Category Archives: UBC Grads 101

What it feels like to be a UBC Mech Eng grad student.

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. 😉

The Mech Guide to Dating – What are your odds (yes, real stats) of finding someone at UBC?

Wow, would you look at the calendar?

Feb. 14th is over, and I am sure the heart shaped cookies and chocolates in pink wraps are on sale in stores all over the city. I couldn’t tell you if there are good deals out there, since I haven’t been poking outside campus after Valentine’s day. But nonetheless, some couples appreciate it being over, because they feel obligated to do something for their significant other on that day, and many singles appreciate it being over since singles tend to be more sensitive of the day than couples seem to be. Or so is a short summary of my qualitative behavioural data this year.

Today, I am in a mood for sharing some quantitative data that may entertain you, and this is inspired by a really funny, and well filmed, video from UBC Mech featuring the excellent hidden talent of Dr. Schajer that I was not aware of.

Alright, so it may not surprise the public much that a lot of people I know in grad school are single, and not particularly by choice.

But, it may surprises us grad schoolers (well, myself, rather) to know that there are “99.6 million unmarried people over age 18 in the U.S., representing nearly 44% of the adult population.” according to the  U.S. Census Bureau, America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2010. Does that mean we single grad students should take a road trip to the US this reading week and take advantage of the numbers? I mean, nearly half the population down there is single! Well, hear me out before you take drastic measures.

According to Statistics Canada, there are about 4.3 million people of more or less balanced male/female ratio in BC (well, in 2007 anyway). Of them, there are 1.8 million people who are single, 53% of which are males (i.e., sorry guys, there’re less single ladies in BC than there are available guys, but good news is coming. Read on.). Of course, I am assuming both numbers are counts of eligible adults, and not people under the age of 18. Breaking down these numbers a bit, this means about 40.9% of BC’s adult population is single, and no road trip should be necessary to find your significant other.

Time-warping these data to the number of grad students at UBC in 2011, we can realize that we UBC grads make up a total of 0.23% of BC’s population –> (total number of UBC grad students) / (total BC population) = 10,111/4.3million = 0.23%
But, I don’t think this is the correct way to deal with the numbers given the number of singles we know exist in grad school. So, if we assume that 70% of us grad students are singles (7078), then we make up 0.4% of all of BC’s singles population. Quite a whooping number if you ask me.

Interestingly, there are more studious girls than there are guys at UBC it seems. Overall, both masters and doctoral students combined, 54% of the grad student population are female (see guys? I told you there’s some good news), although there’s only 37%(642 people to be exact)  of female population in the Faculty of Applied Science. Ok, so that pretty much means, if you’re into dating fellow grad students (totally single, or just married – if you’re into that) then you could take a convenient pick in UBC from 5470 female or 4641 male students.

Age is also an important factor if you’re looking for a suitor. According to the chart that I’m embedding here for your convenience, you can see that, although people tend to get married later as years go by, people generally get married in their mid to late 20’s. That means it’s important to consider how many of us UBC grads are in that single and looking age. According to UBC stats, about 37% of us are in the age group of 25-29 (19% in the 20-24 group, 21% in the 30-34 group). Hmmp, that’s a problem isn’t it? For those gentlemen looking for a fellow lady grad student of age 20-24 to date, you’d be looking at only 19% of 5470 females (1034). To give you a better perspective on reality, that means you’re actually looking for someone who falls under 1.9% of UBC’s total population — which is 54,125 (undergrad + grad). Provided that you’d be looking for someone who is single, that 1.9% should actually be lower to reflect the reality. Odds are better, but not much better, for ladies looking for male grad students of age 25-29 (1717). It’s about 3.2%.

You could say, ‘hey, don’t worry about the percentages, we’ve got thousands of single grad students at UBC, and we should just meet up!’ But dear fella, I am afraid that these percentages are important because they represent the population density — i.e., the odds of running into an attractive guy (or a girl) who happens to be of age, single, and shares that natural nerdiness of being a grad student is terribly low.

So what are the odds of finding someone within that 1.9% or the 3.2% who will make you happy and you’d be happy to be with?

I won’t calculate those numbers for you, but I think it’s fair to say that it’d be a near miracle to find someone in this world, even if over 40% of us are single.

So long story short, my conclusion from this quantitative data I’ve pulled together from UBC, US, and Canadian stats websites is that those of you who aren’t single are terribly lucky to be so. And the journey of having found someone to call your significant other may have occurred by defeating these terrible odds and making a miracle happen.

End of Experiments!! and the Emotional Aftermath

It feels great.

Just great.

It’s been a while since my last post, but there’s a good reason for it.

I finished the last set of my experiments for my masters and that concludes the end of the things that I need to program, tighten, loosen, and crack open in the literal sense of things.

Woot woot!

I had over thirty subjects come in to the lab, and interact with the robot I had set up for the experiment. The  experiment was called Sorting Hearts and Circles with a Robot, and I am so… so… glad that so many people were interested in participating. Thank you participants! Big hug goes to you all.

And now that all the experiments are done, I could not wait to start analysing the data. It’s crazy how work works. You get one thing done, and then you find another thing to get done. It’s a never ending cycle.

However, I felt really good about the new work that sat staring at me on my desk — data.

For over two years, I had been working to get here. My goodness I had three different phases to my study, and thank goodness I finished them before my patience and all virtues in me dried out.

So, while I started to busy myself with the newly collected data, I was reminded that it was time for me to take down my experimental set-up.

It’s a weird feeling to take down something that you’ve worked so hard on. It feels like you’ve constructed a very elegant multi-layered cake with the most beautiful decorations and fillings by working hard for hours, and then you are asked to destroy it – with the reason being, that’s the way things are for all cakes, no matter how beautiful.

I had been working on this system for… about half a year now? I know every single line of code that made the robot do its thing, and I like to feel like I have my own personal ways of fixing the robot when it crashes on me – the ways that I had to learn by trial and error. You know… there’s that feeling of … there must be something special produced from this that will last forever.. the things that makes all the late nights and early mornings worthwhile. But you aren’t quite sure what that is yet. You don’t want to say that ‘I’ve made some scientific contribution that will last forever’ because it feels like your attachment to your project is stronger and more important than whatever the scientific contribution will do for the world. You know… a breakup from a long term relationships tend to give you that kinda feeling…

So, the day I was supposed to take down the system, I decided to take lots of videos of it, take pictures of every single corners of the set-up, and do everything special I could imagine. Collecting everything that will last.

And when that was all done and over with, I sat.

I sat there staring at the robot.

And the robot sat there, like it always was at the end of the day. Its arms folded and cuddled up.

It kind of felt like having a breakup talk.

“Hey… I’m sorry, but I am not planning to come around no more. This is it. It’s over.”

Don’t worry, I am not crazy. I do not really consider the robot my ‘friend’ or a relationship material of any sort.

I just have some attachment issues with my projects.

As I sat there having these breakup talks, somewhat feeling a sense of relief, but also doubting whether I am making the right choice (as in, should I get a few more subjects before I take it down?), my labmate Navid looked at me and said ‘All done?’

“All done…” I said.

Then I realised that Navid will be the one taking over the robot now – for his experiments, of course. And that reminded me that there’s going to be many more researchers working with this robot. It was clear that I need to clear out of its way.

So I took one last couples picture with the robot, with the spongy hand that I made for it and stuff.



Then I had to go out for dinner with a friend of mine to celebrate the end of experiments, and the start of results and analysis. Afterwards, I did feel the temptation to go back to the lab when I came back from  the dinner at like.. 11ish.. but I resisted. This was it.

A clean breakup is a good breakup. No middle ground “let’s be friends” stuff, and no regrets.

I learned so much from this project, and I am so glad that the experiment is over.

I am moving on.

Let’s get the data party started!! 😀