Monthly Archives: October 2012

Suriving the Vancouver Weather

You open your eyes and fool yourself that the only reason it’s dark in your room is because of your curtains. You toss and turn for a while, then finally decide that taking a shower will wake you up and help you start your day. You freshen up, walk outside, and find the usual overcast sky with no room for blue in the sky. Everyone in the hallway makes squeaky noises as they walk down the hallways to their office/lab/class, but no one is really energetically talking. You navigate through the low energy hallway lounging/walking people scattered throughout your journey to your office. You sit down in front of your office computer, tackle your inbox, fool around on Facebook or the like, and finally tell yourself that it’s time for you to get some real work done. Then you realize that as soon as you attempt to start anything productive, you’re dozing off. That’s even when you got your share of 8 hours of sleep last night and even took a nap yesterday on top of it — i.e., more than plenty of sleep to keep you going.

The forever darkness of the Vancouver sky have created the perfect cool temperature for your skin, depressing silence among your labmates, and lack of sunshine for your eyes, such that your visual, haptic, and auditory sensory requirements to fall asleep are satisfied more hours during the day than you’d like.

It’s rainy. It’s gloomy. It’s always overcast and gray everyday.

It’s Vancouver in its true colour.

When I first moved to Vancouver, my focus in surviving the Vancouver weather had more to do with staying dry than anything else.I kept forgetting to carry an umbrella with me when I walk out the door, or forgetting to wear boots to keep my feet dry for the day.

Now that I’ve been in Vancouver for a while, staying dry is no longer an issue. I seem to be always equipped with high heel boots or high heel something to keep my feet dry even when I walk through puddles of water or perpetually wet and muddy grassy area. I have an umbrella at my office, in my purse, and at home, so I am never short of an umbrella when I need one.

Even if I happen to forget my umbrella and end up getting rained on, I no longer care too much, say ‘meh~’, and continue walking.

I no longer check the weather forecast the night before, or the morning of. It almost seems as though my daily assumption for the weather forecast as ‘overcast, high chance of precipitation, chilly enough for you to be wearing a coat and a scarf’ is just as good as output of highly sophisticated weather forecast algorithms from the weather stations.

Yes, Vancouver is one of the top handful of best cities to live in. And yes, Vancouver summers are great. But when it comes to the rainy season, which makes up more than half of the year in my opinion, Vancouver can require you to have quite a unique impact on you. And that includes some super powerful impact weather can have on your mental state of things. Some people told me that more people in Vancouver are taking antidepressants than any other major cities in Canada or something along the lines (I don’t have stats, but I am sure I can look it up). And apparently there is something called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that can be characterized by the type of daily life I’ve described in the first paragraph of this post: you want to sleep all the time, you’re tired all the time, and you feel irritable, depressed, or sad everyday.

So, I’ve noticed that this year’s rain is really hitting me hard than it really used to. Mind you, I love the rain, and I am the kind of person who would sing ‘Singing in the Rain’ when walking down the street stepping on puddles and such. I’ve been having a hard time waking up, and I’ve been napping much more than I have been before (I don’t usually take naps). My productivity have been suffering because of my lack of energy I think.

I am an early morning kind of person and used to really enjoy waking up at 5:30 or 6:00am in the morning during the summer to read the newspaper before starting my day. Hence, the fact that I struggle in the morning has really been affecting my morning productivity as well as my energy level in general. Totally unsatisfied by my daily output, I think it’s time that I do something about it, and beat this unfortunate cycle of overcast weather and overcast daily fatigues/dissatisfaction.

I think the first thing I am going to do is install some super bright lights in my residence and fool my brain to think it’s beautifully sunny outside. I’ve been totally wanting to get a commercial wake-up light that turns on the light gradually starting half an hour before you are supposed to wake up, so that it’s kinda like the sun is coming up when it’s time for you to wake up. But being a poor grad student, I don’t think I can afford to get the commercial solution. So I think I am going to equip myself with an arduino, a lamp from the Craig’s list or something, and make a wake-up light for myself. And I’m trying out a new morning routine to include indoor exercise as soon as I wake up at 6am, such that I counterbalance my stress level in the morning.

We’ll see what happens. But I am determined to beat this tragic phenomenon, and use this as an excuse to decorate/revamp my residence.

Has anyone found a good ‘fight Vancouver gloominess’ solution? If so, please do share. Meanwhile, I am going to try very hard not to fall asleep after I post this… yawn~~!!

MASc -> PhD: A preliminary check

Breakfast today: Coffee + taiwanese pineapple cake at 3am in the morning.


I woke up super early in the morning to catch up on work. I just could not get all the stuff done yesterday (and during the Thanksgiving weekend for that matter) and decided that I’ll just start my workday early.

2:30 am my alarm clock went off, and I was off to a good start. Super dark outside, super quiet everywhere, slightly creepy with only a desk lamp lighting the entire half-basement lab before dusk. Perfect (?) condition to concentrate on stuff that I’ve procrastinating on.

This strategy to getting stuff done doesn’t always work, because I become very efficient at procrastinating as well. And this morning was a mix of both. I got quite a bit of work done (although not as much as I had hoped to, as is always the case), and quite a bit of nonessential chores done such as switching my phone plan etc.

One of these non-essential chores was updating the ‘about’ page on this blog. I hadn’t looked at it for a while, and it still said that I am a second year MASc student. That means it was overdue for like… many months.

So while my hunger for breakfast pulled my concentration away from the type of work I should be doing, I decided to update it. Well, modify it is more like it. Most of the contents are the same, except for the things that aren’t true anymore. And of course, I didn’t change my profile picture, since I don’t mind misguiding the audience of my age with my lack of dark circles.

But this modification process reminded me of some of the changes that have happened while I transitioned from a MASc to a PhD student. For example, I am no longer the Communications and Public Relations Director for MEGA (the UBC Mechanical Engineering Grads Association). Kristy have been doing a great job on that role for quite some time now. And my thesis isn’t particularly on making robots hesitate — although an extension of that project is still on-going. In fact, I still haven’t decided what I want to do for my PhD.

Printed copy of my MASc thesis! Yay~

I have some really exciting ideas, but haven’t done much of pilot testing. I have some exciting projects going on, but I am not sure if they will become a main ingredient for my thesis work either.

Yes. You could say that I have uncertainties galore, and that I should take some active steps to make things a little bit more certain. But don’t worry. I’ll get there.

So, while I was on this road to dangerous spiral of procrastination, I decided to look up what my thoughts were when I had just finished my MASc thesis. I had just returned from Miami (went there for a conference of course), and wrote this post outlining some of the things I wanted to change about me and my lifestyle.

The first item to tackle was my workaholic tendency. Just the thought of spending an extra day in Miami to chill and relax used to freak me out, some of my friends hadn’t pulled me aside to talk to me about their personal problems/issues for months because I was so busy with the thesis (what a terrible state to be in!!!), and everything and everyone around me seemed to work around my schedule and how my thesis dominated my life. So, back in April, I decided to change that about me. And I think I’ve been staying away from my workaholic attitude ever since then.

I don’t think about making the most out of every minute of my every day in the work-related sense of things. I have taken many weekends off, and attend more social events than I used to last year. Now it’s a bit hard to balance it, and to get lots of work done while finding time to chill. But don’t worry (again), I’m working on it.

My newly planted chamomile flowers. I know it’s hard to see, but there are sprouts to be found. I am serious!

Second item was to cherish little hobbies outside of work, such as gardening. I have too many of these hobbies now, and gardening is still an ongoing thing for me. And I do find that having these little hobbies are good for your mental health. During undergrad, talking and studying roboethics used to be a hobby of mine (nerdy, I know). And then I thought “hey, wouldn’t it be great if my hobby could be my main thing?” and so I made my hobby one of my main research topics. The idea itself was great, but that kind of robbed me of my list of activities I could classify as hobbies…! Now, I have these really non-work-related things like gardening, crocheting, and painting to fill up that hobby list again.

There are some other things I’ve noticed about me that are different from a few months ago as well. As part of my journey to find the next thesis topic I will be married to, I am starting to think big and reading books that weren’t within my range before.

What’s more, I’ve even started thinking about my 3.5 year plan. On paper, I am already past half way point of my first year of PhD. That means I am going to try and graduate within the next 3.5 years. There are so many things I want to do within these years that I couldn’t have imagined to do when I had just started my master’s. When do I want to do what? How much of my thesis should be done by when? And most importantly, what are the things I want to have accomplished by the time I receive my doctoral degree? Chances are, these things will change as time passes. But provided that my goals at the beginning of my masters were quite modest compared to what I was able to accomplish in terms of my personal goals and career goals, I think thinking big pictures in the beginning is the way to go.

In many ways than one, I am busy dreaming, planning, and thinking about the future now that I am giving myself some extra time to breathe despite the ever looming deadlines. Now, if only I can get one of those superpowers to make me stop procrastinating…