests are very high-level, in the intersection of neuroscience and psychology. “Cognitive Neuroscience” with computation. Most people, when they think of neuroscience, think of neurobiology, which is molecular / cellular neuroscience, and also systems neuroscience. I used to work in systems neuroscience, because I studied a whole system, vision, and more specifically color vision.)

Then school starts—and isn’t that a strange idea. I was really excited for classes a few months ago when I wasn’t really learning anything new, just doing data analysis. These days when I’m doing an online course and reading on my own I’m more like: I’m going to have to be graded on this stuff? But they don’t care too much about grades in graduate school, so it’ll probably just be good fun. Whoo, I’m going to be busy again. I’ve withdrawn from the social scene as I’ve been nearing the end of my time here. Once I get to Berkeley, I’ll be opening it back up again, so I expect that will take up most of my free time. I’m excited. I was musing on how I’d be moving to a new place soon, and was I going to be homesick, and was I nervous about making friends? This is the first move where I surprised myself by answering no. It feels like a homecoming rather than anything else. I’ve been waiting to go to graduate school for forever—it appears in my blogs about month two after arriving at Wellesley. This feeling is amplified by my returning from a foreign country. I’m familiar with the area, having spent many vacations there with extended family. I really liked the city upon arrival, I really liked the students upon arrival, I’ve had only positive interactions with the faculty and administration during and since, and I’m very excited for my research prospects. And—again, it feels like I’ve been just waiting for this for so long, and I like the place I’m going so much more than I thought I would. (…I was a bit pessimistic about the whole liking-graduate-school thing, which has been nice because I’ve been violating expectations. Of course I’m just coming in so this is naïve, but I don’t think how I’ll feel later negates how I feel now.) Finally, I don’t have to worry about meeting people and finding a support group and whatnot, since I’ve done it here, and I know my strong points, and I’m not worried about making it happen. I’ve even shored up my previously unfamiliar areas, drinking and dating, and don’t have to be worried about those anymore. I’m nervous, of course—big move, big change—but it’s not anxiety-nervous, it’s excited-nervous. And that has been so much fun.

So that’s where I am re: the future. Now, I’ve been watching a movie once a week with my friend Leslie, and going out for dinner and drinks with the lab once or twice a week. I Skype friends from home (…Boston :)) very occasionally. I finished the lecture part of my online Machine Learning course, and will be working on the programming exercises. I made my science outreach website (womenincocosci.com) and I’ve been finishing up what I want to get done on that before I leave for Berkeley. I just set up my newest writing project, z&e, which is in the tab over within this blog site. (I’m pretty unsure about that one, but I’m seriously never motivated to work on this kind of stuff (improving my writing skills) unless it’s public. And I do want to write a book someday. My mother always said: go major in science, and then you can go be an author if you want. Funny how some things don’t fade with time. I am curious to see whether this book is non-fiction and related to my research (expected) or a novel (what my 5th-year old self had planned). We’ll see what sticks.)

I’m still working out far too much (1-2 hours a day, seriously, Monica?) using the elliptical (or “cross-fit trainer”, if you’re in England. I’m going to miss certain words and brand names here, though I want Trader Joe’s back now). I’m still doing some data analysis for my research. I’ve been reading some great books, trying to figure out what I’m interested in and what my research might be at Berkeley. This week, the focus is going to be on drafting a scholarship application—i.e., writing a research proposal for work I might do at Berkeley. I’ve got time—it’s not actually urgent, I just want to be prepared. (I wonder how other people are preparing for Berkeley? Then again, I’m in a sort of unique situation in that I’m switching fields a bit, moving more computational. I finally feel like I have a decent handle on what’s going on, which is an immense relief that I’ve noticed has made my life much calmer. It’s not so much knowing exactly what each algorithm is so much as not freaking out when I see equations, because I’ve now seen similar-enough equations that I can reason out what the purpose of the functions are. Huge relief, you have no idea.)

I really like my life right now. I’m in a holding pattern; I know what’s coming next, I’m only doing the things I’m enjoying most. I’ve got little stressors (I amuse myself with the ferocity of these sometimes) but they’re nothing compared to what other people are going through currently or where I’ve been previously. I’m doing this really, really fun thing in which I’m not working officially too much, so I’ve been working on a whole bunch of other projects which I’ve been planning for years. (None of my projects are spontaneous. I’ve just got a list of them on the backburner that sit there in an email draft titled “to do” for literally years.) I’m very comfortable, and not worried about it. Bad things are happening in the news, but not anything I personally am going to take immediate action against, so those problems are in my awareness but not on my plans list. Family’s doing well as of a week or two ago (selling the house soon!), friends at home are managing life, friends here as well. It’s kind of crazy how nice life can be.

One last thing, and then I’ll finish up. As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve been doing a lot of restructuring with regards to my online writing presence, so now I have basically four platforms instead of just one (the blog). I’ve been musing about how everything’s going to be divided up since I created everything. (In fact, the whole point of creating everything now was to have these divisions stable by the time I got to Berkeley, so I’d only have to deal with maintenance costs :)). Here’s what I currently see happening:

  1. This blog—the “Home” tab on this wordpress website. This is mainly going to be personal updates about my life and essays on social things. (I’m far too obsessed with social things). The blog’s already careening down this direction, so it’s essentially not going to change, though it might also be updated less (…again with the careening).
  1. The z&e tab on this blog. This is going to be one really long fictional story told in short chapters. I really hope this sticks, because I set definitive goals for almost everything that I do, and I do think the goals are worthy on this one. Up to chapter 5, I haven’t gotten to any of the cool ideas I want to explore yet, but this is going to be both an exercise in writing and also a forum for any fun ideas I read about that don’t fit into the blog properly. Don’t read if you don’t like it—I’ve tried to divide up the site so that it’s separate from the blog.
  1. My womenincocosci.com website—i.e. my public outreach website! I’m really excited about this one. I think people read my blog for one of two reasons—to listen to me ramble about my life (family, friends), or to learn something about the schools I’m at. I’m basically moving all the useful stuff about education to womenincocosci.com. But I’m going to crosspost on the blog whenever I write something and upload it there just in case.
  1. My personal (research) webpage. This website is currently pretty boring, because I haven’t updated the “Projects” page on this website. I have PLANS, readers, I have plans. Mostly to do with the recommendation system for fanfiction that I got a start on last year around this time and then ran out of time for. I’ve have more ideas on that, and for some Amazon Mechanical Turk projects. But these are probably going to sit in the “to do” drafts folder for another few years, because I’ve concluded that I unfortunately don’t have time to do everything before Berkeley starts. So basically, my personal webpage is going to have all the cool stuff I’m doing re: my actual research, and projects that are properly nerdy / computational enough to be put on the pages with my actual research. It’ll be a while.

That’s all I have. Thanks for sticking with me, readers—I continue to keep any comments on the blog very close to my heart, and there are few compliments you can give me that are better than telling me you read my blog. Hope everything’s going well for you, and best wishes.

Monica

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