Awareness Journal

Updated Apr 28, 2019 (30 Older Versions)chevron-down
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Awareness Journal
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Week 1 - Feb. 12th 2019

During my walk to the lab every morning I pass by a construction site. Usually, when I pass by I don’t stop and just ignore them as I walk by. However, because of the snow from the night before the construction had stopped. The works were not present and the equipment was not moving or making a sound. The construction site was still.

The reason this encounter stood out to me was because I normally never noticed what was going on in the contraction site. I couldn’t update you on the progress or talk about what they were doing. However, when they were not doing anything, when there was no progress I suddenly noticed. It was interesting to me how the stillness is what stood out to me.

I have always thought that in order for something to catch your attention it has to be stimulating. A lot of movement, color and action that will draw the eyes. However, the constant movement and all the actions of the construction site never attracted my attention before. Yet the stillness did. This really changed my viewpoints on what it takes to draw a person’s attention.

Perhaps it’s not action and movement which draws our attention, but the change of action. Maybe we are drawn to street vendors who are yelling and waving signs because we are not used to have people yell and wave signs when we walk down a street. Maybe we are drawn to colorful signs because we don’t usually see that much color in are everyday life.

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While debugging some hardware today I found myself feeling boarded and my mind wandering and thinking about other things. This has happened to me before but it stood out to me today because of the discussion we had in class. I always thought about how having a problem to solve was the key to staying focuses and not feeling board. The idea that I could be actively trying to solve a problem yet feel board sound almost oxymoronic.

Yet here I was experiencing a perfect example of feeling board despite working to solve a problem. Perhaps I was board with the task and did not want to spend anymore time trying to solve it. Perhaps the debugging techniques I was employing had become so natural that I could do them without thinking. Regardless of what was the actual reason, the experience really changed how I thought about boredom.

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There is a weird stillness in my lab when I come in the morning. Everyone else on my team is a night owl, but I am an early bird. I am used to an active lab with a lot of movement and action. When I come in the morning, the lights are off and there is little sound. Usually, there is always some kind of chatter in the distance. Doors are opening and closing and equipment is humming. But when I come in the morning there is silence. All the equipment is turned off and even the computers are do not hum as loud because they are in sleep mode.

While the stillness is weird I actually enjoy it. The open office environment makes it difficult for me to focus and get work done sometimes. I find myself distracted by all the stimulants so the morning is when I do all the work that requires a great deal of focus.

What I realized today though was that I come in early for the same reason that my colleges stay late. We all seek that time when the lab’s energy dies down and the stimulants are removed. While we attempt to do work during the middle part of the day we must use noise-canceling headphones just to hear our own thoughts. It is only when the lab is still that we are able to focus.

It is somewhat ironic that the majority of the work is in the early morning or the late nights, because those are the times most would call non-business hours.

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During my undergrad I loved how calm and quite the University grounds were during the weekends. There were not classes, many students would go home or stay in their dorms and work. You rarely saw anyone walking around and the whole University was still.

However, at MIT I realize this is not the case. The weekends and holidays are just as busy, if not busier, than the rest of the week. This is not like the usual weekday traffic though. The majority of these people are tourists from across the US and abroad who visit MIT. They have constant tours and walk in groups. At times it can be very annoying to deal with all the people standing around the taking pictures.

During the week the halls are crowded by everyone is a student or faculty member trying to get somewhere. We all walk quickly because we are rushing to class, the lab or somewhere important. Rarely, will anyone stop when talking through the halls. However, the tourist will often stop and look around. Either because they are lost or simply because they are taking in their new surroundings.

At first I thought my announce was due to the lack of stillness because of the tourist. However, after some reflection I have come to realize that my announce stems from the stillness of the tourists.
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The unusual stillness of the Media Lab today really bothered me. I am used to coming early and exercising a couple hours of stillness and quite, but today those hours never ended. After some investigating I realized that today was Presidents Day and most of the people were on holiday.

Normally complain about the chatter and noise that the Media Lab begins to produce but today I felt like I was missing it. I appreciated the ability to work in a quite environment, but I also missed the company of my fellow lab mates.

There was no line to the coffee machine, but there was also nobody to talk with in the morning. There were plenty of open spaces to use, but nobody to sit with. In a way I felt like the stillness which I always wished I had more of suddenly felt like too much.

I guess I needed the chatter and movement of the Media Lab during the day as much as I needed the calm and still Media Lab in the morning.

Week 2 - Feb. 19th 2019

The lab slowly returned to its usual level of business after the Presidents Day holiday. The snow slowed some people down but for the most part people were back to their usual rhythm.

I defiantly feel like I noticed the presence of people more now that I have learned what their absence is like. I said hello to more people and took more time to stop and listen to the various sound around the lab. Whether it was the hum of the printer as it spit out papers or the click of doors being opened and then swinging close.

Normally, I would just put on my nose canceling headphones and play some background sounds (e.g. rain falling) to help be drown out the “noise“ in the lab. However, this time I took a few minutes to close my eyes and just listen to everything that is going on around me. I listened for patters and tried to see if I could recognize certain sounds.

Taking some time to mediate and listen to the “noise“ around the lab helped me see it as more than just noise. While I will still be using noise-canceling headphones when I need to concentrate; I think I will be less bother by all the sounds and stimulants in the lab.

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Today I did a demo for a group which included a kid who was still in grade school. It was a bit different from the other demos I have done in the past since I am used to talking to older people who usually work in my field. I talk in detail about my work and give them examples of how it would benefit their company. I am used to dealing with hard and pressing questions about how accurate our results are and when our projects could become viable products.

However, demoing to a child was a very different because I was talking to someone much younger. Everything about the lab excited them and even a simple circuit board would amaze them. Just a quick demo with no details about how the technology actually works is enough to amaze them. It was somewhat liberating to not have to worry about being asked really hard question and just having a bit of fun with the demo.

One thing I found myself thinking about after the demo was how differently people react as they grow up. As we grow older we have fewer “firsts” and do not respond to things in the same way. Once we have experienced something it is not as exciting the next time we see it. I think that is why kids are so easily excited by everything. It’s all new to them so they are rarely board.

Maybe that is why we feel more boredom as we grow older. Since things are more common to us we do not feel the same excitement we used to experience. We live our lives on autopilot and do not really take the time to notice things because we have become “board” with them.

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It is interesting how a task we do so often become automated. While cooking today I found myself thinking about everything except the meal I was preparing. It was a dish I had made so many times that my hand could make it without much attention from my brain. I knew exactly where everything was and could “feel“ how long I should wait before moving onto the next step.

From time to time I like to try a new recipe and that process is totally different. I need to read the instruction very carefully and make sure that I get the measurements right. I can’t just eyeball the amount I should put in and I can’t “look“ to see if the food is done.

I have a much higher awareness when working on something new. Not just when cooking, but when doing anything. A new programming language, a new path to the lab or even a new phone. I notice more details and pay more attention to what is going on around me.

I think we are more aware when doing something new because we have not built the muscle memory which automates that task for us. Our mind sees new stimulants and feels the need to learn what is going on. As a result, we are more aware of our surroundings.

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While reading today I noticed how different my awareness of the world around me is based on what I am reading. An important part to consuming what you read is the ability to filter our outside stimulants and focus on only the text. The most annoying thing is when you read a page and realize that you did not actually consume what you read. This happens to me quite a few times when reading academic papers because they are dense. It is hard to understand what the author is saying and you often have to read and re-read a paper to understand it. I had the same issue in my undergrad when I struggled to understand the reading from my textbooks.

For while I thought that the reason I struggled to stay focused was because non-fiction books could not engage their readers nearly as much as fictional books. After all, the reason we make up fantasy worlds is often because we find the world we are in so dull. In a fictional book anything could happen and there are twists and turns that the reader did not see coming. These are not things an academic paper can do. While the author might try to engage the reader with the potential of their work they must stick to the facts and be direct. After all, the goal of an academic paper is to inform not entertain.

However, I have come to learn that not all non-fiction must be non-entertaining. Some non-fiction books can really engage their reader and cause them to lose themselves in the content they are reading. Best selling books like “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell are a perfect example of how reporting nothing but facts can really be entertaining. The whole book addresses our biases about “success“ and rethink what it takes to become “successful”. The book reports nothing but citable facts, but you never see them coming. It is very surprising to learn the information Gladwell has researched.

I will be writing a lot of content over the next few years as I continue my academic career. Trying to present the facts I discover in an interesting and engaging way will help me reach out to more people. I don’t want my work to only be something that experts in my field can understand. I want anyone with a love of learning to be able to understand my work and build upon it. Trying to be engaging and entertaining while being informative and factual is a skill I hope to master.

Week 3 - Feb. 26th 2019

As an early riser I often miss seeing the sun in the morning. Living in the Northeast we have very long winters with very short days. I usually walk to the lab while there is no sun out and if I do not leave the lab during the day I might never get any sun. I try to find time to go out and walk, but if it is a very busy day and my classes are in the same building I might never have a chance to go out. Many days the walk to and from the lab are the only time I go outside.

The problem though is the days are so short. The sun does not come out until I am well into the workday and is gone in a few hours. I know that direct exposure to sunlight is important for both physical and mental health reasons so I try to use those few hours but it is hard sometimes.

Now that Winter is coming to an end the days are getting a bit longer. Today was the first day where I noticed some sunlight on my walk to the lab. There were no clouds so I could see the warm yellow glow shining on the side of buildings. Even though I wasn’t directly exposed to the sunlight, just seeing it made me happier.

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Usually after working in once place for a couple of hours I feel the need to go outside and walk. The change in atmosphere really helps me clear my head after it has become so cluttered with equations, ideas and problems. I notice that my productivity increases after a long walk so I try to make it part of my regular routine. Sometimes while I am just walking I’ll do some “thinking“ in the back of my head and find a solution to a problem I have been struggling with for days. It’s strange how the solution to our problems can often come to us when we are not even searching for them.

Time outside the lab has clearly shown to be very important to my mental health and academic performance. That is why the recent string of freezing cold weather has made it difficult for me to continue with my routine. Despite wearing a heavy cote the wind and lack of sun makes the weather unbearable. I have cut out many of my daily walks and even begun taking the bus to the lab in the morning because the temperature is intolerable.

I know that it is better for my physical health to stay indoors and not expose myself to the elements. Yet, at the same time I am conflicted because I miss my outdoor walks. Seeing new sites and exploring new parts of the campus made me feel less isolated. While I will still get up and walk around the lab I just do not feel like it is the same. The world outside is so much more unpredictable and varying. In the lab you start to pickup on the patters of everyday life. Everything you see is so “routine”. Now that I really think about it, maybe the reason I found solutions to my problems while walking outside was because I could finally break my “routine“ and think differently.

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It is strange how our views of even the most basic things change as we grow older. While preparing to go to bed last night I noticed that it was snowing. I groaned and went to place my snow boots next to the door in preparation for the cold, wet walk to the lab tomorrow. The strange thing is a younger me would have been excited to see snow before going to bed. As a child, it meant a possible snow day and a fun day of playing in the snow. As an adult, it just means having to deal with yet another issue the next day.

I feel like this makes it very difficult to ever truly “plan ahead“ when you are living your life. Obviously, I do not mean that you can not plan a schedule for the upcoming week or plan a vaction during your next holiday. I mean that it is hard to plan your life. You make plans about where you want to go to school, what you want to study and where you want to work. Yet, all of those plan change as you grow older. You learn more about yourself and the world and that causes you to change you directory in life.

As kids were taught to always plan ahead. We were taught to set schedules and stick to them. Establishing a routine and following it was seen as a sign of adulthood. However, nobody teaches you to adapt and change a plan as situations change. I think this is why you see so many people stuck in careers they hate. They made a plan a long time ago but never changed it once they realized it wasn’t something they want to do.

We all know that our desires, opinions and character changes with time, but we do not learn how to adjust your life plans to deal with those changes. The ability to adapt is just as important as the ability to plan and follow a schedule. We should be taught to do both.

Week 4 - Mar. 5th 2019

Snow is a great measure of stillness. When it falls and cover the ground it looks so elegant and smooth. You forget that there is something underneath it and just see the snow as if it has always been there. After a heavy storm, before daybreak, you can look out your window and see how it covers everything. If there is even one imperfection you can easily spot it because it stands out in the beautiful white sheet.

Footsteps of a construction worker. The bike tracks of a student getting home late. Small wholes made by bunnies trying to get somewhere warm. Every little sign of life and movement is magnified when it snows.

In the morning we begin to “clean” the streets of the snow, but it feels like we are doing the opposite. The snow become dirty and is no longer pure white, but a mix of grey, brown and white. It is all clumped up and stacked into big ugly piles. You can still see some footprints but they are all squeezed together and it is impossible to really figure out their “story“.

Every now and then while I am walking outside I stumble across an area that has not been “cleaned“ and just take a minute to look at it. It is so calming to observe the small tracks in the snow left by animals. The bits of snow on the branches of bushes and trees starts to fall down and form small clumps on the ground. You can tell there has been a fair amount of stillness in that area.

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One thing that all Ph.D. students share is that feeling of isolation you experience when working on your thesis. The longer you work the more focused your research topic becomes and the harder it becomes to explain what you do to other people. You might occasionally collaborate with another student but a lot of our day-to-day work is very isolated. A lot of our time is spent in a lab debugging problems, researching solutions and writing papers.

I find this isolation amplified in the Media Lab because of the architecture and design of the building. The lab is very open and you can see almost everything from your seat. There are labs in the same space as you and the glass windows make it possible to see everyone else in the lab. Seeing so many people around you but not talking with them and interacting just makes you feel more alone.

Other people would think that this open office concept would encourage more interaction but I not feel that it does. Even if you see other people in the lab space next to you it is very unlikely that you will walk up to them and talk. If feels like you are imposing yourself on them. You don’t know if they have time to talk and you do not want to disturb them.

While there are few physical barriers to communication in the lab we all operate in our own little bubbles. With noise canceling headphones and an array of monitors surrounding us it is easy to shutout the world around us. It starts as a must because we want to concentrate but soon it becomes a type of self-imposed exile we place on ourselves.

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One of the many things that makes life at the Media Lab different from other Ph.D. programs is how frequently we demo our projects to visitors, member companies and just guest of various lab members. Some people might think these demo are an inconveniences, but I think it helps make the Media Lab a place of innovation and new thinking.

Most academics will spend their career explaining their work to other academics in their field or related fields. We rarely have to simplify our work or explain it to a general audience. I feel like this type of isolation and concentration causes group think and expert block. As a result, our work is not understood by a large portion of the world. How can our work ever have an impact if no once can understand it?

However, when we are asked to demo to High Schools, Member Companies and other people who have little or no background we are forced to adapt. We are forced to rethink how to explain our work and how to simplify the technical parts. As a result, more people understand what we do and can help us think of applications. Sometimes we might learn that our technology can fix a problem we didn’t even know existed.

Week 5 - Mar. 12th 2019

I find myself always thinking about whether or not I am doing the “right thing“ with my life. I debate if the path I am on is the “best choice“ and wonder if I will one day regret the choices I make today. I know this type of overthinking can be damaging and cause you to always be stressed, but can also be so rewarding. Planning for the future and carefully analyzing your choices make a huge impact on your development. If you are always thinking about the future you will always be searching for new opportunities. If you are always analyzing what you do you are less likely to make mistakes.

The longer you stress and worry the harder it is to stop. It’s not just that you form a habit, but you also start to see the payoff. You notice how your more laid back peers do not make the same progress as you. Often they will even say how they regret not working harder. At first it is just something like doing better on an exam, but after a few years you are being presented with career opportunities that others could only dream of doing.

Some will say that planning and thinking about the future should be done in moderation. While I agree this is true I also think it is hard to do. What if you relax too much and miss an opportunity? What if that opportunity was something that would have changed your whole life? What if you didn’t analyze a choice close enough and it has negative effects on your career path? These and just a few of the thoughts which constantly run through my mind.

I know I am not alone and other people I talked to have told me they have the same problems. It becomes more common as you progress in your career and hit more milestones. You realize that the people around you understand the fear of falling behind and the need to always be vigilant of the next best opportunity. I am not sure if that makes me feel better because I know I am not the only one with this struggle. Or if it makes me feel worried that the only way to get ahead is to always be stressed.

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I have always been told that one needs to let go of their hatred in order to feel. We are told that we must forgive the people that hurt us because it is the only way we can move forward. I notice this becomes harder as you get older because the damage some people have on your life can be more traumatic. Sometimes it is because a person who you once thought really cared about you turns out to be a horrible influence on your life. Other times it is because you worked a very long time to achieve something and then one person prevented you from achieving it.

When we are young, life is not as complicated and we are not as matured. Things do not matter as much to us and we do not yet have any strong principals and beliefs. We might feel angry because someone teased us or upset because someone teased us. However, most of the things that hurt us are not really that impactful. They are just things that happened and eventually we forget about them and move on.

As we grow older, the things people do to hurt us can have a lasting effect. A long time friend who betrays you might hinder you ability to trust anyone in the future. A loved one who hurt you might make it hard for you to feel true love for anyone else. A lack of caring or compassion growing up might make it hard for you to care or feel compassionate toward others.

It is very true to say that the only way to move forward is to forgive the people who hurt you, but it is hard to do so. You might tell yourself that you have forgiven them. But every time you experience a struggle due to something from your past, you feel the same anger you did before. You know you want to move on, but it is not easy to do. Sometimes you think the worse thing a person has done to you is they hurt you to a point that you can no longer forgive.

Week 6 - Mar. 19th 2019

There is always more work to do. Whenever we talk about the things we need to do we usually say that once we complete a task we will be “done”. However, as soon as we are done with task we find a new set of tasks to work on. When we are done with our coursework we get to work on our research. Once we have published a paper, we being working on the slides for the conference. Once we return from the conference we begin working on a new set of courses and research projects.

We spend our childhood going to school thinking college is the goal. We spend college studying and thinking grad school is our goal. We spend grad school researching thinking a research career is our goal. Yet every goal we reach turns into another checkpoint.

This isn’t unique to graduate students or even people who attended University. People are always working towards something, but that something is always changing. We are always in-between and never there. The closer we come to reaching the finish line the farther away it moves from us.

The reason I keep thinking about this is because it seems like understanding that you will never be “done” is an important life lesson. If you keep waiting to reach the finish line you will spend your whole life running. Learning to stop every now and then and just enjoy a particular point in your life is important. It might seem like you are falling behind, but we need to realize that there is no point in pushing forward if we do not take the time to enjoy it. We will never reach a state of true completion. There is always more work to do.

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During midterms and finals week I find myself forgetting to take care of myself. I become obsessed with studying and reviewing my notes, assignments and slides. The problem with studying for an examination is that you are never really done. Unlike an assignment, there is always something else you can do to better prepare. Once you are doing going over notes you review assignments. Once you’re done reviewing assignments you review the slides. At every step you can go deeper and look up additional resources to help you better understand the material.

It is a problem I have had my entire life and I do not think it is going to go away anytime soon. The real reason I will continuously study is because I know how easy it is to do poorly on an exam. If you don’t do one practice question then you might encounter a problem that you have no idea how to solve. I know that if I had just done a few more practice problem I might have gotten it. I know that if I had gone a little deeper than I would have understood what the question was asking.

I don’t know if this applies in all fields, but in Engineering I feel like you either know exactly how to do a question or you have no idea how to do a question. There is not guess or hypothesis that you can make while working on an exam. This all or nothing game is what makes examinations such a stressful period for me. I wonder if I am the only person who feels this way.

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The thing that all those inspirational movies, commercials and stories get wrong is that nobody succeeds just by working hard. When you watch the protagonist in a film work and grind away at achieving their dream they somehow accomplish it in 90 minutes. This is far from reality and not just because of the speed at which they achieve their goal, but also because they always accomplish their goal. Working hard and grinding away is never enough.

How many of us studied hard and received high marks in school only to be rejected from our dream University? How many of us studied night and day for an exam only to receive a grade that was below average? How many of us have spent months working on a project only to realize it was infeasible the whole time and that we need to give up and move on?

It is these soul shattering failures that really define a person. It is when you spend so much time and effort trying to reach a goal and failing that you realize what perseverance really means. I have watched my bears lose all motivation for school when they accepted they must attend their back choice. Watching my peers who simply lost their motivation after not being accepted into the University they dreamed of attending showed me how easy it is to give up.

While movies and television shows constantly show people triumphantly achieving their goal after a montage of hard work they forget to show the series of failures that lead to that one final success.

Week 7 - Mar. 26th 2019

When I make my daily walk to the lab I try to change the route I take. I do not follow any kind of schedule, I just make a different turn based on the traffic lights and which path has the most sun. I began this process at the beginning of the semester because I was becoming board with my usual routine. I wanted to introduce some variety in my life even if it was a simple as taking a different path every day.

Doing the same thing every day can become really depressing. You start to feel like less of a person and more like a piece in a machine. The routine takes away our individuality and we begin to feel less important. What is odd though, is that we do not need to be forced into maintaining a routine we just naturally do it. Despite the sadness it causes us, we often feel the need to introduce a routine.

There are a lot of benefits to having a daily routine. It gives our days order and our life structure. We know what we will eat and when we will work. We are able to organize our time more efficiently and maximize the amount of work we do. This is not to say that we could not structure our day without having a daily routine, but simply that it is easier to have a daily routine.

Once we follow a routine enough times we learn to just repeat it without even thinking. That’s where I feel a routine becomes a problem. Once your routine becomes muscle memory and you just get through the day without any real thinking you begin to feel depressed. That is the point where your routine takes over you individualism and you become a piece of a machine.

Adding a little variety to your day, whether it’s taking a different route to school or trying a new restaurant for lunch, helps us remember that you are still individuals.

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Why does it always seem like everything important happens all at once? It seems like deadlines just cluster together and all of a sudden you have so much work to do. It happens so frequently and I spend so much of my time trying to figure out how to avoid these situations. I do not procrastinate and I try to start an assignment as soon as it is given to me. In both my research and my coursework I try to get started early, but it just does not appear to make a difference.

It might be because I do not really feel the pressure until the deadline is closing in and I am running out of time. When something is not due for a month you do not feel a real since of urgency. Your mind tends to wander off and you do not work with the same level of focus and grit. When working before a deadline I am able to work for hour without noticing the passage of time. I can simply just lock in and get things done. However, when the deadline is far away I tend to be less focused and easily distracted. I jump from one thing to another without really getting things done. Although, if I get into the right mood I feel like I can work efficiently even without a deadline.

On the other hand, maybe the issue is not with how efficiently I work, but rather when work is assigned. Final projects can not be started until the end of the semester. Research projects are always busiest near the end when you have solved the big problems and just need to power through the busy work. All classes wrap up around the same time and deadlines start to line up. You can not study for a final until the last lecture and you can not start writing the paper until you know to which conference you plan on publishing.

Most likely it is a combination of two and not just one. I do not think I can fix this issue fully. All I can do is try to spread out my work and manage my time better. Every time I get in a “crunch week” I am better able to handle the work because I have done it before.

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Why does it always seem like everything important happens all at once? It seems like deadlines just cluster together and all of a sudden you have so much work to do. It happens so frequently and I spend so much of my time trying to figure out how to avoid these situations. I do not procrastinate and I try to start an assignment as soon as it is given to me. In both my research and my coursework I try to get started early, but it just does not appear to make a difference.

It might be because I do not really feel the pressure until the deadline is closing in and I am running out of time. When something is not due for a month you do not feel a real since of urgency. Your mind tends to wander off and you do not work with the same level of focus and grit. When working before a deadline I am able to work for hour without noticing the passage of time. I can simply just lock in and get things done. However, when the deadline is far away I tend to be less focused and easily distracted. I jump from one thing to another without really getting things done. Although, if I get into the right mood I feel like I can work efficiently even without a deadline.

On the other hand, maybe the issue is not with how efficiently I work, but rather when work is assigned. Final projects can not be started until the end of the semester. Research projects are always busiest near the end when you have solved the big problems and just need to power through the busy work. All classes wrap up around the same time and deadlines start to line up. You can not study for a final until the last lecture and you can not start writing the paper until you know to which conference you plan on publishing.

Most likely it is a combination of two and not just one. I do not think I can fix this issue fully. All I can do is try to spread out my work and manage my time better. Every time I get in a “crunch week” I am better able to handle the work because I have done it before.

Week 8 - Apr. 2nd 2019

I have been thinking a lot lately about the guilty pleasures people have a in life. We all have something in our life which makes us feel happier, more excited and we just enjoy doing it. Yet we feel guilty for taking pleasure in such a thing.

Sometimes that guilt is derived from the knowledge that we are not making a healthy choice. For example, the foods that we enjoy are often fatty, salty, sugary and are not very notorious. So while we enjoy consuming them we know that we should not.

Other times that guilt stems from our knowledge that we are not financially capable of such an indulgence. We might go out to eat every day for lunch when we know that cooking at home and packing makes more financial sense. Or we might purchase a car or sign a lease which we know is way out of our budget.

It is easy to assume that people engage in such pleasures out of ignorance, but I feel that it is more complicated than that. I think that people indulge themselves in these guilty pleasures because they often feel like the joy derive from such pleasures outweigh their negative effects and consequences. Many of our guilty pleasures, when done in moderation, are not destructive. The joy they bring us helps improve our affective state and helps us enjoy life.

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I used struggle to understand why people would derive joy from risk. As a teen I never understood why my peers took such enjoyment from breaking the rules. As an adult I do not understand why people enjoy gambling. Both of times I just felt like it was senseless and pointless. I could not understand why something with so much risk would make someone happy.

However, this opinion changed the first time I went on a long trip. I was backpacking and visiting multiple places. At first I thought about only going to major tourist attractions, but quickly saw how boring that was. Then I began looking into visiting more obscure locations, taking the path less traveled and going were only few others had ever gone. This was risky and dangerous.

I was constantly warned about all the things that could go wrong and advised to stay in “safer“ areas, but I did not care. I enjoyed the feeling of visiting places where I stood out. I enjoyed knowing that I would be one of the few people who could every say they visited a particular location.

This enjoyment in spite of the risk helped me understand other people’s “strange“ enjoyment. In many ways it is that risk that makes the act so enjoyable and memorable.

Week 9 - Apr. 9th 2019

Communication is one of the most challenging parts of any relationship. Whether it be romantic, professional, social or anything else. The ability to formulate a sentence which conveys the meaning seems like a trivial task but it is much harder than most people assume. Your word choice, pace, tone, body language and other minor traits makes a huge difference. Even if the person you are communicating with does not actively think about these minor traits, they are subconsciously thinking about them.

So many problems in life occur because of poor communication. You might have said something with a tone that come off as rude. Or you might have failed to make eye contact and the seriousness of what you wanted to say did not get across. While you know what you meant, the person you are speaking to does not. That is why communication is such a difficult task for so many of us.

Once you introduce language barriers, cultural differences and implied meanings you are presented with a challenge which very few are capable of handling. What is strange though is most of us do not really think about how difficult communication is until we encounter a problem. If we communicate with the same set of people on most days we begin to just “understand“ what the other person meant.

However, when we encounter someone new, an “outsider”, we realize how difficult it is to communicate. This new person won’t “understand” what we mean. They will interpret our words in a new and unique way. Moreover, unless you actively take the time to think about what you are saying and how you are acting around this person you won’t realize that your though was not communicated until something goes wrong. It’s a problem we all have, but not one we think about often enough.

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When I heard about physicist taking the first image of a black whole I was reminded of what researchers were originally meant to do. Before we had large research institutions with departments and million dollar grants, research was just something a few people did when they couldn’t understand something that happened in nature. Before there were prestigious international conferences and tenured positions to worry about, there people who just could not understand why something happened and wanted to find an answer.

Research began as a way to understand the world and solve the mysterious of nature. Over time it became more about money, prestige, career development and education requirements. We no longer just look at a challenge we want to overcome or a mystery we want to solve. We think about publication deadlines, tenured positions and grant requirements.

I understand that not every scientist can solve a major problem that scientist have been struggling with for years. Not every project we work on must be a scientific breakthrough. However, it is important to take some time to stop and think about why we working on the project we chose and how we think it will benefit humanity.

Week 10 - Apr. 16th 2019

We have often been told that we should not compare ourselves to others. However, I feel that comparing ourselves to others is just part of human nature. We learn a lot by watching others and base our opinions of how things should be done based on what we around us. This is how we develop cultural norms and learn what is socially acceptable.

When we say that we look up to someone it is often because we see things in them that we wish we saw in ourselves. We dream to become like them because we have compared ourselves to them and feel that they are superior. While I understand how this can be perceived as a negative thing to do I feel like it isn’t always. This comparison does not always need to depress you, often it can even inspire you to reach a new goal. Seeing someone else do something can sometimes give you the imputes to do something you never thought you were capable of doing.

Comparing ourselves to others does not need to a negative experience. It can inspire us to work harder and do thing we would have otherwise never done. Learning how to manage the feelings you experience from those comparisons is what we should aspire to work on.

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I wonder if we ever stop outgrowing things. When we were young it happened quite often, but as we get older it happens less and less often. It makes sense that you get older you have fewer first and therefore have fewer things to outgrow. At the same time you are still growing older and your tastes and viewpoints change.

As kids we might outgrow a toy, as teenagers we might outgrow a habit and as an adult we might outgrow a set of friends. We change over time and that results in us changing things about our life.

I think that continuing to outgrow things is a sign that we are still open to new ideas. When we change, it means we are receptive to change. It means we are open to new things and ideas.

Week 11 - Apr. 23rd 2019

While I was walking into my dorm I noticed a huge line outside the multi-purpose room. Feeling curious I decided to ask why they were lining up. I expected some kind of annual event held by some MIT club or that a very famous person was speaking, but it as neither. Apparently, they were all lining up to watch the new episode of Game of Thrones.

Having never watched an episode I had no idea that it was the last season and that they were airing a new episode that night. I had heard of the show many times and knew that it was popular, but I never thought people would organize watch parties of this size. I was even more surprised when I found out that every dorm was having their out watch party.

This got me thinking about what makes something so popular. I am sure that a good plot, actors and directing makes a show enjoyable to watch, but what makes it so popular that people are willing to wait in line to watch the latest episode. Some of it must be the bandwagon effect because everyone wants to discusses the latest episode with their friends. The social networks that these popular shoes generate are very much a part of their success.

We all have such a hard time figuring out what we want to do. What restaurant we want to eat at, what holiday we want to take or what shows we want to watch. All of these hare difficult decision for us to make so we need some help. Often that is just from hearing what others are doing and then joining in. Entire platforms like Yelp, Foursquare and Facebook revolve around the concept of sharing what you like with other people.

I don’t think this is inherently wrong, but I do think that we should sometimes ask ourselves if the decisions we make are truly our own.

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Food is such a huge part of peoples’ identity. No culture, ethnicity or nationality is without a cuisine. We all have a favorite dish that we like prepared in a specific way. All places have a meal that they are “famous“ for serving.

Food can bridge people together by showing how similar we really are or it can start arguments about who can really claim ownership for a specific dish. A countries cuisine is often a much a source of pride as its history, music and language.

It is interesting to me how something as simple as food can have such a huge impact on a person’s emotion. When I think of food I just see it as a tool that we need to stay alive. The reason we eat one food instead of another is because we need the underlying nutrients.

However, food for many people is about “tasting home” and “feeling comfortable“. The food means more than just the sum of its nutrients, instead it has a social, spiritual and emotional value that people take very seriously. I can’t say I ever understood this concept, but I can respect it.

Discussions


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New Discussion on Mar 27
Katie Lewis: This post resonates with me. Great points :)
New Discussion on Mar 21
JL
Joanne L.: Thanks for writing this - I’ve been reflecting a lot on this idea too…
New Discussion on Mar 21
JL
Joanne L.: I totally feel I can relate to what you wrote in this post!
New Discussion on Mar 10
Joichi Ito: It is interesting how E14 was designed to be very “see through” but probably has less serendipitous interaction than E15 where you can’t see through the whole lab, but you have to walk through peop...
New Discussion on Mar 4
MG
Matt Groh: And so much beauty comes from the infinite complexity from the natural world. Even when it comes to roads/sidewalks/etc. we are confronted with the same standard shapes over and over again. Nature ...
New Discussion on Mar 3
Ziv Epstein: i disagree - i think moderate exposure to cold can help circulate blood, plus walking around and getting fresh air are always a plus.
New Discussion on Feb 27
Katie Lewis: That’s awesome :) I’ve been trying to do the same around my lab. The random “noise” can become quite calming after a while
New Discussion on Feb 21
JL
Joanne L.: I think this happens to me too - like I do certain things on auto-pilot. Once I was taken aback by the fact that I couldn’t remember the details of my drive to somewhere as my brain had been ponder...
New Discussion on Feb 18
Ziv Epstein: Predictive coding theory states our minds are constantly building generative models of the world, and only passing information into our awareness when stimulii violates our brain’s predictions. Usu...