A blog advocating autism through my own personal experiences and insights.

Posts tagged ‘Graduate school’

The Aging Process

If there is one thing that I’m experiencing right now that’s changing how I go about my life, it’s the change going from a child to an adult. Of course it might seem odd that I’m only commenting on this now when I’m 23 years old and well out of my teens, but this certainly isn’t something I’m coming to experience just now. It’s something that I’ve been experiencing for the past several years and will probably continue to experience until I’m all settled down with a permanent home, a family, a good permanent job, etc.

There have been several examples of this in the past. Going away from home at the end of high school to pursue university and living on my own was a change. Learning to cook meals for myself throughout the summer following my second year at Acadia was a big thing.

But in particular, I’m no longer a child with ASD (autism spectrum disorder). I’m now an adult with ASD. While you don’t have to be autistic to experience a huge transition between being a child and being an adult (who doesn’t), autism has made an impact on my experience with the transitioning process.

One of the most obvious ways it has done so is through how I socialise. As I grow older and in particular through the transitioning process, I’m finding that I have to revise my methods for how I socialise again and again. This isn’t a bad thing. This is a particularly good thing and each revision is bringing me closer and preparing me more for when I do finally settle down (which is still several years away, especially given my endeavours). When I was still a teenager, I virtually had no methods. As I’ve explained repeatedly in my posts, I didn’t have strong motivation to do anything about my social situation. It wasn’t until I was in second year at Acadia that I started addressing this issue with a counsellor. And while I was very successful with some of the strategies we discussed, some of them couldn’t be seen as long-term strategies. While in student residence at Acadia, some of the strategies I used was knocking on people’s doors and going to breakfast with them or just going and knocking in their doors to hang out or such. While there was nothing wrong with this method while I was in residence, it became completely inapplicable once I moved out of residence and into an apartment. The friends I had made while in residence I found hard to keep in contact with because we didn’t have a few simple walls or floors separating us. We were separated by streets. And as a result, I saw them far less often since I couldn’t use my “residence methods”.

A more recent example is going from being an undergraduate student to being a graduate student. Moving to waterloo has certainly been a transition in a lot of ways socially. It was a bigger adjustment than starting at Acadia. When I first started at Acadia, I wasn’t all that concerned for a social life. I took immense pleasure in my studies and put in 75-80 hours/week on school including class time! And the fact that I was already familiar with a lot of the concepts in class eased me as well. With waterloo, the exact opposite happened. Instead of being ahead, I was suddenly behind! And taking a couple of terms by focusing on undergraduate courses, I not only gave myself time to catch up with what I needed to know, but it has also given me time to get settled in into the new environment. And I’ve observed that a lot of things are different between the lives of graduate students and undergraduate students.

A lot of the social opportunities get stripped away in going into graduate studies and it isn’t all because the work in graduate studies is more intense. There are other reasons. The classes you take are limited to your department, while as an undergraduate student you could take classes in a wide variety of subjects, thus making it easier to talk with a wide range of people. I absolutely loved being able to talk to complete math phobes at Acadia. It made me feel like I wasn’t living in my own little world, but was experience more of what life had to offer. In graduate studies, your colleagues are limited to those in your subject. Likewise it’s more difficult to enjoy meals with people. Where are all my residence friends? Where’s our daily hike up to meal hall? None exist anymore. And despite that waterloo has graduate residences, they aren’t as close knit as the undergrad ones (at least from my experience at Acadia).

But while graduate studies has issued me with all these new challenges to come up with new strategies with which to feed my hunger to socialise, almost every other option would’ve forced me with the same challenges. If I had decided to discard graduate studies, the challenges for a social life wouldn’t be any easier. If I had decided to go for a paid job instead, I would still be coming home alone most nights and cooking and having supper by myself. My colleagues would still be limited to the field that I chose to work in. The social luxuries that being an undergraduate student have to offer just wouldn’t be there.

And I don’t take this to be something that should be made different. I think these changes are particularly good in fact. I’m also beginning to adjust to the adult world in a few other ways too. Realising I was running low on jeans last semester, I went out to the Bay and bought myself a couple of pairs. I have no interest in clothes shopping, but I did it anyway. I tried on a few pairs and picked the two that fitted me the best. It felt good to be able to take care of myself in this way. Likewise I’m beginning to listen to the news on ctv.ca a day here and there. Watching the news also makes me feel I’m not living just inside my head. It also gives me topics to talk about in conversation as well as inspiration for my writing.

And what am I going to do with all these experiences of aging and with autism in general? As an adult with ASD, I am about to help others with the same condition as well. I have decided to help out with an autism organisation here at waterloo by sharing my experiences for further research in the needs of adults with ASD and to share with families with autistic children the challenges of living with autism. Cliché as this may sound, I hope I can make a difference in their lives!

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Hard Solid Evidence

Two years ago I was battling perfectionism. I know I’ve elaborate in a lot of ways of how perfectionism influences my life, but something new has developed with respect to it. More specifically I’ve managed to find one large piece of evidence for why I didn’t have to be so perfectionistic back then. Of course a lot of the time simple reasoning a lot of the time tells you whether you’re being too perfectionistic or if your fears are irrational, but rational thinking often doesn’t work for overriding the emotions of perfectionism. Hard evidence is needed.

Two years ago I bought a book on perfectionism Never Good Enough by Monica Ramirez Basco that really got me thinking and changing my perfectionism. The book worked out really well and I’ve already referenced it in another blog post. But one thing I was most perfectionistic about it at this time of my life was what to do with my two interests in math and philosophy. Having decided to double major in philosophy with my math degree, I knew that I had to make choices. I only declared my philosophy major in my third year of undergrad and so had to do a lot of philosophy courses in my final year. What this amounted to though was that I needed to drop at least one math course that I was interested in taking in my final year unless I wanted to overload.

And I actually did consider doing the overload. But as a councillor at Acadia warned me after I had run to her office at the end of the fall term of that year because I didn’t feel I did well enough on a math exam to earn an A+ in that math course was that the plan was very dangerous. If my perfectionism was stressing myself out this much in taking only a normal load, imagine what would’ve happened if I had decided on the overload. And so it was for that reason that I dropped the overload option. I may have toyed with one or a couple more options here and there, but as you know if you’ve been reading this blog was that I sacrificed a math course in the end.

Before I go on, I would like to point out one error that I’ve made in a previous post. I had a terrible time last term and alluded to the fact that it was because the math program at my undergrad university Acadia didn’t prepare me well enough for the grad program here. I have since spoken to my old honours supervisor from there (who I might has always thought the best of me). He came to waterloo to give an oral exam to a PhD student there and was even nice enough to give a talk on the research on fractal geometry I did with him at Acadia, which I did my Acadia honours thesis on. Anyway, I spoke to him about Acadia’s math program and guess what? Apparently it really was the case that the one math course that I missed out on at Acadia would’ve really prepared me all that much more in doing graduate studies. I had been relying mainly on what another math student who had taken the course told me, but after talking to my honours supervisor I found out the student hadn’t remembered correctly. Anyway, so the official conclusion was that there is nothing wrong with Acadia’s math program.

But here’s the rub. This is exactly what I feared two years ago when I was trying to decide what I should take in my final year at Acadia. I feared that losing at least one math course would under prepare me for graduate school. And due to how graduate school is going, it certainly looks like those fears did come true, didn’t they?

How brilliant! How prophetic can I get!

Well, no. Not really. That isn’t the point. Let me explain. When I was reading Never Good Enough, I actually did an exercise in there that helped me keep calm and reduce my fear of making the wrong choices. And one of the choices I felt would lead to unpredictable consequences was indeed sacrificing a math course while at Acadia. Now it’s two years later. And while I must say that it did lead to undesirable effects, the effects haven’t been as bad as they could be. Okay, so I suffered a lot, and eventually had math almost become my whole life last term. But I have been fortunate enough to be put on a probationary period to take a few undergrad classes. And that seems to be going well so far not to mention the benefits I have reaped from abolishing academic perfectionism from my life and gaining a whole new drive to obtain more of a social life.

So at the end of the day, it all seems to be working out. I made my choices and the obvious disadvantages of it are resolving themselves if they haven’t done so completely already. I’m still pursuing math. I’m behind two or three terms because of it, but am still actively doing it. Of course, I’m not necessarily suggesting that we have to ignore the implications of our choices, but to not worry too much if we’re faced with a dilemma in our life.

I faced a problem. And now it’s working itself out. So I now have a solid piece of evidence in my life that suggests that worrying about choices especially in dilemmas can indeed become unnecessary.

Why I’m Making the Choices I Am Part 2

In my last post I explained the biggest transition that happened in my life: how over the course of a year my passions changed from math to fiction writing. I would now like to continue on with what I said in that post. As I explained, my passions changed at least in part because of how love searching for and obtaining truth. Mathematics in its pure form was an interest since early childhood because of this. The truth of math was readily apparent and I didn’t need to have great mathematical maturity in order to appreciate it and its beauty. Fiction writing, on the other hand, only became a great passion thus taking over math in only the last year and a half because appreciation its truth requires one (at least in my case) to have experience of the world around them.

So right after fiction writing took over, I really had to wonder what do about it all. The pursuit of fiction writing is different from the pursuit of academia. You go at it alone. And at the end of it all, the chances of making a living out of it are slim at best. So from a practical perspective at least, it seemed like no decision really had to be made. I’d continue on with academia and continue with fiction writing as something I do on the side and hope for the best. And in a way, while I have chosen to continue on with academia (at least for the time being), the reasons why have less to do with the practical perspective and more to do what I’m interested in writing.

And what am I interested in writing? Well, before fiction writing took over the math, I wanted to write mystery novels. But when fiction writing took over math that changed. It’s not as if I was thinking “I love to write fiction. I absolutely dislike academia now.” I wouldn’t have chosen to go to graduate school if I had thought like that. In truth I still liked academia. It’s just that I decided that I liked fiction writing more. Yet I wanted to keep math and philosophy in my life. (Of course, the practical perspective is rolling its eyes now and saying, “What’s your problem? That’s your day job as a writer. Almost every writer has one of those.”). So how did I want to do this? Well, when I became interested in philosophy, I thought about combining math and philosophy and going into the philosophy of math. Combining math and philosophy with fiction writing? Write novels about math and philosophy! Write science fiction novels that involve deep pure mathematics and deep ideas in philosophy. And since I also like mystery I could throw in a mystery in each novel to boot.

But here’s the catch: if I wanted to write novels about these kinds of things, I wanted to know a lot about math and philosophy in order to write them. Well, that’s easy enough, I thought. Two PhDs, one in math and one in philosophy, should do the trick.

And this is the number one reason I’m in graduate school. So I can do this kind of thing.

Now, I have both the passion and practical sides shouting how absurd this plan is. Passion: Do you really want to pursue all these years of school and then have to climb up to tenure to take over so much time in your life when you could be writing? Practical: You’ve just made your chances of success even worse. Math-phobia is pretty much widespread and to attempt to explain deep math in a novel that a reader is supposed to enjoy and at least somewhat understand in his spare time and that which a publisher is supposed to find engaging as he goes through his slush pile of manuscripts is pure insanity. Not to mention you may be overdoing your resume when you apply for a “day job” as an academic.

Both of these positions have certainly swayed me. For example, last term was a nightmare and as a result really made me question my plans. Maybe it would just be better to read about math in my spare time. Although now that everything is better academically, I’ve still decided to stick with this plan. Besides engaging with actual professors and other students is probably the best way since I will then get a lot of guidance toward learning math and engaging in research. As well, I haven’t found very many mathematical novels. I haven’t read a lot of science fiction, but in looking at blurbs on websites and bookstores, I can really tell that it’s a very uncommon genre.

So why do I choose to stick with this plan? Because of the huge passion it generates within me. I’ve found my dream and have chosen to go along with it. That might sound a bit too simple and a bit corny and cliché, but it is true. A heavy cost with little chance of success comes with it, but so what? At least given how highly strange this path is I have the comfort of knowing how strong I am in not letting the pressures from society tempt me otherwise.

And I think that’s a skill a writer should acquire anyway.

I can choose between two attitudes. The first is to complain how I have totally unmarketable ideas and how my dream will be laughed at not only by publishers, but society at large. Or I can take the attitude the uniqueness of my ideas is what makes them special and how I’m so lucky to have such wonderful ideas. Who knows? Maybe I’ll explode the genre of mathematical fiction and increase the public’s understanding and appreciation of math.

But it’s scary. I really have no idea what the future holds in store for me. And one can only speculate so much about it. I also have fears if I fail. I worry about how much fiction writing passion will drive me and how much of other aspects of my life I will end up sacrificing for it. This is probably my biggest fear. But while I can speculate on my success until the cows come home, any aspiring writer should just sit down and write the damn book.

A post on another blog that portrays my feelings exactly is the following: Starving For More. It’s by another aspiring writer and how she describes how it’s her dream of becoming a writer and how her fate is so uncertain and if she’ll end up joining all of the starving writers and artists out there who are dying penniless. I especially love the last line.

“And maybe I’ll never be awarded my own turn, but that’s OK. As long as I’m starving, at least I know I’m hungry for something more.”

I know what I’m hungry for. The truth. And like her and every other aspiring fiction writer out there, I await my fate.