Saturday, January 03, 2015

Hello 2015!

When I was younger, I had no clue what it would be like to be in my 20s in the mid-2010s. I’d like to report that I never thought life would be so fun.

For me, 2014 was a year of growth. I did some things I’m proud of: supervised a Masters of Engineering thesis, published my first articles outside of my blog (for instance this Wired opinion piece), and started giving public talks about both computer science and technical privilege. I also started journaling again and have a better framework for reflecting on how I feel about my life. Here are some things I’ve been working on in the last year.
  • Building my personal community. Surrounding myself with like-minded people interested in similar things is important not only to my happiness, but also my personal growth. In the last couple of years, many of my friends have graduated and moved away. I’ve also moved on from actively contributing to building other communities, for instance Graduate Women at MIT. This has all left a bit of a lonely void, but it’s also given me a chance to think about how I want to focus my time—and social energy. I’ve been thinking about how my interests in computer science and technology fit in with my desire to more directly engage with and contribute to society. To explore this, I’ve been adding more people with writing, journalism, and civic participation interests to my personal community. I’ve also been exploring this through running NeuWrite Boston, a workshop for scientists and science writers. I feel incredibly grateful to learn from and grow with the brilliant fascinating people who are part of my world!
  • Taking breaks. After spending years trying to find work/life balance on a daily or weekly level, I’ve realized that I’m better at sprinting and resting than moving along at a consistent pace. (Also, in many cases, work/work balance is good enough for me.) Rather than limiting myself to 8-10 hour workdays I’ve given myself permission to go harder when I’m in the middle of something good. Afterward, rather than just pretending I haven’t overworked, I’ve also been more conscious about giving myself the appropriate amount of time to recover. As part of this, I experimented with taking longer—and different—breaks. I spent more time on beaches this year than I did in previous years. I also traveled for my longest consecutive block of time yet: following a conference in Edinburgh in the beginning of June, I traveled around until a friend’s June 28th wedding in Croatia. (Part of this was work/work balance, with research visits I had arranged.) When I came back I was shocked at how relaxed I felt--and about the new ideas I had formed about my life and work. (Sara Watson also wrote this fun article about what I learned about my Android phone.) Even though I'm taking longer "breaks," it doesn't seem like I've been getting less done--and I've been appreciating how changes of scene and pace has left me feeling more rested.
2015 is supposed to be a year of change: I’ve applied for Assistant Professor positions and I’m supposed to finish my PhD. Depending on how many interviews I get, this spring could get quite busy. By the end of the spring I will have made some decisions that constrain my life’s possibility space for the next few years—but it will still be a large space with many exciting things. I’m a bit nervous because I’ve seen other people I respect and admire struggle with this time in their lives, but I also have some great examples of people who managed to really enjoy their final years. Given all that’s about to happen, here are my resolutions for 2015:
  • Know my priorities and keep them in perspective. While it’s important to play the game to be able to keep working on the problems that I find most interesting and challenging, it seems all too easy to get consumed by the game. There are real pressures involved in obtaining and doing the job of an Assistant Professor: you may be familiar with the reported long hours and poor mental health of young academics. It will be important to remember why I want to be in academia in the first place: for the problems, for the people, and for the platform for improving access to computing—not necessarily for the prestige or for things that other people might want. It’s also important to remember what’s important to me about being a human as opposed to a disembodied virtual research-generating entity: my health (physical and mental) and my relationships with other people. Regular reflection is important for keeping all these priorities in perspective. Towards this I would like to meditate and journal at least once a week. Continuing to take the appropriate breaks will also help with this.
  • Embrace uncertainty—rather than fearing it. It feels comfortable and it feels safe to know that good things are going to happen. I spend a good amount of time wishing I could know what would happen. (Knowing where I’m going to be geographically is a big one.) On the flip side, it’s incredibly exciting not to know what is going to happen. In addition, I am lucky enough that nothing really bad is going to happen. In the words of my friend Alison, I know I’m going to have “a roof over my head and food to eat.” Even if I don’t end up getting something I want at the time, any outcome will provide opportunities for growth. Whenever I’m thinking about how I wish I knew what was going to happen, I would like to remember how exciting the possibilities are—and how they are all good. Keeping things in perspective will help. :)
Because people are more likely to achieve things if they publicly announce their intentions, I’ll also say some of the things I’d like to work on this next year. After finishing my thesis I’m excited to work on some of my future research ideas. I’d also like to keep reducing the gap between my professional and personal interests. I’d like to keep thinking about how my interest in programming languages can be combined with my interests in civic participation and social justice. (In this theme, Ari Rabkin and I are writing a piece for the first 2015 issue of Model View Culture about how social biases manifest as biases against programming languages.) Part of this involves thinking about how to make computing accessible to more people. I remain deeply interested in thinking about empowering people through the design and dissemination of programming languages as well as through promoting equal opportunity in computing.

Something I didn’t always realize was that rather than becoming your Final Self at some point, you keep growing—and if this is something important to you, you can get exponentially better at it every year. I’m liking my Current Self better and better every year. I can’t wait to see how we grow in 2015!


Anonymous said...

It was very nice to read your blog entry. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Best of luck on your endeavors in 2015. Please watch this movie, 'Castaway on the Moon'.

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