Re: 2018

A review, a re-visit, a reply.

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A review, a re-visit, a reply.

2018 is a big year for me. There was a lot going on simultaneously. I graduated; got admitted in a Ph.D. Program that I love; moved from Shenzhen to Minnesota; fired up some projects and took some photos.

The Best Day of 2018

There were a lot of important days for me in 2018: milestones, farewells, and new friends. But there is a day that is both important to me personally and professionally.

That is the day I received my Ph.D. Offer from the University of Minnesota. I was having lunch with my whole family in Meizhou. I received a phone call from the program coordinator a few days before saying that there is a high chance that I will get an offer. That was a good signal, but unlike the brisk decisions made by IU and ASU, it also means that the competition was intense.

My achievement seemed like a gift for my grandpa. He fought so hard to teach himself to be admitted to a college with scholarships, while he was basically homeless at that time. One of the greatest expectation to his grandsons was probably knowledge. His education principles were sure outdated from today’s perspective, but one thing I learned from him that I still appreciate today is to do self-reflection, as often as possible.

We were talking happily and unrealistically about the trip when I will earn the Ph.D. degree. The ceremony, the road trip, the first time my grandpa will be abroad…

Several days after the lunch, I said goodbye to him. And that was the last goodbye. The day when we had lunch was the day when my grandpa was the proudest of me.

So that day will permanently leave a mark in my heart.

Things I Built

2018 was not a particularly productive year for me. First, I was mostly caught up in Ph.D. Program applications, interviews, then graduation and other logistics.

If you know me well, then you may agree that I am the type of the person who can’t stop building things. So I still built several small things.

  1. A 3D digital art and a 2-min short film in the graduation exhibition.
  2. Joined Langchao.org. Recruited a team of PM interns with Lucas but eventually, the team didn’t sustain for some reasons.
  3. Several sets of portrait photographs, and 2 unpublished photography projects.
  4. Some small contributions. An Alfred workflow, a pull request that fixed a bug in Stata-kernel.
  5. Put some efforts in two research projects with completely different goals and methodologies. I couldn’t imagine I will develop models using game theory three months ago.
  6. Got a research idea that might work.
  7. This site, Randomized Thought Experiments.

Best Lessons

After joining the Ph.D. Program and attending some Ph.D. Seminars and brown-bags, I grasped a sense of what real research is like, and I am now happy to see how ignorant I was just half a year ago.
 Among all the valuable experiences and knowledge shared by our faculty and guest speakers, the most impressive lesson that I had was a seminar spend with Brad N. Greenwood. He explained beautifully “What makes interesting research”. It was not only about research really, but also a philosophy applicable to some personal, high-level decisions. Like, what is the most important thing that you need to do beyond satisfying your financial and family goal? What are the most important questions to ask? Why does your effort count as a contribution?

I will try to write a post about this, stay tuned.

Of course, there were a lot of other things I learned specific to the academia and research. I learned how to identify important insights from a pile of data analysis from Jason, best practices of econometrics research workflows from Sofia, analytical modeling from Soumya and Alok.

I still remember the afternoon meeting when Soumya and I pitched the research idea to Alok, and in 10 minutes Alok turned the question into a much interesting one by slightly replacing the subject of the study. We spent the rest 2 hours brainstorming the model and potential issues to be addressed. It was the first time that I felt I am actually creating new knowledge that no one else has ever set foot on.

What’s next

I don’t really know. My advisors were talking about some conferences to present our works. I might also kickstart my first serious independent research project.

One thing for sure, be a better man. I know that I am still quite immature. I procrastinate a lot. I am lazy. I am afraid of uncertainty. I couldn’t imagine how to deal with the responsibilities and the workload of an assistant professor in a top-notch research university, plus some family roles and responsibilities. I am now truly independent (at least financially) for the first time in my life, and the best thing I can say is that I didn’t screw up too badly.

I still haven’t learned to cook. I still have a ton of weaknesses. And I am still learning and experiencing things that could drastically reshape my mindset at any time in 2019.

Facing such great uncertainty, The best thing I can do is to step out of my comfort zone and keep my head down and work. So,

Re: Good job, 2018 Fwd: Keep on the pace, 2019