The Year In Review

The theme for the year (which should be my theme every year):

Kinda blurry: “I am still learning”

That photo was taken in the gift shop of the National Gallery. This year I did some traveling (NOT THE DESERT though for once). Went to DC obviously where I played hooky and went to the Smithsonian. Went to San Antonio where my hotel literally was across from the Alamo. Valentines Day I was in Charleston for a high school outreach event. A few weeks later I was in Ann Arbor where I experienced negative temperatures for the first time in my life. Spent nine weeks living with my collaborator and his family, where 9-5 we were conducting research with undergrads (and on weekends I’d stumble upon live free professional wrestling or drive to Atlanta for Great Gatsby themed weddings). Then there were a few local conferences. Probably 4 months living out of a suitcase.

Picture break:

Teaching wise I graduated my first honors thesis student, and I taught 3 new preps (out of four preps total). I am at the age and stage where I get to write letters of rec; probably wrote 15-20 of those. Including for friends going up for tenure, which is odd. I have had to start preparing for the next chapter though; I’ve applied to a LOT of jobs. Emphasis on a LOT.

Now…in summary we should probably have a “best of” list going:


We honestly had a lot more winners than we did losers (even though there weren’t *as* many posts). Here are some of my favs:


We may remember one of my items on the 30 before 30 was book-heavy. Here are some of my favorite reads of this year:

  • All the Light We Cannot See, A. Doerr. Read this before they inevitably make a film adaptation. It’s one of the best written books I’ve ever read in my life. Doerr is a renowned short-story writer (this is his first novel. Guess he wanted to add a Pulitzer to his collection of O.Henry’s), and his ability to get you invested quickly comes through. There’s also almost a Pan’s Labyrinth quality to it with the WWII/fairy-tale twists.
  • Out, N. Kirino. This was a recommendation by a friend who does not read for fun that much; I was intrigued by what he would endorse. Kirino apparently began her career wanting to write romance novels. Soon, however, she realized her talent was for (and the Japanese market was more conducive to) crime thrillers. This book has the unique characteristic of lacking a single character with a single redeeming quality. But it’s still an amazing read.
  • Blindness, J. Saramago. Honestly, the person who deserves the credit here is the translator. The prose in this is gorgeous. They’ve already made the movie (not going to watch it). I have to say, this book was hard for me to read. I couldn’t get through more than 15-20 pages at a time–it was too depressing. And for a book to have that major of an impact on me…you’ve got to read this. It shows humans at their best and their worst. It will haunt you.


This has been a year of self-discovery and reflection. It has been a year of craziness and uncertainty, but at the same time I feel like I have started to come into my own.

A large portion of my energy was expended thinking about my career. Specifically, my career in academia (c.f., my mini-rant on this. I have to say, the overwhelming number of overwhelmingly supportive responses I received from that post made me realize I’m not alone in my thoughts and also that I’m not illogical in my conclusions.). My thoughts at the moment:

  • I am surprised that I miss anything from my R1, PhD-granting institutional past, let alone that I miss multiple things.
  • I am learning that every job has politics and every place has a culture. These cannot be ignored, must be respected, and are often more important than you would ever (want to) think.
  • Academia is a tough life. You work evenings, weekends and holidays. It stunts and retards your romantic and personal lives. Still, it is scary to think of (having to) leaving it.

I have also wondered if I have “what it takes”, aka I’ve been struggling with impostor syndrome. I always had a suspicion or fear that my professors and PhDs I encounter–including my adviser–do not think I am the sharpest tool in the shed (honestly, I thought they believed I was more of a “teacher” than a “researcher”–and those two do appear to be orthogonal in the minds of many). But my thoughts at the moment:

  • I’m honestly not the sharpest tool in the shed; however, I am significantly sharper than most tools you’re going to come across. And I am blessed to say that I can still find and still seek out ways to be the dullest tool in the shed, and those are the reasons why I will be so sad if I must leave academia.
  • It is possible to be an amazing teacher and lack a (strong) research program. It is possible to produce amazing results yet be incapable of explaining them. But those are exceptional cases. In general you will be good at one if and only if you are good at the other. Hence, an academic should strive to improve themselves constantly in both areas.

And now this leads nicely into what I think I’ve learned specifically about myself and what I think I need to change. My thoughts at the moment:

  • I need to find a healthy way to relax. Over the years I have tried smoking (I love you, Phillip Morris), eating, not eating, and God-knows what else in a futile attempt to turn off my brain and experience some form of release. I used to work out a lot, and maybe I should return to that. All it takes is time. I also have a sneaking suspicion if I just cut back on red wine and cheese that’d probably “do the trick”.
  • I’m by no means saying I’m a saint (or that I’m good at this), but I do try to follow the Golden Rule; however, this year I learned that others do not always want to be treated in the way that I would like to be treated. I need to be more cognizant of this.

So, there you have it. The recipes, books, music, traveling, and thoughts that have summarized 2015 at TTENG. Wishing you all a happy end to 2015, and here’s to an even better 2016!


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