Reflections on Summer 2021

The best way I can summarize this summer is by quoting a book summary I read and then promptly judged the shit out of: “[REDACTED TITLE] is more than just a coming of age memoir. It is the story of me. Of you. Of us.”

Now I still cannot tell you what this book is about, but the gist of what I’m saying is that this summer left me confused and hopefully better for it? At the start of the summer, the goals I set for myself were:

  1. Set an FKT -> Check! Got the Palmer Loop FKT in June. This is one of my favorite trails and I’m proud of my effort on the run and elated to be officially competing as a nonbinary athlete
  2. Run the Four Pass Loop -> Check! John and I ran this one together on July Fourth Weekend. It was amazing. I wish I could have managed it faster, but it was a good lesson in self-supported efforts at high altitude
  3. Get an Advisor -> Check! I am joining the Reliable Autonomous systems Lab at MIT with Professor Chuchu Fan.
  4. Get better at climbing -> NOPE. I did not climb much this summer. Mentally, I’ve been really hard on myself climbing. I feel disappointed with my current strength level, and the body awareness that comes with climbing is really uncomfortable for me to experience. This combination has led to less climbing overall, which makes me a worse climber, and the cycle just continues until I evaporate into the sun and die.

As I’ve been changing advisors (keep your eyes out for an upcoming post on advice about switching advisors), I’ve had a lowkey crisis that I should have just switched schools altogether. Getting to semi-experience the alternate timeline where I could go to CU Boulder helped put my anxieties to rest that I should have switched schools. Speaking with current students and understanding what the department is like helped me understand that I’m not missing out on some mythic department that has research I want and no issues. All grad departments come with issues, primarily due the fact that no one in academia knows how to do anything to improve the culture of academia that isn’t sending out a survey and calling it a day (whoops too spicy of an opinion). While I love the trail access in Boulder and will most certainly daydream about it often, this summer has helped me be at peace with my next step in graduate school.

Living in Colorado again this summer, but this time in the ‘liberal mecca’ of Boulder, I was excited to get a chance to experience Colorado in less stressful pandemic conditions. People constantly ask me about what I plan to do after grad school, or even just where I would be interested in living. This summer was supposed to provide some clarity on that front. It did not.

Classic Silverton #Views

In July, I was lucky enough to volunteer for the Hardrock 100, which is in Silverton, Colorado. With a population of 534, there is not much in Silverton, but I fell in love with the small town, with its charming coffeeshops, immense trail network, and friendly locals. For now, that whole section of Colorado is the most promising option for future living area for me, which leaves the areas I would move in a heartbeat to as :

  1. Flagstaff, AZ
  2. Durango/Silverton, CO
  3. Humboldt, CA

You may notice that these are not aerospace towns. I am very aware. I do not know what I’m doing with my life. I feel like when people talk about finding an area you would be happy to work in, they’re probably not giving career advice to Aerospace Engineers. There’s like 6 viable location options if you wanna have a career in space. For now, I’m left fantasizing about taking a year off to live in these places, or having the ability to work remotely in a field with extremely strict ITAR regulations.

I’ve been feeling particularly aimless the past few weeks since being back at MIT and I think its the directionless malaise that comes with big life transitions. Committing to a PhD and to living in Boston for at least 3 more years, my life feels both stable and uncertain at the same time. I have no clue what my PhD topic will be, or really what I want to do post grad school. It feels overwhelming to think to much about the future, and even more so if I factor in pandemic anxiety and dread around climate change. For now, I’m just trying to appreciate the little things and show the people I love that I care about them. After all, life is more than just the story of me. [its the story of us /j]

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