• Andrew H.

Checkpoint | An important reflection

At the time of writing this, the atmosphere surrounding the United States is fairly gloomy considering recent events related to not only Covid-19, but also the death of George Floyd. Following the end of 2019's winter quarter, I'd enter the spring portion of the year by moving out of my dorm and back into the home occupied by my single mother and my dog Leo. While I was excited to see my mother and my sisters who had their own homes, I was well aware that the upcoming transition was going to be difficult. It had seemed as if I was heading into a mission alone.

I'm writing this particular post to show that while persistence is an important factor in accomplishing that one goal you have in mind, your mental health should be prioritized and properly treated as the structure that upholds all ambition. Throughout the majority of the school year, I spent my time adjusting to the rapid pace of work as transfer student, but I made many observations that fueled my work ethic. My courses involving cognitive science were amazing, as they covered varying topics related to neuroscience and social cognition(which stirred me towards my position with (CCL), but I found myself truly in love with the behavior of mathematics as I jumped from topic to topic among my math classes.

I enjoyed working as if I was in a sweatshop, proving mathematical proof after proof, and staring at theorems for hours at a time until some fuse in my head gave me the intuition I needed. However, as an object occupying a single seat in the large room where my upper division math classes were held, I was hurt in acknowledging that I was one of few Latinos. This was something I was well aware of, where my classes felt less and less diverse as I stirred away from cognitive phenomena and towards more rigorous work involving upper-division probability and calculus. I didn't completely understand this at first, but I assumed that socioeconomic factors were at play, and I had to acknowledge that in comparison to many other Latino families that I'm close to, I'm fairly privileged.

I was and am grateful to have an opportunity to study what I love, but over many phone calls to my mother, I'd speak of the pain and anger that I felt feeling isolated and disconnected from others in a cultural sense as I went into the inner layer of the stem field's trunk. I wasn't isolated and inhibited from making friends with others, as I got the chance to make many relationships with students, but I felt as if I had an important role to play since I felt encouraged to carry the pride of my heritage and show others that they're capable too. I'd have an internal battle to outwork and out study others so that I'd be capable of being a model for those back home, and so that I could send a friendly message to others that "we can too."

However, heading into spring quarter, I was practically isolated. I had no way to socialize with others since my classes were fully online, and brief Zoom meetings didn't satisfy my human need for socialization. I wanted to communicate my ambition, see others smile, and work restless with my peers, yet I would remain contained in my study office for hours and hours isolated, while my mother spent the majority of the day at work. This is where the virus really hit, I felt as if my work was placed on pause. Not even being able to go out to a coffee shop, I would eventually feel as if my mental health was deteriorating. I took five classes during the spring quarter to adjust for the extra time at home, but after a few weeks, I had felt like a slave hacking at a computer with no one to communicate with. I continued to work on exciting assignments for my position at the Comparative Cognition Lab, but overall, I didn't feel as if I was truly learning. Despite understanding that the environment around me had turned cold, I continued to fantasize over some goal of outworking others, which merely led to my downfall. Around week 6, I was starting to feel depressed, and I was longing for the ability to grab lunch with my family, but my work ethic and the virus wouldn't give me a break, leading to a slight depression and loss of drive. Along with this, my aunt was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in her brain, and I had felt emotionally numb and all I wanted was to just crash the train.

I don't want this post to get too long, so I'll close in on what I've learned. Sometimes, smaller steps are better steps. While events are unpredictable, it's important to acknowledge stimuli in the environment and it's ability to influence our performance on some measurable task. While It was one hell of a quarter, I got through it. This was the second quarter in a row where I took five classes, but I will no longer do so and I'll focus on enjoying future classes and having time to simply breathe. I'm excited for next school year, as I'l finally be getting closer to the machine learning content that I love. Along lab related tasks, I intend to use the summer to get a head start on my classes. In particular, I want to review my linear algebra, study optimization problems, and go over some exams for the upcoming courses I'll be taking. I'd love to use my time now to review the class content and use the time in fall to make connections with my professor and help other students that need assistance. This will allow me to enjoy the class content and fill in gaps that I couldn't acknowledge when I was sprinting along the track. Lastly, thank you to all who have managed to read up to this point.

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