Announcement (Staying)

Hey all :).

I feel like I haven’t updated you on my alternate life (i.e., grad school :P) in quite a while, and there have been some big changes recently. Coming into this year, I feel like a real graduate student: I have my projects; I know basically what the next steps on all of them are; I have the rhythm of the early years of graduate school; I have some approximation (neither too specific nor vague) of where I’m heading. Attending the Center for Brains, Minds, and Machines Summer School was surprisingly inspirational towards those goals, as working on an independent project there with post-docs and faculty gave me a stronger outline on how the field of computational cognitive science is shaped. It’s a small field, especially if you focus on my specific interest of social interactions. It’s a real possibility that I can list out the prominent people in this area, a lot of them off the top of my head. It always feels grounding to me— to know where I’m going.

The big news, however, is with the lab :). For the past long while, the professor leading my lab has been deciding whether to change institutions or not. As of this June, the lab will no longer be located at UC Berkeley, and instead will be moving to Princeton University.

In the academic world, it’s unusual but not especially uncommon for professors to move around to different universities. It happens more with younger, junior faculty, but occasionally senior faculty move to different schools. There are a lot of different reasons for moving, and our professor was divided about the choice for a long time. Both he and his wife, also a cognitive science professor at Berkeley, will be relocating.

My professor is astonishing and amazing and is recognized to care a whole lot about his students, and he’s been very flexible in trying to work out how we, as the graduate students and post-docs in his lab, want to make this move work. Specifically, each of us get to make the choice of whether to stay at Berkeley or move to Princeton, and on what timeline.

There were already going to be some interesting dynamics in place this year, since it happens that this is a period when a lot of people in lab are finishing up. Happily, everyone has been doing very well with job applications! Several post-docs are moving into industry and faculty jobs, and several grad students are graduating. As such, the lab is going to naturally shrink down in size. (I’ve been trying to figure out why labs sometimes have this clumping structure—we’ve got a lot of people in the upper years, and a lot of people in the lower years, but not many in between. My friends and I have concluded that accepting graduate students into labs has a lot of inherent randomness in it depending on each year’s batch, and we don’t think there’s much of a pattern in it :).)

For the remaining people, we have the option of following our advisor to Princeton and getting our PhDs from Princeton, which a few of us were doing at last count. We could also stay at Berkeley, with the complex administration that accompanies that, but like I said, our advisor is amazing and is willing to make it work.

I, after very long debate, am going to try to get a PhD at Berkeley :).

There’s still a ton of logistics to take care of—the most prominent one being where my funding is going to come from—but I think this is going to work out. I plan to be based at Berkeley and visit Princeton occasionally, with a lot of Skyping intermixed. Though there’s still a lot of uncertainty, I’ve been internally wrestling with this decision for so long that to have this large part of it in place leaves me with this sense of… almost yawning confusion, really :). It’s just been so long in the coming, and simultaneously so much change!

It feels bittersweet, really. Beautiful, on the one hand, because I love my life here, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to stay in Berkeley for as long as I can. It’s a wonderful place for me to grow right now, and I’m pretty confident that my advisor and my collaborators and I can make it all work, given that I have such wonderful people around me (including the neuroscience program administrator, who told me today that she’s going to find out how to make this happen). I’m sad, on the other hand, because it’s going to be different. The lab is mostly going to be away, and my advisor is going to be away, and I haven’t thought much about where I’m going to have a desk next year, and there’s this part of me that feels a little lost, like there’s a part of how I belong that won’t be here anymore.

I think that it’ll work out even better than if nothing had changed, in the end :). There are tremendous opportunities. I’ll be connected with the research communities at both Berkeley and Princeton, and have the incredible access that comes from knowing friends and colleagues at both places. I know how this goes from splitting my undergrad in two, at both Wellesley College and M.I.T, with research at Harvard Medical School: the variety of people you meet across institutions is incredibly worth it, and actually one of my favorite parts about life. Similarly, I like the cultures on both the East and West coasts, and from visiting in Massachusetts this summer I know how much I like both in my life. I also really enjoy differences and newness, and having new friends and new cities and lab in both places will feel like a stretch and nonetheless fulfilling, as it historically has for me. Moreover, I know intimately the warmth of community from Wellesley, and Princeton is known for their tight relationships among graduate students.

I’ll also have more widespread relationships across Berkeley, as I reach out to people in different labs and find on-campus unofficial advisors. I’ve already done this to a larger extent than most, but interdisciplinary and spanning across groups remain values of mine. My advisor will also continue to remain as my advisor, as miraculous as that is, and he has gotten no less wonderful over time. He is committed to making this work, and so many people around me are committed to making this work, and when I think of all of the people who are going to have to be involved in this and are willing to be involved in this, I feel kind of helpless and awed at this net surrounding me, at what feels like a family.

I know how lucky I am. I know how beautiful my life is :). I forget, as we all do, but I am so fortunate as a person, and even as a graduate student (because sometimes academia is hard, and depending on the people around you can be made to be miserable).

Hm :). And so I recognize the sadness, and the quiet fear, because when things are unknown and known things are lost one can look at the future and feel lonely.

And so I recognize the joy, and the future. Because for every step I think I take alone, I’m surrounded by the constant, faith-power-love-hope-kindness-investment-strength-lucky beautiful glow, of the worlds and wonder for the people around me.

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