Hey readers :).

It has been SO LONG– close to a year since I last posted, and a lot has happened in that time. One of the reasons I stopped writing was because I wanted to use blogging time to make a lot of changes to my real world life, and I certainly attempted that :P.

In August, I went to Greece for a labmate’s wedding (it was fun :)), and then to a bunch of self-development workshops (Paradigm, Landmark 2, CFAR). Fall was a kind of crazy time, as I started executing a lot of internal changes, dating in earnest, and (right, real world) took a biology class and did research. From August onwards I was seriously considering quitting grad school, one of those classic third-year PhD activities (seriously, I was reassured by faculty and students alike that this is pretty darn normal). That eventually turned into a plan for me to take a leave of absence, to focus more on researching mental health, a problem area I’m quite interested in working in.

(Why mental health, you might ask? So, as evidenced from this blog, it turns out I’m quite into introspection and social interaction. It feels like I took my academic interest in trying to figure out how people work, and turned it into the applied version, which in my case is trying to help people be happier and more production. I was pretty excited when I realized I could work on this.)

I was working on finishing up research projects so I could take a leave of absence in the spring. I also started interviewing clinical psychologists to figure out how I could be helpful in this mission of improving mental health. I made a new personal website, and started writing articles for the Berkeley Science Review and elsewhere, to get practice as a science writer. I interviewed a science writer to see what their life was like, and also interviewed some data scientists to see what their lives were like. Back in interview-land, I learned a lot about clinical psychology, and concluded that actually, I might be best served by returning to the PhD to study mental health.

The last day before I was slated to start the leave of absence, all of this evidence coalesced into the idea that actually, it’d be better for me to go back to research, and change my focus a little bit towards mental health. Thus, I continued on with my PhD, and did not take a leave of absence! (And don’t currently intend to take one.) I took on a new project with a clinical psychologist, and started taking a natural language processing class to study if therapy chatbots were useful. It’s the last week of classes, so I’m finishing that up. I also started looking into teaching, and thinking about / starting to work towards a Berkeley teaching certificate, so took a class for that.

While all this was happening (i.e., starting in earnest in August), I was throwing myself into introspection about gender, about which I have quite a number of feelings about, it turns out. Eventually this resulted in me *changing my name* (crazy times! I now go by Vael) and using the label “non-binary” and they/them pronouns. This process involved lots of angst; I won’t subject you to it :).

I moved houses around October! I really love my current house situation. My room is very decorated. Also, last week I threw my first party, which went better than I expected. I continue to play Dungeons and Dragons and bond with my group. Terribly, one of my friends in that group got cancer, so we played a few of our sessions in the hospital with them. Thankfully they had a lot of support and are doing better now.

There were a lot of mood swings and personal-growth-type things in the fall– well, lots of personal-growth-type things now too, and throughout. (These past two years seem like really high change years for me. This is also one of the reasons I stopped blogging– I felt like things were changing too fast in some sense.) I seem to have been as depressed as I’ve ever been through a chunk of the fall— that is to say, not clinically, but I was experiencing existential angst and a feeling that “all of my goals are pointless” for a while there. It seems to have mostly been resolved when I made progress on my career plans and gender stuff, which is very fortunate.

I continue to get better at not experiencing anxiety about people, and overreacting to small situations. Dating has helped with this. I also learned a ton more about dating, and starting experiencing more of the classic “dating” emotions, which was super interesting. I started loosely networking into the SF group-house scene, but only a little :).

I applied for internships this summer at mental health startups, and didn’t really get any, mostly because I was applying to startups (which don’t really do internships) and because I wasn’t as strategic as I could be, and also because I actually really like Berkeley and would love to stay here and do research as the default option. Additionally, I was invited to attend YC120, a networking event put on by YCombinator, and met a lot of cool people and learned a lot about startups.

I’ve done some cool mental mind stuff and am currently orienting around how I can work on existential risk, which seems super important to me as something to work on (i.e., trying to make sure humanity doesn’t go extinct.)

I talked to my thesis advisor about end dates and staying in Berkeley, and I’m going to be staying in Berkeley for my fifth year, which I wasn’t expecting! I’m also planning to graduate in May 2021, which is amazing– it’s really cool to have an anticipated graduation date. I’m also probably going to do some more work in mental health, and some more work in what I normally work on– we’re deciding how we want it to go.

That’s… probably the brunt of it :). It has been a crazy most-of-a-year, folks. (I’m also very happy with where I am now.)

Thanks so much for sticking it through with me, readers– 2015-2018 has been a long ride with this blog! I don’t promise that I won’t post again on this sometime in the future (like a year from now), to let people know an update, but I think it’s best to assume I won’t and end it here :).

Thank you all so much for coming with me on the journey, readers. Much appreciation to all of you, and so many well wishes.

Best and thanks!


4 thoughts on “Ending

  1. Hi Monica, I don’t know that you will remember me, but I was a Cogsci 131 student, and you helped me finish that up . My name is Jamaica, and 131 was a struggle for me returning to school after 10 years. You really really helped me out. I can only hope to return the favor in some way, and if I can offer you some positive support, I hope it bouys your strength.

    I want you to know how special and exceptional you are. You are a spectacular human. If you are struggling, I see already that you owned the problem and looked to research and regained your power. You could help a mental wellness tool get born that could changes people’s lives, if you go that way. The intersection of mental health and our new computational tools will change the next decade for people who struggle, and you can be a part of that.

    You can’t always be empowered though, and embracing the things you can’t control will come with time and experience, so let that happen too. Not natural for some people, I think.

    I see for you huge things, so don’t be afraid of going BIG. Berkeley can be an isolating little bubble, don’t be afraid to explore the whole area, trust, time flies.

    May the winds be at your back from here forward, and good fortune always.

    Jamaica Lambie


    • Hi Jamaica,

      I’m touched! I didn’t remember your name, but I did remember your face as soon as I looked it up– I’m so glad that you finished the degree and things are going well for you. (And that you’re a bike mechanic? So cool!)

      This is such a nice message, and already special because you somehow navigated your way to one of my blogs after x many years. I sometimes wish I were still writing as regularly, though I feel less need for it these days. I appreciate your desire to give back to me with this note, and all of the kind and attentive words here!

      Best wishes to you as well, and thanks for looking out for me :).


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