Monthly Archives: October 2013

UBC’s Response to the Sex Assault Cases

Today, I received two emails, one text message, and a voice mail within a span of maybe three hours, all directed to communicate the same information to me. And I am not annoyed at all. Actually, I am glad that I am receiving the information through so many different channels from UBC, because that means UBC is doing something right and making sure that I know what’s going on.

Due to a series of sexual assault incidences that happened on campus recently, the entire campus is in a sort of an alert mode. Apparently, there have been six assaults on campus since April of this year that the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) now thinks are related.

This is definitely off the charts for such on-campus assaults. I mean, UBC really hasn’t been that dangerous of a campus in my mind. There was one incident that was reported a couple of years ago, based on my iffy memory, but that’s about all I can remember in the span of four years I spent on campus (yes, more of the hours were spent on campus than outside of it). Yes, we get regular tourists going to the Wreck Beach walking across the campus to get to the bus loop topless during the summer, but none that made me feel super unsafe. So it’s really unfortunate that these series of incidents happened and it really seems to have affected female student’s sense of safety on campus these days.

After each incident, the university sends out an email reporting it as a safety alert. And those of you on campus email list would know by now that we’ve received three such emails in the Sept/Oct period — scary and very unfortunate news.

The message is obvious, clear, and loud. Don’t walk alone at night. Use AMS SafeWalk service, or get someone to walk you. Carry a whistle etc.

These are simple messages, and they don’t really help in terms of how can an on-campus female actively protect herself other than locking herself in her room when it’s dark. But it does help in the sense that it raises people’s awareness of what’s going on, and get people to be more cautious. I tend to be on the overly cautious side, so don’t blame me if you don’t see me at the lab at 7pm any more. But how could I not? I hear the incidents being discussed everywhere, everyday. On top of that, based on CBC’s report, the locations of the assaults are super close to the areas I hang out on campus, yikes!

I’ve been hearing people talk about it at coffee line ups, walk to the bus loop, at the pottery studio, and also head about it on CBC radio this morning. This actually means the messages are being sent to the right people, and the news being heard by the right audience — that’s a good thing. I do feel that there’s more police presence on campus after dark, although that doesn’t mean I’ll feel safer walking alone at night. But it also means that people are just really looking forward to thinking about UBC as a safe campus where vigilance when alone at night is obviously necessary for both women and men as everywhere else in Canada, but not to the point of knowing that there’s a serial groper loose nearby.

For my dearest lady friends, please do take a look at the map of assaults and identify areas that are dark near your usual paths on campus. The places marked on the map are certainly areas that I didn’t consider as dark or sketchy before.

For those of you looking for a bit more information about this topic, has a tip they think may be useful to the police in their efforts to find the suspect, watch Sgt. Peter Thiessen’s video reporting on the incidents (below, from CBC), what the RCMP is doing about it, and how to stay safe.

Starting before feeling ready — PhD Research Proposal

There are a lot of things in life that leaves us in that limbo state where you know you need to make a decision, but none of the options look ideal, or you feel there are too many unknowns or uncertainties at play, so you delay your decision making as long as you can.

For some, the decision to go to grad school is one of those decisions that puts them in the limbo state. For others, the decision to be a grad student wasn’t even a big deal. But the decision on what his/her thesis topic should be is one that takes well over a year to make. Unfortunately, time isn’t something that’s very good at waiting on people.

Throughout this summer, I’ve come to realize that a doctoral program has a lot to do with how much you don’t know, perhaps more so than with things you do know.

The more educated you are, the bigger expectation you and others have for you to have the answers. But I don’t think that’s quite the way things really work. You read more papers, conduct more experiments, learn some more. But at the end of the day, you find out that you still have a lot of things you don’t know, and you’ll probably never have the time to know them all. So, to keep yourself sane, you just gotta learn to be at peace with the fact that you’re just a tiny fish swimming in the vast ocean of unknowns, thinking that you’re going forward, but that’s just a guess from the fish’s point of view. It’s a very humbling experience.

Those of you PhD students in UBC Mech Eng who started their PhD last September are probably in the same boat as me. We are in a big rush to decide and put together a RPD (Research Proposal Defense) for November. It’s one of those things that you must do before you can fully obtain your PhD Candidacy and get rid of that student status you’ve had for like… twenty years…

According to the Department’s program guidelines, all Mech Eng PhD students need to decide on a thesis topic, write a proposal about it, and defend it in front of a research committee within the first 18 months of starting our PhD program, usually during May or November. Actually that changed for all new students, and now it’s 12 instead of 18 months.

But how do you decide on a thesis topic before you really know what you’re doing? How can a mere 18 month period be enough time for someone to have covered all her basis to make an informed decision about things like this? I mean, this decision will affect the rest of your PhD career that could last anywhere from 2.5 years to infinity (in addition to the first 18 months of your PhD program). Well, I am sure the Department has a secret rule on the maximum number of years a person needs to finish his/her PhD, but let’s just say that none of us will have worry about that… And depending on the kind of project you decide to do, doesn’t it label you as an expert in that particularly field, hence affect where you’ll be headed after you get your doctoral degree? Unless you become a prophet or a futurist or some sort, I don’t think you’ll be able to predict which thesis idea will give you the wings you’ll need to fly in the future.

For many weeks, I’ve been going through this mental cycle of “OMG I know nothing, and I’m supposed to know stuff enough to propose things that’ll work out in the future”. Then I realized that I was perhaps over reacting.

The RPD is not supposed to be my PhD thesis defense. I don’t need to know things for certain — ’cause then, you wouldn’t need to do the work you’d be proposing anyway. And if I feel significant sort of certainty that what I’m about to propose will work out, chances are the work may just not be very interesting, or other people might be able to come up with the same idea easily.

My strategy of figuring out my thesis topic was to seek certainty in things I was curious about. I came up with a handful of things that I thought I would love to work on for the next few years poking around, and decided to take first steps in almost all of those things. That way, maybe I’ll have done pilot tests on all of them, have a handle on how promising/challenging each of the thesis directions are, and make my decisions from there. But, of course, this didn’t work out quite well for me, because each project takes a very long time, and I was greedy enough to want to do all of them as full studies instead of pilots.

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I made peace with myself and the thought that I’m not going to get any more certain about any of the work I am going to propose. So, I can’t wait until I am ready. I guess that might be why the department asks us to propose our work so early. They know that we can be in this limbo forever — might as well force us to choose and start something than keep us poking around at different things forever.

Anyways, I have a draft proposal, and I am having fun learning about things I didn’t know, finding links that I didn’t see, and framing my ideas using words I’ve never used before. Just gotta keep wearing a positive attitude and say ‘I don’t know if this is going to work, but I’m still going to do it’.