attention span of an overripe mango

I’m writing this at my work office.

I am the world’s worst employee. Attention span of an overripe mango. Motivation of a fried egg.

I never realized how hard writing is until I tried to sit down yesterday and write something that has a mere semblance of coherence.

I guess I’ll talk about work.

This summer I’m working at UPenn’s Computational Neuroscience Initiative as a research assistant. My project is related to visual processing in the brain and involves examining the relationship between textures and the scene “gist” of an image. My PI came up with this question which is based on the premise that humans are pretty talented in identifying the gist of a scene from just a cursory glance. In this context, “gist” is a spatial representation of the outside world that is rich enough to grasp the meaning of the scene, and textures are measured as probabilities of specific orientations determined by spatial correlations of pixel intensities in an image.

Computational neuroscience..visual processing…what eye-catching buzz words. When people comment on how “cool” my research seems, I muster a half-hearted smile. What I do is basically perform a bunch of magic voodoo linear algebra and run statistics and Fourier transforms through the powerful language that is Matlab. Disclaimer: I believe that this research could be insightful in quantifying early visual processing in some way. Maybe such clearer understanding will eventually contribute to advancements in computer vision or optics. Those seem like pretty noble ends. But I can’t help but feel sometimes that the work I’m doing is so niche and zoomed-in to the extent of pointlessness.

Running these statistics and trying to identify meaningful results repeatedly has made me gracefully realize how incompetent I am in data analysis and creative problem-solving. My brain flounders with this type of never-ending uncertainty, and I just don’t think I’m apt for the research life. It’s slooowwww and challenging and fraught with roadblocks. Yup, I’m definitely not cut out for the research life.

About an hour ago, instead of actually working, I was leeching off the top-grade wi-fi at my office and reading articles from The Sign.al, which is a website created by a Penn student with the aim of exposing students to unorthodox career paths and imbuing the message that we should seek out career journeys that are personally meaningful to us (an aside: an essay I really enjoyed related to The Sign.al’s mission is called Even Artichokes Have Doubts, written by Marina Keegan. This Yale graduate thoughtfully notes and wonders at the ubiquity of the consulting career path so many of her peers have taken). The people at Sign.al interviewed upperclassmen at Penn about their summer plans and compiled the stats to show that the freshmen summer really isn’t a big deal, contrary to all the frantic job and internship searches. In fact, 40% of people who took classes or conducted over their freshmen summers said they would’ve redone their summers to have more fun, spend time with friends and family, and take advantage of the fleeting freedom that freshmen summer affords. Basically, the article is a huge “calm down” message directed at all the stressed-out little Quakers and more broadly, all the stressed-out little college underclassmen.

When I read that article, I immediately (mentally) exclaimed, “Take that, you career-lusting, ladder-climbing resume builders! Calm the fuck down!” Ok, I kid. That was a highly caricatured version of what was running through my head (what I was thinking was more along the lines of *amen hallelujah snaps-fingers-emphatically-in-agreement*), but I am so tired of this rat race so many people at this school are competing in. We’re all frantic to sell our souls off and become world-changing, business-starting adults. When can we find the time to grow, not as members of the task force (as noble as some career pursuits may be), but as young souls who don’t even fully know who we are or what we want yet, if we’re not apportioning this valuable time for ourselves? I have always recognized myself as someone who keenly lacks ambitions, passions, strong opinions, and convictions. These are traits I bashed on myself for for so long. Maybe my head really is up in the clouds, and I’m so far removed from reality that I can’t stomach the prospect of this “job” thing and the scene of my peers all scrambling to partake in the working world. I still am struggling to reconcile my ungroundedness with real-life practicalities because at the end of the day, making a living and surviving is the bottom line. But I really don’t think we have to follow the anxious flock to the job world if we’re not ready yet. It’s more worthwhile and ultimately time-saving if we could could slow down for a summer, a semester, or a year to really think about what we want to do in this world.

To all the clear-headed, driven, and talented people in the world, I really do salute you. I don’t mean to deride those with full-hearted intentions and dreams in life. I admire the place you’re in right now and wonder the path you took to get there. But I recognize that your path is unique to you.

So maybe that’s it. My own annie clock is set to a different pace than others’. I need to keep reminding myself that my own rate of growth != anyone else’s.

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