4 minute read

I was lucky to be at this academic conference (MICRO’55 in Chicago) two weeks ago and the feeling of pain, anxiety and frustration has struck me – seemingly out of nowhere. But I understand every burst of emotion has to come from somewhere – possibly a place I’ve been trying to hide so hard underneath my consciouness – that I thought it’s going ok but deep down it’s not. I haven’t written much about feelings in English, but I’d like to take this chance to reflect on what I did in my Ph.D. first year. I hope this can be a starting point of my self expression. For anyone who happen to be reading this, I hope my personal experience can help you in some way too.

My first semester was a complete mess. I was dealing with a hard relationship breakup and could barely get myself together. I was barely meeting the course deadlines where I was supposed to get As, and didn’t have anyone to talk to after just moving to Atlanta (relationships take time!). I remember I couldn’t help crying in the middle of CS7001 and had to walk out to cry. Research wise? I was doing two small projects with two different advisors and ended up picking one.

The second semester was better, but I don’t remember being much happier. I took a compiler class where I liked the contents (and was able to meet deadlines), TA’ed for a class where I could’ve done better. I was still very confused about my research direction, played with some tools and didn’t work out. Also had a significant personal accomplishment, so I wouldn’t blame myself too much.

The summer internship was a turning point. Life was simple. I was on a healthy routine, well fed by the company, and happy. I was finally able to invest in a research direction (computational storage) and see some progress. I learned about the field, was hyperfocused on my research, and learned to be “present”. That was the point when I started looking at Stoicism and some mix of Buddism and Taoism. I felt making intentional decisions for my own good, and wasn’t distracted much by opinions of others. Had bad moments too but I was generally content. I felt I could achieve more.

I tried to make that state of mind stay after my internship. I tried living a healthy routine, eating and sleeping well, and saying no to things. But conditions are no longer the same. I was expecting to keep producing and get a paper soon, but I couldn’t. Maybe we were rethinking the direction; maybe I started having other obligations; maybe I was still attached to the “good” summer time and expecting too much. I started doubting the value of my direction, if not many people worked on it because no one cares, if I’ll never get a good idea out because there’s nothing much to explore and improve, if it’ll never get into a top tier conference. I also started doubting myself, if I’m not working hard enough, if I have too many problems in confidence, self-expression, communication, commitment, creativity, boundaries, if I’m using self-care as an excuse to avoid working, if my Stoic belief to enjoy the present moment and be happy is simply wrong.

I don’t see my self being happy and productive at the same time. It’s either, can never be both.

While struggling to find the way out, I want to write down a few items I wish to keep practicing/achieve in not only my Ph.D. but my life in general.

  1. Stay healthy. Sleep well, get hydrated, eat well, and be happy.

  2. Learn a lot from others but think critically. Learn to form your own perspective on research and on life too, and be confident that your knowledge and wisdom has value. Never stop challenging the idea of yourself and others and reforming your perspective, but also remember to stand firmly on your own ground.

  3. Be brave to be creative and say something different. Have trust in what you’ve learned and the perspectives you’ve formed. Being creative and being different needs courage, especially in research you are challenging the human knowledge so it’s even harder.

  4. Share what you’ve learned and impact people around you.

  5. Find joy in the process and your goal will come to you.

  6. Be compassionate to both self and others.

  7. Don’t rush and let things happen. Don’t worry. Good things take time. And if