My next step in life!

I have two wonderful pieces of news to share:  First, I am returning to graduate school, and second, I have been accepted into the NASA Ames Graduate Co-op Program!

On grad school

Two weeks ago I returned to the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) to complete my Ph.D. in Earth & Planetary Sciences.  It is something I have thought about for some time, and with my experiences the last few years and some fantastic mentors, I realized that the time is now.  No better time to work towards your dreams than right now!

My interest in completing the Ph.D. includes several factors.  First, my wonderful work experiences in the last few years made me realize how much I miss actually doing science and that I really to be where the action is.  Second, I have had a lot of fun the past two years, with one highlight being international science partnerships.  I wondered if getting a Ph.D. would limit the scope of what I want to do, but one of my wonderful bosses pointed out that the Ph.D. would only open more doors in this and other realms, and allow me to do these kinds of things at a more impactful level.  Third, completing the Ph.D. will allow me to do things not possible with a Ph.D. at all, particularly conducting my own research and contributing towards science missions that travel to other worlds.  Finally, I originally went to graduate school to get my Ph.D. (for a couple of reasons just described), and left post-qualifying exam to explore other things, obtaining my Masters in the process.  However, I always had a sense of incompletion.  The Ph.D. is definitely something that would still prove invaluable to me, and the sense of completion is something I eagerly anticipate and that drives me to move forward.

My Ph.D. thesis will be studying triggers of an active hydrologic cycle on Mars, particularly in the past, using a Mars General Circulation Model (a 3D climate model).  At UCSC my advisor is Erik Asphaug, who with every conversation makes me think of entirely new concepts and lets the scientific imagination soar.  My NASA Ames advisor is Anthony Colaprete, who is remarkably good at balancing guidance and independence as a mentor.  I am very thankful to be working with both of them!

On the Ames Graduate Co-op Program

I feel very honored to have been selected for the NASA Ames Graduate Co-op program.  This work-study program is unique is that it offers both research and leadership experiences.  I am excited to get to know the other students in the program and strive to realize this opportunity to the fullest extent possible.  I have been in love with Ames for years, and look forward to the next evolution of my time here.

As part of the program, I will work half of my time at NASA Ames.  My current schedule is to be at UCSC on Tuesdays and Fridays, and at NASA Ames the rest of the week.  I will continue living in the South Bay, but look forward to spending more time in Santa Cruz.  I am learning to really appreciate Santa Cruz with fresh eyes!

Final Thoughts…

As I brush up on the latest Mars research and get back into the grad student mentality, I give thanks for many things.  In particular I want to thank my wonderful mentors, including many at my current workplace.  In particular I want to call out Barry Blumberg, an amazing person who passed away last week.  I was lucky to have known such an absolutely brilliant person, and so thankful for the greatest gift from him:  having him believe in me.  I will miss you Barry!

Why I am Leaving Twitter

This is a pretty simple, low-key decision for me, but for many in today’s digerati culture, it would be an unthinkable action.  It comes down to whether something benefits my life enough to do it, and whether any negatives outweigh the benefits.

I have decided to leave my twitter account.  My last tweet will be tomorrow, February 16, 2011, at 6 PM Pacific.

DISCLAIMER: While I make some statements about the uses of twitter, I am NOT saying everyone who “uses it abuses it”.  In my own life, I have found I am sensitive to some of the particular topics I highlight below.  So please don’t feel judged 🙂

I originally began tweeting in 2007, well before having a twitter account became the norm.  It arose from a pretty cool job I had with NASA (project link currently down), connecting NASA with the vibrant Silicon Valley.  I was in San Francisco meeting with people at a co-working space to discuss co-working and other current work trends.  Twitter came up, and my colleagues and I had not really heard of it so gave it a whirl.

Twitter was quickly picked up in the space community, and eventually lead to a large social media presence by NASA that has been deemed the best in the federal government.  There are tons of space geeks, including many bonafied NASA workers, who are now on twitter, many of them identifying as ‘Space Tweeps’, for which a shout out to @flyingjenny is due!  Twitter has evolved into the often primary source where I find out about space news.  It is timelier than other news notifications, provides an opportunity to get perspectives on the latest space issues, and often links to quality primary sources I would not have otherwise checked.  Plus, it is a great community builder in the oft divided space community, where centers seem to fight for funds and the geographical and cultural areas span a wide expanse.  I have personally developed some neat connections via twitter that have leapt into real life.  It is also a great way to access a community of knowledge that is better than google, and a fun way to see who might want to join for a drink on a Friday night 🙂  These are some of the reasons I have hesitated to quit twitter for so long.

So why am I quitting? One day after I tweeted something, I sat back and thought, “What was my intention in tweeting that?”

1)  More often than not, I see how Twitter is used as another extension of an online persona that may or not be true to the real life person.  Similar to reunion update pages and LinkedIn, Twitter often only shows the best of one’s life.  But more importantly, beyond that, people start believing in this artificial ego created for oneself.  Having an image.  Wanting to impress strangers.  Seeming witting.  Showing off clever and offbeat interests.  I have seen firsthand how the difference between this image and real life can be fruitless and frustrating.

2) More importantly, I question why I am doing these things.  Why do I care to share some of the things I do?  Clearly much of the point of tweeting is interaction with others, which by default places importance on those others.  Also, many times on Twitter, it is all about keeping up with the Jones.  Not interested.  Also, why do I check certain twitter accounts?  Sure, some are super informative and fun, but often times it is to get a glimpse at someone’s life, and aren’t there better ways to do that than check the twitter stream?

3) Finally:  140 characters.  Oh, the novel concept.  Some balk at the number and say how nothing valuable can be conveyed in that.  I know that lots of interesting data can successfully be conveyed on twitter– news, your friend’s movie review, knowing a friend is having a bad day, being up on the latest conference registration deadline.  But many times, tweeting is like this voice reaching out to connect with someone in the real world… and we as a community are trying to do this in 140 characters?!  Overall, this does not seem to be the ideal way for human relationships to be moderated by (and yes, it does do that more than some think).

Bottom line: A this point, Twitter is just not an added something that brings joy to my life.

Sure, I could just use twitter for professional or more general informative uses, but I can also spend that time networking in person, reading a book, reading an in-depth article, or calling a friend.

Twitter doesn’t take much time, and who am I to advocate my position to others?  While I have been a strong advocate of the benefits of twitter (my boss is now interested so he can get the latest roasts from his favorite coffee house!), I have never been one to say “OMG you HAVE to do this”.  I definitely see tons of great things about twitter and am glad for the near 4 years I have spent on it, but it has run its course in my life….(sound the violins)

I will still be on (gasp!) Facebook, since it connects me to the largest number of people that I already know.  Though it is not open like twitter, thus will not be quite the same place to meet new people, it will allow me to be more “in the moment” (as much as any technology can!), and focus what and who are already in my life, not on “getting more” and “being better” online.

For something that is only 140 characters, this sure is a long blog post!

If you know me on twitter and want to stay in touch, write me a message here on this post, dm me, or friend me on Facebook.  I also plan to update my blog more recently, which I share on Facebook and other ways.

Sayonara, Twitter!

Yours truly,

@iamjem

Atlas Shrugged (and a bit of Office Space)

I finally finished reading Ayn Rand‘s beloved (or loathed) masterpiece Atlas Shrugged. I began reading the book with a bit of skepticism (for some it is the Bible, and I tend to be on the cynical side for novels with so grandiose a significance placed on them), and it took me more than a while to get into it; the first 300 pages took many months because I just was not engaged with the story, nor more importantly, the characters. But I stuck it out, and in the end found the book to be very conversation worthy. I do not agree with Ayn Rand’s Objectivism philosophy in whole, but her work did get me asking many good questions about my life, my work, and my choices and their related motivations.

In a wide world of conversation topics centered around Atlas Shrugged, I focus this entry on a particular thought:

To whom do you relate to in the novel, Atlas Shrugged?

Before I read the end, I related to Eddie Willers…. The hard working, honest, behind-the-shadows guy who definitely wanted more (his desire) and was not necessarily content with things but was satisfied with how he carried out his life–with integrity. The book begins and ends with Eddie Willers prominently featured, and his is perhaps one of the most heart wrenching (even if unclear) endings in the book. It’s been said he is the “common man”, but not in a derogatory way. Rather, he is both too able and too moral to be a hero, a villian, or simply a tool.

While a more noble self-relation might be to Dagny Taggart, I realized there is Eddie Willers-esque pop culture icon: The lead character in Office Space.

Of course I’m talking about pre-gangsta Peter Gibbons. The company could be seen as the type of society that America evolves into in Atlas Shrugged, and Peter has no good way to evolve… so he gets creative. He does evolve into some kind of Ragnar Danneskjold, but starts off very much the Eddie Willers.

So who knows… maybe there are more exciting things in store for Eddie Willers 🙂

A post about Nothing

wolf

The Nothing, from the film "The Neverending Story"

A friend told me about a useful piece of advice she once received from an instructor of hers:  “If you don’t know what to do, it’s a matter of URGENCY that you do something”.

I’m writing this post out of… nothing.  Feeling like I have nothing.  But I don’t mean that in some horrid way; I have plenty of good, valuable things in my life.  I don’t want more of most things, and am very grateful for what I do have. There comes to be a certain opportunity to sit back and think ‘what do I want for myself and for my life’.  You’ve got the resources and the opportunity… now what?  

For the majority of my life, a pathway was rather clear.  Go to college.  Apply for internships.  Do stuff with friends.  Run more often.  Go back to school. Learn a skill.  New hobby X.  Pursue project Y.  Pursue crazy project Z.  Bond with parents.  Figure out my retirement dream.  There is clearly never a chance to be bored.  Rather, the room for choice is there, the room to create… whatever.  Within work, choices exist too; within a set topical area, many are allowed to develop their career in a way they desire (certain industries are more amenable to this than others).  

It’s amazing how full and empty are so very closely tied to one another.  Sometimes choice is overwhelming.  Boundaries are a comfort.  I in no way mean to sound ungrateful for choice and opportunity, but rather that they can also be daunting.

I’m curious how people really figure out what utterly fills their nothing.  And not like “how do you find meaning in life”, but how did you or do you come about your passions?  And figure out which passions were the ones to really focus on and DO?  

I’ve had passions in the past, but have run out of steam lately.  Too much start/ not finish, that I hesitate to start things.  But the excitement still exists, and opportunity abounds.  I realize I need to start making something from the nothing with something before there’s some regret!  Again with the empty/ full thing being the same, because my life is on the outside full as can be… but there’s no one thing, so more so there is seemingly nothing.

Comically, what prompted me actually writing the post (I’ve been thinking about the concepts all week) was a Facebook quiz on “What Wizard of Oz character are you?”  There was a question about what one does in their spare time, or something like that.  One option was ‘Daydream’… and I didn’t pick it!!!  Years ago, I daydreamed in real belief of making those dreams a reality.  Not so much anymore.  I still have a nice, social, shiny life, no sob story here… but what about… not more, but something else.

So how did you find your something?

Life assumptions

What if some of the things you assumed about your life were perhaps not true or meant to be.  How would you live your life differently?

If you knew you were in fact never to have children, would you care about your savings quite so much?  Where would you travel with all of those extra funds?

If you knew you would never be the top gun of your company, presuming that was your major career goal, what job would you do instead?  Explore something more creative, perhaps?

If you realized you had lost your faith, would you try to hard to keep out of hell?

The choices we make on a regular basis are informed by a certain “insurance” mentality.  Let me save a nest egg for my yet-to-exist children.  Let me not be totally honest with my boss because I shouldn’t burn bridges.  Let me not bask in the sun because I’ll be around long enough to get skin cancer.  I’m not talking about “risks” or “living life to the fullest”, but realizing how are preconceptions of our future life shape our every day decisions, today.

So that’s my homework for the next week– realizing what rules I’m unconsciously putting upon myself and for what reasons.  And assuming assumption x,y, or z is not true– what am I gonna do know that there are no boundaries?!?