On Youth

little prince

A reminder for me to guard and cherish the child within. Yesterday was probably the first time I felt quite weird when someone told me that I looked like an undergrad. I guess the effect is different when a fellow faculty member actually says it than when a student does. Generally, society dictates that a teacher, let alone a professor, should look and act like a grown up. But there I was yesterday afternoon, laptop in my gray-pink backpack and a huge paper bag in my hand filled with printer filament, prototypes, a caliper, masking tape, etc., ready for an afternoon of making! I have also, more than once, shown extreme excitement in front of my students when we create something (e.g. when we jumped up and down our boat mold during demolding or when my former advisee showed me a prototype of a material he developed). I remember one of my fellow teachers telling me that she is always mindful of projecting an image of authority and credibility in front of her students, hiding her amazement in front of her class when she discovers something for the first time while teaching. I’m terrible at hiding! If I’m amazed, my students will know it. If I’m excited, my students will know it. If I don’t know something, my students will know it.

So I’m posting the image above as a reminder for all of us to respect our differences. We all project an image to those around us. Right now, I choose to keep mine as it is.

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Silent Sounding Board

It feels weird sometimes. I’ve been in engineering for a little more than a decade now, eleven years to be exact, but from time to time the question still pops out: What am I doing here?

Before entering college, I remember my father asking me what course I wanted to take. “I want to be a scientist to help people,” I responded vaguely. He asked what type of scientist I wanted to become and how I intended to help others. I didn’t know (hey, I was just in high school! I feel quite sorry for the youth who are in K-12 now; they have to decide early on which track they are going to take!). Anyway, I ended up in engineering. There were times when I felt that it was perfect for me, especially last year when I worked in a chemistry lab. Oh boy did I really tell myself that I was meant for engineering! I was the one making contraptions or 3D-printed set-ups for some of my polymer chemist lab mates and I absolutely enjoyed doing it. I would sketch out ideas, do some basic 3D modeling, disassemble stuff, assemble stuff, etc. That has always been my general idea of an engineer: someone who designs and builds stuff that people can use to make life better or easier. But society would constantly dictate things from time to time that would really influence the way we think. In academia, for example, there’s this idea of prestige.

I was fortunate to be able to publish papers during my one year stay in the US last year. Over there, paper is prestige and papers come out quickly. My adviser gave me the impression that being able to publish as first author in a high-impact journal was a big accomplishment (maybe it is, but it took some time for that to sink-in). When I came home, I realized that I almost had the same number of publications as some of our returning PhDs. “Holy crap,” I told myself, “so it is an accomplishment.” By April another one of our papers was accepted for publication, and I’m finishing another one, which should be submitted by June. “I’ll have more papers than some of our PhDs if all of this come out this year. This is insane.”

Ego started kicking in. There were two arguments in my mind. On one hand, my mind is saying, “Go apply for a PhD immediately. If you can publish at least three papers in one year, imagine how many papers you’ll have after four to five years of PhD training!” But the other side of my brain is saying, “What’s the PhD for? You’ve proven that you can publish papers of equal number, if not more, without the degree. Why spend five years in a lab if you can spend that time doing projects for your advocacy?”

My advocacy. The thing that changed my life for the better. My commitment to my advocacy was tested last April. I was offered a PhD position in the UK. The voice in my head telling me to apply for PhD was suddenly in full throttle. I came up with my own dissertation topic in about a week with the guidance of my prospective advisor. But somehow something didn’t feel right inside. The topic was absolutely new to me and not connected with my advocacy; I just tailored it in such a way that it became related to some of the projects I worked on in the department. I realized how the entire process just seemed so forced. I also didn’t feel excited. I didn’t get the same “high” I got when I visited MIT’s D-lab last year or when I conversed with Penn State professors about their HESE program. It was as if I was just applying because I didn’t want to waste the opportunity and because it was “cool” to apply for a PhD in the UK (plus it was under a prestigious scholarship, too!).

After much thought, I declined the offer. The professor was kind enough to understand. That PhD offer was probably a temptation, something to test how strong my commitment to my advocacy is. I knew a university in the US where every single thing they do seemed to be aligned with what I want. My resolve got stronger to apply to that university after declining the UK offer. So all was decided then. I’ll take the GRE. I’ll take the IELTS. I’ll apply this Septemeber.

Then Makers ShowUP happened.

Makers ShowUP is the maker fair organized by my Additive Manufacturing elective class.  By God’s grace, it was a huge success! It wasn’t perfect, but was very much successful in achieving the goal of connecting with makers within and outside UP as well as promoting the maker movement to the public. Makers ShowUP connected me back to the UP College of Fine Arts (CFA), specifically their Fab Lab and Ceramics Studio. I have always enjoyed visitng CFA. Their grounds are filled with artworks of different kinds and everyone always seems to making something interesting! This was also the first time I knew someone from the Industrial Design program. Oh and what fun they seem to have! I realized that my general definition of engineering somehow fits into what they do as well, they design and build stuff (without excessive math!)! Hence the question, “what am I doing in engineering?” I asked this question so many times now that I think I know the answer: my advocacy. Humanitarian engineering (HE) is why I am in engineering. As long as I don’t see HE institutionalized/formalized in the Philippines, then my mission as an engineer is not yet done.

So now I’m fortunately in a good place. I can be a materials engineer who has connections with the maker movement, which allows me to do what I enjoy (making stuff!), while working on my advocacy. This was really the semester when I felt that work and play actually intersected. I would come to class and have Tinker Thursdays or we would build a boat (a life-size one!) or create concrete pavers, etc. Ideas for collaboration and projects are already popping in my head, which brings me back to the question: How about PhD? If I start a long term project in this direction, I won’t be able to leave for PhD.

I guess I’ll just push through with the application in my dream school and see where I go from there. And while I’m at it, I need to constantly remind myself to watchout for the noises in my head telling me to go for prestige rather than what gives me meaning.

You know where you’re going. Stay on track.

On Overwhelm

Tears in my eyes right now. Deep breaths. Inbox filled with commitments that are not impossible to achieve, but require a tremendous amount of effort to pull through. Commitments that are self-inflicted. Commitments that were carefully chosen to align with what I truly want to do, not what other people want me to do– to provide students with extra opportunity to do funded research, to organize an event to bring the maker movement to more people, to further develop my research skills by crafting my own PhD topic, to test the waters of an administrative position, to see if I could actually find funding to fly one of my role models in Humanitarian Engineering from the other side of the world to our beloved UP Diliman, to test myself if I could design and 3D print something that people will use to further public school education in our country (even if my part of that project is just small, haha).

The first four months of the year was filled with decision-making. Which opportunities should I pursue? Which ones should I let go? Decisiveness is still a work in progress, but I’d like to believe that I am better now than when I started.

The tears are not solely because of joy or fear or stress or confusion or gratefulness or excitement or frustration. The tears represent all those emotions happening at the same time! Tears of overwhelm! :’D

 

On Momentum

If there is one thing I’d like to learn from a Ph.D. degree, it would probably be efficient and impactful academic writing. I have always loved writing since I was a kid, which is why I have this blog until now. But blogging, or any other type of “leisurely” writing, is different from academic writing. The latter is still very challenging for me, especially building and sustaining the momentum for it. I think one thing that makes it really challenging is the fact that I always want to be handling multiple projects at any given time. If I’m only doing one, it is very likely that I would involve myself in two or more projects. Thus, my attention will be divided instead of focusing on writing just one paper at a time.

Take now, for example. I have a paper that I could’ve finished weeks before had my attention not been divided on other things. Project proposals, events organizing, class preparations, checking of papers, building collaborations, student mentoring, etc. I tell myself that I could’ve stayed up late just to finish this paper earlier. But starting last March, I promised myself that I would prioritize my health. Ever since I got back from the US, I found myself always sick. I was always coughing and even down with fever at the start of every month from Jan-March. So I said my staying up late, skipping breakfast to get to class on time, and other unhealthy practices just to get more work done, all of it has to stop. I eventually managed to start exercising regularly, to stop waking up at wee hours of the morning to prepare a lecture, to eat a decent breakfast and regularly take multivitamins. Fortunately, it all paid off! I felt good about my body again, I was no longer getting sick, and I had a more positive outlook towards work. Stress became more manageable.

Of course, these positive effects came with sacrifices, especially in work output. I have a tendency to demand too much from myself and my doing other things for health and wellness lowered that demand a bit, which makes me feel really uneasy. There’s always that voice in my head asking, “Hey, shouldn’t you be working harder?” But let’s see. I’m still figuring out if I will really end up being more productive with this new work practice of mine compared with the old one. I want to learn to work smarter, not harder.

I’ll end here for now. I really should be writing my paper instead of blogging. But since I’m building momentum, I reckoned that writing blog posts would get me in the mood to write the paper after. Gaaah. Let’s do this.

On Changing Perspectives

Whenever I do goal-setting, I always welcome the possibility that my priorities would eventually change. Now that I am older and much different than my extremely idealistic I’m-out-to-save-the-world self, I do find my perspective and priorities changing. I was being interviewed the other day by a friend and his daughter who started a blog last year about women in technology. My friend refused to believe that my idealism was lessened through the years because to him my projects and advocacy on Humanitarian Engineering still sound idealistic. So I told him that, yes, idealism is still there, but there is now a touch of reality in it.

Take my perspective on PhD for instance. Just last month, I was telling my long-time mentor in the department that I wasn’t interested in taking a PhD. This was my view ever since because my role models in Humanitarian Engineering don’t have PhDs. They can complete impactful projects without that degree, so why should I whack my brain for 3-5 years just to get the title? Publications also never appealed to me until I was actually able to publish in a high-impact journal early this year. But it wasn’t seeing my paper published online that changed my view of journal articles. It was when I realized that students were actually reading my work that I started appreciating its significance. People read it! It’s not just “stuck on paper” as I always used to believe. People use it to advance their respective research projects, which will consequently help move humanity forward.

I was surprised how my change in perspective on scientific journals immediately dispelled my abhorrence in taking a PhD. All of a sudden, the 3-5 years looked exciting! It’s like an adventure in search of knowledge and skills development! The best part is if you get a scholarship you will even get paid to be on that adventure!!!

Thus, here I am applying for a PhD. I already have a prospective adviser who is guiding me in crafting the proposal for the scholarship. Hopefully, all goes well. Please pray for me! :)

#parasakinabukasan #parasabayan #paradinsasarili :P

On Slowing Down

It’s that feeling again. That feeling of moving forward, but not fast enough.

It’s that feeling again. Memories from last year remembered from reading a novel whose lead male character is only one letter short of his name.

It’s that feeling again. The need to slow down. Collect my thoughts. That feeling that the reason I probably want to speed up work so much is to forget the pains of 2016. But the very act of using work to distract me is very much like him. Thus, the need to slow down and face whatever I need to face. I am nothing like him. I will never be like him.

He would make the decision to leave you himself so that he knows for a fact he can never hurt you again. -Colleen Hoover, It Ends with Us: A Novel

It’s that feeling again. The desire to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was trying to save me from pain? He warned me from the start. “Don’t get too close. Masasaktan ka lang.” I did not listen.

It seems I will spend the rest of my life wondering what was actually going on in his head the day I flew back home. Maybe it wasn’t easy for him not to say goodbye? Yeah. I’m crazy enough to even wonder (people think I was crazy enough to even have felt something in the first place).

One day maybe I will realize it doesn’t matter what he was thinking about.

It doesn’t matter anymore.

#keepswimming

On Collaboration

What Steve Jobs said about only being able to connect the dots looking back is definitely true. There were times since 2011 when I felt that I wasn’t going anywhere with my advocacy, or that I was going too slow. But things seem to be coming together now. I know that it’s not permanent and there will be time again for doubt and reflection (which is not altogether bad, I realized there is a need for that). For now, we should make the most out of the opportunities coming up. Opportunities to connect with other departments, institutes, colleges, and universities. May we be able to play our cards wisely to maximize everything for everyone, i.e. faculty, students, and institutions alike. As always, I don’t know where all this is going. Nevertheless, times have taught us to just dive into the uncertainty with a spirit of excitement and joy and curiosity and gratefulness (and lots of hard work!). Let’s go DMMME! :)

#engineeringeducation #engineering+art #design #materials