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 Waking Up

My friend and I were talking over lunch about his experiences and realizations from a recent faculty workshop he attended. He described, among other things (and with much delight!), how inspired and excited successful people in the workshop were, how they enjoyed the daily “grind” of work, how good PI’s cared for the growth of each member of their group, how successful people competed in a constructive way, and how they threw themselves “out there” and took risks because they never settled for anything less than what they wanted.

A knot was forming in my throat as I fought back tears (of joy) because all of the things he was saying, I have experienced in some way back home in the Philippines.

I remember so clearly how inspiring majority of my fellow teachers are both inside and outside of the classroom. When demotivation strikes me, I simply remember how passionate my colleagues are and I get back up quickly.

I remember how majority of the senior faculty members in our department care so much for both undergraduate and graduate students to the point that DMMME was regularly sending students abroad (Japan and Taiwan mostly) for short study visits and internships. My adviser would also think about job opportunities for her graduating students (she was the one who offered me a job in DMMME).

I remember how exciting the daily “grind” is in the department (it’s stressful, but exciting!), especially during the semester before I left for the US when I had three simultaneous collaborative projects with different departments and colleges, on top of other faculty duties. It was exhilarating! How I terribly miss that feeling!

I remember how the junior (and some senior) faculty members would have a healthy competition in that we would compare the average performances of our classes at the end of the semester or compare the performance of our students on a specific project. It was healthy because no one was pulling the other down when they succeeded. We would even ask one another what they did to have a great outcome. We help each other grow as faculty members.

I remember how exciting a feeling it was to take risks and throw myself “out there” for the sake of an advocacy I work hard for. It was by taking risks that I got to travel to Europe and the US.

But I left all that for a year and now I find myself struggling to save whatever light and inspiration I have left inside of me because my current circumstances keep sucking it out. I wish I could say that it was only research that is challenging here, but it’s not only that.

I have been in a three-week research hiatus already (going four) because of demotivation. And there were many times in the past month when I would wonder what I had turned into. This is not my best performance at work and it’s not like me to not give my best. That is what’s so bothersome. This is not me!!! But as my friend said today, “Kung ngayon pa lang mag iinarte ka na, wala kang mararating.” I think he was saying it for himself (or not? haha), but the words also hit me. Hard. I can’t be like this. I don’t want to be like this anymore. I need to remember what I came here for and if I am to reach my goal, I have to expect that I’ll be in a far worse situation in the future. As President Truman once said, “Being President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep riding or be swallowed. A President is either on top of events or, if he hesitates, events will soon be on top of him.” I’m not planning to become president, but I do need to persevere to prevent myself from being swallowed by the tiger I’m currently riding.

I came here in the US because I was frustrated by my lack of skills when I was in the Philippines. I felt so limited that I couldn’t share enough to my students and fellow teachers. I must not come home empty-handed. I have an INSANE plan right now; I guess desperation is an effective antidote to hesitation.

We in the Philippines don’t lack inspiration or great minds or perseverance. We lack opportunity. Faculty members are so burned out from juggling teaching, research, extension work, committee work, admin work, etc. making it very easy to lose the opportunity to work for the essential things that matter to us (e.g. thesis, skills development in various aspects, etc.).

Now I need to pull myself together quickly. I only have four months left. It so long a time to stay in my somewhat dreary situation, but so short a time to develop skills and find opportunities. Whatever. As the poem I posted yesterday goes:

Carry on! Carry on!
Fight the good fight and true;
Believe in your mission, greet life with a cheer;
There’s big work to do, and that’s why you are here.
Carry on! Carry on!
I can do this!

Part 2: Outdated Educational System


Sharpie and crayons on canvas
November 2015

A street musician, a flutist to be exact, started playing outside the bookshop. It was one of the oldest bookshops in Pike Place Market, Seattle. It provided me temporary shelter against the cold October wind blowing outside. I was scanning the shelves intently as I am accustomed to do whenever I visit such a place. A title caught my eye: Deschooling Society. It was written by an Austrian author named Ivan Illich. I skimmed through the book. The basic theme? Our current educational system is outdated. Schooling must not be confused with education. The book was written in the 70’s. Imagine how outdated we are now.

This is not the first time I heard of such a claim. Sir Ken Robinson has argued time and again how schools kill creativity.  A professor in the UP College of Fine Arts also mentioned this in our graduate seminar class a few years back. I even experienced this first hand in graduate school. “They are training me to work for industry! Why are they training me this way? I don’t want to work in industry!” A wave of panic pushed me close to depression at that time. And people today wonder why many students have anxiety and depression.

There was something wrong with how engineering was taught where I am and, most likely, even in the whole country, but I couldn’t grasp what it was. At the back of my mind, I was curious. What’s wrong? Why is school like this?

I entered academia to start my search. Two years in and my eyes were opened to what it’s like on the other side of the fence. I gained a better understanding of the plight of faculty members who have to juggle multiple tasks other than teaching. Many are so stressed that they have little time to bother about how to change the system they are working in. And really, you cannot blame the faculty. It can really get tiring at times.

But we always have a choice. We can choose to simply go with the flow or make some sacrifices and decide to fight the status quo, no matter how daunting that may sound. “Dream big, but start small.”