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

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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 1: The “Misfits”

Ideas. The boy had a lot of them. He asked countless questions, something generally unusual in our students nowadays. He loves product design, which should be nothing peculiar. After all, he is learning to be an engineer, right?

Engineers design and create things, processes, virtually anything the mind can conceive…

The boy also loves to connect business and social science with engineering. To him, the engineer must create things with society in mind. Relevance is important.

What do people want? Will they use this product? Why do people prefer certain materials over others that seem to be more practical and effective? 

I suddenly remembered one of the Freakonomics podcast episodes about how the belt won over suspenders despite the belt being horrible in almost all aspects in keeping our pants from falling. Sadly, not many people question these things.

But the boy did. Unfortunately for him, and a few other students who think similarly, our current system does not encourage such thinking.

“He’s weird.”

“He asks too many questions, does he think he’s smarter than me? I’m the teacher!”

“We’re in engineering, not marketing.”

“The student is bored. What does he want? He’s too picky!”

I have heard one form or another of the comments above in my short time in academia. Some were expressed by faculty. Some by students.

These supposedly “weird” students have ideas that just might sound like a symphony to our ears. A beautiful song that they cannot not play for the world because there is no stage for them to perform on. They play on the side streets with people just passing them by, sometimes dropping a coin out of pity.

Society is quick to judge on a lot of things.