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How it feels to get a PhD

As someone who was a part of the academic world for a few years, it would happen that every now and then a diligent colleague or a friend would manage to defend their dissertation and get their longed-for PhD. Strangely, every now and then when I’d attend such events, I’d feel the formality and importance of it all. A side note, in the Netherlands PhD defenses are super formal. You have the committee all dressed in their garments, grilling you with allegedly tough questions for an hour in an open event for everyone at the university to attend, if they wish so. They address you with ‘dear candidate’ and you respond back with ‘highly (or very) esteemed opponent’.

The whole formality of the event does not contribute towards a stress-free and pleasant experience. But it does, however, make the event feel like a big deal. It is not just an ordinary day, you are after all this time, getting your title!

After the committee has made their decision to give you the title, you receive your diploma, with a red wax stamp on it, in a big tube-like container. Then your supervisor gives a small speech about you, which is supposed to contain a few anecdotes and a little bit of praise.

Usually such ceremonies move me. I am always able to sympathize with the candidate, admire their hard work and perseverance, and have always been a little bit dreamy, wishing one day, soon enough, I would be able to defend my own dissertation as well. Hell, I am not ashamed to admit I get goosebumps and a little teary every so often.

All until it was my time to defend. Stress aside, I felt mostly numb. None of the pride and emotions I expected to feel. I did not get goosebumps, I did not get misty-eyed. In a nutshell, it did not feel like a big deal. Maybe because I did not make a big fuss out of it. People sometimes have all their families attending, starting from distant cousins to their sister’s recent casual fling, all kind of friends —  from distant childhood to their recent drinking buddies. I had no family in the audience, only my boyfriend, a few people from the department, some of my PhD colleagues, and 2 of the colleagues in my recent job. There were people who said would make it to the ceremony, people I considered good and close friends, but who were not there. Perhaps this took away from the significance of the event for me, at least a little bit. Perhaps I just could not realize what was going on, or subconsciously had decided to toughen myself up so that I will not start weeping like an idiot the moment I get the longed for red-waxed diploma. Perhaps. Perhaps the reward was not in the ceremony itself and getting the degree. Or maybe the rewards came all in little phases. First you submit your thesis to the committee. Then they say yes. And you print the book. The moment you receive a box of books at your home having your name on the cover is in itself quite uplifting.

Or perhaps the joy doesn’t just hit you at once. Maybe the work itself, the grueling hours, late nights and weekends you spent on it and putting it all behind is the prize itself. The self-discipline, dedication and motivation  are a morale training like no other.

Or maybe all the literature I read about aspirations and their effect on our well-being was right after all. Some suggest that your own status not per se your is not what matters for your happiness but your state relative to that of others. And if you win a lottery, for example, you quickly adjust to the new fortune and soon enough aspirations kick in and you want more. You can imagine that someone driven enough to pursue a PhD would still be ruled by ambition. There is this very much ‘meh’ moment after you graduate. Especially if you quit academia and know that this is going to be the highest degree you will ever get.

Perhaps. Or perhaps I still need a few more days for the joy to kick in. In the meantime, I am still waiting.

 

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2016 in PhD life, Uncategorized

 

What it is that really makes me happy

Months ago I had a post, in which I declared my intention to use my latest passion (and currently occupation) to crack down the secret the happiness (see it here). So, I collected some data about myself for a couple of months (I admit I was not persistent enough with it) and all the little things that might affect my well-being on that day. I analysed these data now, after finding some time, and *drumroll* here are the ffindings.

Details I recorded included how well physically I felt during the day, what was the weather like, how productive I was in my job, what kind of sports I did during that day (if any), what type of socializing activities took place, even things I had for breakfast and lunch (I admit I did not vary too much).

The sample was perhaps a non-typical period in my life as I was in the process of looking for a job, and job rejections or positive news on that front did play a role in my happiness level. I rated my own happiness in the morning and in the evening and in my analysis, I looked at both factor individually, as well as their difference. And yes, everything is super biased as technically there is only me in the sample. However, I was mining for some interesting patterns about factors that might be correlated with my happiness. So, sadly the findings do not apply to you or some average, representative population. Or perhaps there might be some coincidences. Overall some expected, some less expected things emerged from my little experiment.

  1. If I woke up in a bad mood, it was likely to be persistent during the day.
  2. Things such as self-rated health, health-related complaints, and even monthly hormonal fluctuations seemed to matter a lot for me (obviously, the healthier, the happier I felt).
  3. As to be expected, if I received bad news in my job search, this made me grumpier, but if the news were good, it would more than compensate any bad news I might have received on the same day.
  4. Doing any kind of sports increased my happiness (the sport activities were mostly running, or if the weather was bad, spinning and some exercises at home). Interestingly, the number of kilometers I ran is negatively associated with how happy I was in the end of the day. So, on a subconscious level I am lazy, I guess (or my body feels better if I don’t overdo it).
  5. If I did any sort of fun activity with other people/ socializing, I’d be happier. However, if the contact was mostly online (say, to some friends who live back home or moved abroad), the sign was negative. What explains this could be that if I am less happy, I might be more likely to reach out to some close friends with whom I communicate mostly online.
  6. Shockingly, the number of drinks I had in a day decreased my happiness in the end of the day. Again, this could be due to the fact that I seldom drink alone, so if this was the case, I perhaps felt gloomy and hoped the drink to cheer me up (we all do it sometimes, don’t judge). I will know better for the future and stay away from the wine and run for the chocolate instead.
  7. Recently I realized how important sleep can be. And the data confirm that if I had nice, long sleep during the night and woke up on my own (uninterrupted by noises and the alarm clock), I felt happier.
  8. As I expected, the hotter the weather was, the less happy I was (I cannot tolerate heat in general).
  9. And inexplicably, somehow omelette or French toast for breakfast make me really happy, but oatmeal or a smoothie really sad. This one is still a mystery to me.

Oh, I guess I should have given a dork alert earlier into this column 🙂

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

As I Began to Love Myself

For a while now, I have admired the wisdom and art of living of Charlie Chaplin. I recently stumbled upon this poem, which he read to a group of friends on this 70th birthday. For me personally, it comes very timely. I never do New Year’s resolutions, I make my resolutions throughout the whole year instead. But if there is one thing I need to promise myself, it is to take care of myself more, to love me more, to stick to my own perceptions of who I am and what the world it, and to protect my determination and innocence from everything that might diminish it.

Here is the beautiful poem. I hope anyone who is reading this will also appreicate it.

As I Began to Love Myself – Self Love Poem by Charlie Chaplin

As I began to love myself I found that anguish and emotional suffering
are only warning signs that I was living against my own truth.
Today, I know, this is “AUTHENTICITY”.

As I began to love myself I understood how much it can offend somebody As I try to force my desires on this person, even though I knew the time
was not right and the person was not ready for it, and even though this
person was me.Today I call it “RESPECT”.

As I began to love myself I stopped craving for a different life,
and I could see that everything that surrounded me was inviting me to grow.
Today I call it “MATURITY”.

As I began to love myself I understood that at any circumstance,
I am in the right place at the right time, and everything happens
at the exactly right moment. So I could be calm.
Today I call it “SELF-CONFIDENCE”.

As I began to love myself I quit steeling my own time,
and I stopped designing huge projects for the future.
Today, I only do what brings me joy and happiness, things I love to do
and that make my heart cheer, and I do them in my own way and in
my own rhythm. Today I call it “SIMPLICITY”.

As I began to love myself I freed myself of anything that is no good for
my health – food, people, things, situations, and everything that drew
me down and away from myself. At first I called this attitude
a healthy egoism. Today I know it is “LOVE OF ONESELF”.

As I began to love myself I quit trying to always be right, and ever since
I was wrong less of the time. Today I discovered that is “MODESTY”.

As I began to love myself I refused to go on living in the past and worry
about the future. Now, I only live for the moment, where EVERYTHING
is happening. Today I live each day, day by day, and I call it “FULFILLMENT”.

As I began to love myself I recognized that my mind can disturb me
and it can make me sick. But As I connected it to my heart, my
mind became a valuable ally.Today I call this connection “WISDOM OF THE HEART”.

We no longer need to fear arguments, confrontations or any kind of problems
with ourselves or others. Even stars collide, and out of their crashing
new worlds are born. Today I know THAT IS “LIFE”!

 
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Posted by on January 2, 2016 in Love for oneself, Uncategorized

 

2015: My Review

As wordpress helpfully fed me with statistics about the status and activity on my blog in the past year, I couldn’t help but ponder about what has happened in 2015, what I managed to achieve and what not.

Overall, it has been a year which started with some personal, soul-wrenching difficulties, but ended well. All in all, I found a new passion and drive in life, completed an online degree in it and found a job in that field. I completed my PhD, which was successfully accepted for a defence by the committee. I travelled to a few new countries I had never been to before, I tried new things, met new friendly and kind people, ate new food and sipped some sweet, delicious drinks as the sun was warming up my skin and my toes were buried in the sand. I went to concerts of bands I dreamt of seeing live and got tickets to some equally exciting upcoming ones. I discovered I have acquired a taste for classical music, opera and all kinds of cultural activities. I have grown up in a way, became more open-minded and less judgmental, which is something I am proud of. I have progressed in building myself towards the person I want to be, and I have managed to nurture and grow relationships that I find meaningful. I am closer to my family, and I have covered some important milestones in my relationship that have brought us closer together.

I did read many books although compared to last year when I logged 50, this year the number is closer to 25. I did not return to my marathon shape and with my busy schedule, I have decreased my running to only 2 times a week. But as long as I can still run a half-marathon without falling apart in the meantime, I am not worried. I did not always have the time to socialize as much as I would have liked to. I did not always find the time for all of my friends, but it was a sacrifice I had to make because I was working hard on my goals. And it seems I have become an optimist 🙂 So, overall, I can look back and see 2015 as a good year.

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,000 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 17 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2015 in Uncategorized, Year review

 

The pains of looking for a job

Until very recently, I was looking for a job. My PhD contract at the university was running over and I started sending applications around, only to different companies in the Netherlands (since I did not want to relocate). Now that the process is over for me, I look back and cannot help but cringe and laugh at some of the reasons for which I got rejected. I always thought that because I am highly educated, it would not be very difficult to transition to the labour market. Though the process ended successfully for me, it definitely was not un-problematic. Here are a few of the WTF moments I had that angered me, despaired me, and made me laugh — sometimes all at the same time.

1.”It’s not you, it’s us”

For a couple of job postings, I seemed like a good fit for the position, I had all the requirements, the potential employers really liked me… buuuut, I am not Dutch, i.e. my Dutch is not perfect. I do quite okay while reading and listening but I have not been placed in a purely Dutch environment, thus never had to talk the language much. Never you mind that I worked on a couple of papers with data and documentation only in Dutch.. Somehow, if my conversation around the water cooler was not in perfect Dutch, it would be very detrimental for my future career. Thus, few employers told me to go back to them once I am fluent, or if I am born in another life as Dutch. I literally heard the “It is not you, it is REALLY US, we are just a small and purely Dutch company” excuse. As if someone was trying to break up with me in a very bad way. I had to laugh.

2. The ghosting

There was one company I really liked, and who seemed to like me back. They were okay with me still learning the Dutch language. The interview process was supposed to consist of 3 steps. I heard a lot of enthusiasm back from their side after the first one. Then, after me pushing for the second one, I never heard back from them. After not returning my calls for a while, I receive an email that they will not continue their talks with me because of bunch of things I allegedly do not know. Never you mind you will be hard-pressed to find anyone with a degree in economics who doesn’t know about regressions, classification, and clustering. They never asked me if I knew those things, but simply decided so after me describing what I do, which is more than just regressions and classifications. It was not that they rejected me, but why, and especially how they did it…I was infuriated..

3. “You knowledge in R is theoretical”

Now, this is a good one. Anyone who ever used a scripting language or any kind of software for analysing data, knows that you either know how to work with it or you don’t. You cannot possible have a theoretical knowledge of a scripting or a programming language simply because all you can do with it  is get your hands dirty and obtain that hands-on experience.

4. “The research you did is different from what we are doing”

You did not need a deep understanding in the field they were working on, it was not a research institution. They simply needed an economic advisor for different issues such as how you can estimate damages in this particular case, what the potential costs would be, etc. I did well at the hypothetical cases they gave me (is what they told me), then I do not get the job because the research I did was in a different field of economics.

5. “You are over-qualified for this position.”

This was a good one as well. They advertise the position as a junior econometrician, and it is a big research place, they are supposedly doing interesting things. Then it turns out at the interview, they want someone to be doing averages in Excel, and send emails setting up meetings. I might very well be over-qulified for the position, but for the love of God, do not play it up as being something more sophisticated than it is. That is, if you don’t want people who are over-qualified to apply for it.

And these are only the experiences resulting from interviews. I will not even go into the rejections I got when in the first stages of applying — before an interview took place altogether. It is never going to be easy, I guess, no matter how skillful and educated you are. It’s all about finding the right match — on both sides — and good things take time, I hear.

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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I moved to the Netherlands 5 years ago. Here is a retrospective on what happened

If I only think about everything I’ve been in the past 5 years, I think I’ve gained more life experiences and lessons than all the years before that moment, collectively. I arrived so full of hope, so shiny, almost arrogant in my demand for things to turn alright. I had worked hard all of my life to earn my right to come and study here. So, I firmly believed the hardest part was behind me.

I was completely unprepared for what I will go through. It was one of those experiences, in which you either make it or they break you. The difference being that in my case, you were pushed to the breaking point, and pushed, and then pushed some more.

Of course, it has not all being bad or difficult. It was simply a very quick lesson on growing up and in life overall. Things like breaking points, limits, heartbreaks, physical pain, crying were defined anew and then re-defined some more.

But to get back to the positive. Today, I will try to celebrate the things I have achieved since I arrived here.

1. I got a master’s degree from a super hardcore research program

I did not pass it with anything like flying colors. I failed courses, I had to retake me. Before that moment, I was a good student, failure was not something I knew how to do. I cried, I literally cried like a baby over how impossible and difficult it all was. But I ground my teeth and pulled through it. And it’s done and I never have to do it again.

2. I am close to getting a doctorate

I am writing the introduction to it, meaning the end is close. And this is another journey which has not been easy. There was again some crying, but less. If there is anything such a journey teaches you — if you are doing it right, at least — is humility. You see and know your limitations, you feel unimportant, you feel you are not good enough. And you need to find the discipline and faith in yourself to pull through despite all of this.

3. I ran a marathon

Before coming to the Netherlands, I had been doing running for a few years already. However, only here did I pick it up more seriously, and it is not difficult I thought at first, given that the country is so flat. However, we have wind which compensates for the flatness. And I started participating in different amateur races, a bunch of 10M ones, then came a half-marathon, then finally the full one. Well, in everything you do, you should see some progress, right? So I spent a few months preparing for it and finished it (and I am told I finished it well).

4. I earned how to cook and became quite passionate about baking

If you live on your own, sans family and friends, you learn how to manage that. Turns out, I quite enjoy cooking, and I realised there is much better cooking out there in the world than my mother’s. I’ve also discovered the joys and wonders of different cuisines, a chance I seldom had back in Bulgaria. And most of all, I discovered I truly enjoy baking. And with some practice, I became better at it. Now, simply the process of baking bring me comfort, I don’t even need to taste much of my own production. And if all else fails, this can always become my alternative career option.

5. I tried new sports, picked up boxing (ad urgently need to go back to it)

I have always felt passionate about martial arts and wanted to box but, again, I did not have the chance to do it back home. Well, adding the frustration and stress of the master’s program, it became the perfect sport for me. Unfortunately, being little short on time in the past months, I had to temporarily abandon it.

6. I met wonderful people and had the chance to travel to new places

Perhaps that would have happened even if I went somewhere else as I believe there are nice people everywhere, but I am quite happy I got to meet the people (and weirdos:P) I met, and to travel to the places I managed to visit.

7. I learned to take care of myself, my surroundings and be cautious about my finances

While I was a student, I had to live on a very tight budget, so I learned the importance of being cautious with your finances, I’ve learned the discipline and importance of building your own buffer and safety net for when yu are jobless, for example, and do not want or simply cannot rely on anyone in the world to help you. I’ve learned how to make a depressing dorm room feel like home, or an apartment quite nice and comfortable. I’ve learned to fix a bunch of things around the house (and with my bike). I’ve learned how to take care of plants. I do believe now they truly thrive under love, care, and attention.

8. I’ve learned what it’s like to be in a long-term, grown-up relationship

The one, in which the other person finally knows (ok, kinda) what they want in life. I’ve learned to be less selfish and that truly loving someone means accepting them the way they are without trying to change them after your own ideas and preferences. And it does take hard work but being a grown-up about it also means not to walk away the moment it gets hard.

Ok, I will stop the list here because I feel these are the most important items. When I look at it, it does not sound like a big deal. But most of these points has been like a preparation for a marathon — taking so much of you, and leaving you only with the rewarding feeling of surviving it. If there is one thing I miss about myself from 5 years ago, it would be my optimism and hopefulness. I so believed that happiness is around the corner. I had no idea I was just starting my fight for it.

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2015 in Uncategorized