MASc -> PhD

Oh Miami, how wonderful you are.

Ah~ where should I start…?

It’s been so long since my last post, that numerous ideas on how to start this post are fighting in my head. So please accept my advanced apology that this post might be a little jumbled.

Well, first thing is first. Since my last post on the odds of dating, I have finished writing my thesis, successfully defended it (YaY!), travelled to Miami, and started my journey as a PhD student at the very same university that I now call ‘home’. Besides the things that most people consider a big deal (like getting my MASc stuff out of the way), there were some other big things that happened since February that I am quite happy about.

South Beach

For example, when I was planning my trip to Miami (for a conference of course), I quickly learned that I had literally been a workaholic who has a serious fear of taking vacations. My friends can tell you all about how I spent days worrying about whether it’s possible for me to actually have fun outside of the lab and spend days at a non-Vancouver location without work. In deciding how long I should stay in Miami after the conference (as a means to take a break from all that thesis writing and defence preparation), I was seriously worried that I would quickly get bored and start missing work/lab if I took more than a day to myself in Miami. Part of the reason was that I was going to be travelling alone, but I’ve travelled by myself many times before. What scared me was the thought of the amount of days I could be spending without working. I mean, what am I going to do by myself in Miami?! Anyways, upon much pondering, I left for Miami on a Thursday and came back the next Thursday. And I guess I don’t need to tell you that by the time I was heading back to Vancouver, I had shaken off the workaholic-ness out of me and did not want to come back.

The Wreck Beach, on campus!

Upon returning to work, I had an epic realization of a fact that should have been obvious three years ago — that Vancouver is an awesome staycation city. It’s a city filled with vacation-like things to do and vacation-like places to go. I mean, living on campus, I am practically only <10 minute walk away from a beach, short bus ride to many other beaches, have free access to the UBC Botanical Garden (I haven’t been to it yet by the way), not to mention the countless things that Whistler, the mountains, Okanagan, and other not-to-far places have to offer. Why did I not realize this before? Well, maybe I did realize it, but I kinda drove right into my thesis project and started my workaholic lifestyle when I got to Vancouver in the summer of 2009.

So, since my return from Miami, I began striving to live the mystical lifestyle that everyone’s been talking about for so long — a balanced lifestyle. Without intending to, my post-vacation attitude and the gradually summering weather of Vancouver has naturally pulled me away from work during weekends.

Two of the MANY plants I have acquired since my return from the mini-vacation.

There’s another big change I am happy about. I have become quite serious about gardening since my return. This is going to sound very cliche, but I have begun to notice things like flowers and such in a way I didn’t before. I’ve become so much more appreciative of the time I spend on things not work related, that I’ve decided to pick up another hobby — gardening. And guess what? Yesterday happened to be a big garden sale day at the UBC Botanical Garden (I still haven’t toured around the garden, but as of yesterday I can say I’ve visited the shop of the Botanical Garden). So I woke up early enough in the morning, took out one of those grocery caddies and happily went shopping for plants. Now I have a blueberry bush, lavender, basil, star flower, and many lettuce, spinach and other veggies planted by my windowsill and outside my door.

Just epic.

From now on, I shall wake up and see the beautiful flowers and greens by my window, and I shall go to work watching my blueberry plant grow. Oh, imagine how delicious the blueberries are gonna be, and how sweet scented my lavender filled room will be! So forget all the depressing odds about finding the right guy to make me happy and all. The mother nature is going to keep me happy with the interesting creatures I’m now a bit freakishly excited about (I can’t stop thinking about getting pretty clay pots to replant my plants).

Another big thing is that I’ve become a happier person after coming back from Miami. Well, the vacation probably has much to do with that. But I think it’s also the fact that I have, somehow, come to terms with my MASc thesis itself. I mean, near the end of the thesis writing process, I really had this thought of “I couldn’t care less about this, I just wanna get this over with!” But I wrote what I consider to be a humongous document with an enormously long title: “What should a robot do?: design and implementation of human-like hesitation gestures as a response mechanism for human-robot resource conflicts” and I feel proud to have finished it. Yes, I could have done things differently, and yes, there are many thoughts that need further thinking. But that’s what the masters program is for, right? You do research, but you are also learning along the way. So the things you worked on in the beginning is in a rougher shape than the things you did later.

Since April 18th of 2012, I have officially been a PhD student at UBC.

I still have the same desk, at the same lab, with the same two supervisors. In a way, my student status seems to be the only thing that have really changed from MASc candidate to PhD student.

Some people call it an academic suicide to get multiple degrees from the same university. But I believe I’ve made the right choice, and that whether I make my choice to stay a suicidal one is really up to me. Because the truth is, everything is different. Unlike almost three years ago when I started brainstorming randomly about what my research question should be (and also wondering what on earth research questions should look like), the randomness in my thought process has been tamed and self-guided. It feels like I’ve been given more freedom than before, because I now have the knowledge of how to properly seize the opportunities I want and have confidence in knowing what I want.

In a sense, I guess one of the biggest things that are different about me as a researcher now compared to me three years ago is my comfort level in jumping into the unknown/unexplored. The fact that research is about exploring things that haven’t been explored and answering questions that haven’t been asked (i.e., there’s no textbook and no solutions booklet) used to feel very daunting. But now, I am hooked at the very notion of jumping into the unknown. The less explored, the better. Because I have full confidence that, even if I fall into a chasm in research of some sort, the army of support network that I have in and outside of the lab are more than enough to pull me back up and onto the right path.

So, watch out world. Here comes the transformed AJung.

And here is the ironic ending to this post. 😉

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