Dusting chaotic ideas off my mind

Basically, I just want to write down my thoughts

My uphill journey to PCAARRD

I’ve had numerous visits to PCAARRD even before I was hired. My first job as a Research Assistant required that I read a lot of the reports from a particular Division there. Even so, I was surprised when I first entered the Crops Research Division or Crops. It’s about thrice as huge as I was expecting. And it had a wow factor.

The flame of excitement in me died out as soon as I started to work. I felt like my youth was getting sucked out of me as I sat for hours in my new work space. I looked around and felt I was in the “adult world” where people woke up, worked, went home, and slept only to wake up the next day to repeat the cycle.

Being new, there was really not much to do but file documents and familiarize with the projects I will handle. I spent most of my days during the first weeks doing a lot of reading, intercepted only by occasional “Are you okay?” from my colleagues. I forced myself to keep assigning meanings to symbols that form words, sentences, paragraphs, only to realize I had to reread everything as my mind went somewhere else. I was really slow and could not fully comprehend the materials.

I decided to borrow a horticulture-for-dummies book to educate myself. I knew I had to study up even before I accepted the job. But some of the materials required advanced understanding of the subject matter. So for someone like me who has very minimal background in agriculture, I really had to invest time to learn and understand the materials.

For years I have been exposed to terms like cost, revenue, interest rate, exchange rate, prices, incremental changes, efficiency. Meanwhile, in my readings I was encountering words I have not heard in a while, or ever! I was so bad at it, I did not even know what a nursery looked like!

At that point, I was starting to regret a bit my decision to work there. Although I love learning new things and although I know I will eventually learn what I had to learn, however long it would take, seeing that I had to spend a huge portion of my time just to understand the projects, and knowing, at the back of my mind, that I am specializing in economics and not horticulture, I started to question whether putting a lot of effort in learning the materials will be worthwhile.

Having such an idea lurking in my head was poisonous. While I tried to learn new topics, I hesitated in digging too deep into the concepts. So I learned “just enough” to deliver my outputs.

But “just enough” was no longer enough when I had to write articles about technologies being developed in areas of expertise found at the other end of the soft science-hard science spectrum, definitely away from my economics. Translating technical information in a language for laymen involves saying things as simply as possible. And for one to do so, one has to really understand the concepts. How in the world was I going to do that?

I started to feel unfit for the work I was expected to do. I started to doubt my abilities in fitting in, observing the age disparities in the group, and didn’t make a lot of friends. I made minimal social interactions. I was not contributing much to the team and would be easily replaced by someone more suitable for the position I luckily got. Being an econ major, I could not utilize what I knew and what I learned from years of rigorous lessons in school. For a while, I thought, I may have committed a mistake in working there.

My toxic mind altered my perception of reality. For weeks, I started to see my surroundings and myself in a negative light. Every day was filled with hours I had to get through. I told myself I’ll get used to it.

But one day I decided I did not want to get used to it. I did not want to spend a huge chunk of my day only to wait for it to end.

Things started to change for the better when I discovered the root of the problem — me. I held firmly to my presumptions and expectations from the kind of work and people in this new place without giving it a chance to unfold on its own. While I thought I was willing to learn, I prevented myself from immersing into new knowledge and concepts and blocked terms that seemed too technical for me to understand. I tried to deliver outputs in a what-would-he/she-write/say and where-is-the-template fashion when I had my own way of thinking and doing things that may improve the status quo. With economics, I realized I could construct articles with a more complete picture of the issues that certain projects are addressing. I work in a funding agency, and economics is all about optimal allocation of scarce resources. Having this in mind — fund allocation — I finally found a framework I can use when learning new concepts and technologies.

Indeed, when we focus on what we can control, on how we respond to situations instead of succumbing to negativity, great things happen and things come around for the better.

My new outlook refueled my motivation. I was able to find fulfillment in what I do. Eventually, I became more willing to open up to others and to get to know my workmates beyond the small talk stage. I was able to find meaning in what I do and enjoyed working everyday. The office suddenly felt warmer and the group, a family.

It’s sad to leave when attachments are starting to grip, when new friendships are being formed. When I have just started to build rapport with some of the staff. But it would have been sadder to have left without such attachments. And for that I am thankful.

I have so much to thank for, actually.

When I started to welcome the discomfort from “walking in the dark” and “learning the ropes,” I certainly learned a great deal. Were it not for Crops, I would still be making crappy “syntheses” (like that literature survey I did in grad school that got me reprimanded by my professor). Were it not for Crops, I would still be the same passive individual (I would think all those follow-ups forced me to be quite assertive). Were it not for Crops and PCAARRD in general, I would not have found my own voice.

I have made my fair share of blunders. It’s a good thing that the workplace is filled with forgiving, patient people! I am grateful to have worked with smart people  who have growth-oriented mindsets. Always learning. Always looking for ways to improve the system. And everyone is always enjoined to share their insights and ideas, no matter the age or job title. There is mutual respect and professionalism. There is structure and efficiency. There is seriousness and commitment. Yet these people still find time to laugh and enjoy each other’s company.

Looking back, I laugh at the idea of regretting my decision to work there. I brought home a bagful of experiences (and a truckload of memories!) that made me a better person. The learning curve ahead of me is still steep. But everything I got from Crops are tools I can use to help me traverse the course.

So thank you, Crops. Thank you, PCAARRD!

PCAARRD

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Life after college

It’s been a while since the last time I posted something here. It’s been really busy. And chaotic. And overwhelming. I regret not being able to write about my wonderful experiences during my first work. I was a Science Research Analyst/Research Assistant in UPLB. I got the job weeks after graduation in 2013. I met some really awesome people in the office which I now consider as friends. Nearing the end of my contract in 2014, I decided to enroll in Graduate School. At first I thought about taking Masters in Environmental Science. But I changed my mind and stuck with Economics.

I crawled my way out of my first year in Grad School. Man! That was hard! I went berserk. Frantic almost everyday. I remember being tired. I remember trying to sleep only to be awakened by all my worries. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was losing control. I could not manage the stress I felt.

But I went through the process and survived.

Then came the comprehensive exams. About this time last year, I was busy reading a year worth of lessons. I pushed myself hard because I did not want to put all my efforts to waste. I did not want to fail. I did not come this far only to fail in the compre exams, I told myself.

I went on and survived.

Now it’s 2016. I am just a few steps away from graduating with an MS Economics degree. The only thing standing my way is my thesis manuscript. I have everything I need, the data, the software to use for me to run tests on the data: it’s all on me now. I have the resources. All that is left to do is work on it.

Tirelessly.

Incessantly.

Continually.

It’s been really hard. Especially because I have full-time work from 8 in the morning towards 5 in the afternoon. I come home from work, rest my eyes and mind for a while, sometimes succumb a little to recreational activities (for introverts) such as watching TV and scrolling through Facebook, help my mom and brother in doing some house chores, eat dinner, maybe wash dishes, and power nap.

Then, I scrape all the energy I have left to work on my thesis. I know it demands more time and mental energy than what I am giving it for now – and that thought is discomforting for me – but juggling among work, study, and play has its own benefits. So far, I am starting to develop self composure amidst all the tasks I have to finish. I believe there is merit in keeping one’s head together when all it wants is to explode.

It’s been really hard. Especially because I am not sure if my study is heading towards the “right” direction – you know, the direction towards my MS degree. I am not too adept in STATA and econometrics. Not to mention I have not mastered the underlying economic theory that encompasses my study. Organizing the data I need is also taking time. Apparently, I have setbacks in all aspects of my thesis. Yet I cannot push myself too hard, pull out an all-nighter every night, because I have to wake up and perform effectively at work. So I have to sleep at decent hours. But with all the madness, I hardly reach REM. So I end up getting low-quality sleep. I get to thrive the next day, thanks to coffee.

There is so much left to do. I don’t even know how I am supposed to finish everything by November, for my thesis defense. But I have to try. Because there is nothing worse than giving up without giving your all. I am not going down without a fight. Not after everything. At least that is one thing I am sure of.

Ningas Cogon

I can’t believe I failed in this endeavor. Well, I’ve got to try again soon! I copy-pasted this from my previous journal.

 

<ningas cogon>

When I was in elementary, the curriculum made sure that we tackle Filipino values. I’ve learned to accept both the negative and the positive values that we discussed, although I’m having a problem now on how they were agreed upon. For example, whoever decided that Filipinos have the so-called Crab Mentality? I don’t recall my teachers saying anything about the statistics of it. Is there a 90 percent chance that a randomly-selected Filipino citizen actually possesses such a mentality? Another thing is hospitality. Even in media, I recall hearing that hospitality is one of the greatest values of Filipinos, like somehow it is uniquely a Filipino characteristic. But I find that rather unbelievable. When I watch, say, a Hollywood movie I see that Americans are also a tad hospitable. In fact, Anime also show that the Japanese also possess hospitality. The thing is, the Filipino youth is told of Filipino values as if these are a matters-of-fact. I don’t know. It’s just that, looking back, I don’t really see why they had to instill to us how xenocentric Filipinos are. Or, how Filipinos are so fond of the manyana habit – that is, of procrastination.

Anyway, my point actually is that I’m very dedicated in removing one very nasty, disgusting “Filipino value” called ningas cogon from my system. It’s all about how a cogon burns. Initially, the flame is so alive and furious. Then suddenly, after a short while, it dies down. Filipinos are said to possess this kind of attitude. They start so willingly and lively, but end up not finishing the task. My mother told me once how I never finish anything I start, that I always stop at the homestretch. It hurt a little for two reasons. One is that mothers often sugarcoat their children’s ugly characteristics with whatever is good about them. They see the best in us. But this time, my mother didn’t. The second reason why it stung is that I think she’s right. I often do my best on everything I do up to the drop before the very last drop. And that’s the problem. I don’t give everything all the time! Sometimes, I don’t even finish what I start.

Today I’ve made a progressive start on this endeavour. I finished two laps straight in less than 24 minutes! I know, what’s the big deal right? Well I think before I could change the big things, might as well make changes on the micro scale first. Little steps bring us…well, somewhere. What can I say? I was short of breath already before halving the second lap! But I did not stop. I went on and on, step after step, left right left. And then I did it! It felt really nice. It feels nice to finish the target. Next time, I’d have to do the same. Hopefully I get to finish those laps with relative ease. Then after five repetitions, I would have to increase the difficulty of my goal. That’s it. I’m on my way towards a more driven and a more focused way of life. I hope I can maintain the flame.

</ningas cogon>

FIRSTS

I found a set of documents in my laptop and it turned out to be one of my attempts to manage a journal. It’s all about that chapter in my life (which was just last April) when I realized that I’ve finished studying. And I was to embark on the journey of an employee.

<FIRSTS>

Today I realized how I always tell everyone that I love writing, yet I haven’t really accomplished to make a journal for myself. So right now, I am going to – yet again – start my journal. This time though, I think I’m more determined than ever. Besides, I don’t have acads to worry about anymore. I have a lot of time to spare, finally.

I have just decided to write a journal entry everyday during nights. The reason for this is to capture the “theme of the day” which then becomes the title of the entry. The content does not necessarily have anything to do with what has occurred during the rest of the day. Instead, it could be just about realizations that transpired during the day.

And so, I’m calling my first entry “Firsts”. Our firsts mostly happen during our younger years. Our first firsts would be the ones we have forgotten, like the first time we spoke, or walked, or ate normal food. The most memorable firsts must be during high school years, when people start to develop deeper relationships, whether platonic or romantic. We have a first crush, first love, first date, first dance, and for some, perhaps a first kiss.  I would be glad to enumerate them all, but, you know what those are. Besides, high school firsts are treasures forever imprinted in our hearts and minds.

At this moment, I am, as the song One Last Time says “at the threshold of a new life”. And yes, “life is about to be different” again. I remember the night before my first day in high school. I couldn’t sleep whatever I do. I had the rush. I was so excited to finally be a high school-er. On the contrary, the night before my first year in college was just like any other night, which was great because then I was able to sleep and prepare myself for the forthcoming day. College never really bothered me back then. I knew I was prepared since I came from a college preparatory high school.

Fear and worry are products of uncertainty. And for that reason, I do worry and fear a little about what awaits me. It’s no longer about classrooms and sections and subjects and grades and classmates and teachers. As a new member of the Unemployed Club, now it’s about being good or great enough to be accepted by a company. And it scares me a little. This is the “real life” as they say it. For nearly fifteen years of my twenty-year life, I did nothing more than to sit down– sometimes with proper bearing, but most of the time slouched – and listen to the instructor in front of me. But that is about to change.

Well, I hope that some years from now I get to laugh at this entry. You know, I hope I realize how I don’t actually have to worry, and that there’s nothing to be worried about. Well, I also hope that I can get myself out of this U-Club right away!

</FIRSTS>

Who would’ve thought that I’d be getting off from the U-Club early? Thanks to a professor of mine who offered me a job as a Science Research Analyst. And really, even looking back this early makes me smile at this journal. I feel like the 3 month-immersion on this job had already changed me. It’s a nice thought. 🙂

Found this from an ancient treasure chest.

I copy-pasted this from a previous blog that I had.

STUDENT LIFE

Recently, I received a certification from the University where I study, recognizing my accomplishment of having to reach a certain grade last semester. And of course, I am very grateful of what I was able to do. But at the same time, I’m not too crazy about it. Some students strive to be “excellent” by aiming for the highest grade possible, and there’s nothing wrong about that. What bothers me is that it feels as if getting that grade is the most important thing in the world. It’s as if they study to achieve that mark. As if getting 1.0 (highest grade) is everything. As if they wake up each school day thinking of all those quizzes, examinations, and reports. As if they wake up each day just to get through those requirements. How stressful must it be for them, always striving to be the best, always trying not to succumb to pressure. And for what? For higher future income? For self-fulfilment? For recognition?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t abhor the idea of striving for excellence. But I do believe that we must reflect upon ourselves what the purpose of this excellence really is. Or more concretely, why are we trying to study so well when we could just lie low, have fun, and just, well, have fun?

As for me, I actually derive satisfaction from studying. The level of satisfaction that I get would, however, depend on the subject matter. The more interesting subjects would obviously give me higher utility. But unlike the others, I don’t study to get that grade. When I study, I just try to process everything. Try to understand everything, as much as possible. As for where I get the motivation to keep on studying during my lazy hours, well, I try to imagine how lucky I must be to be chosen to study in the University of the Philippines.

UP is a state university and as such, it is subsidized by the government. A portion of tax collections from the whole society is allotted for the school’s operations and would mean relatively lower tuition fees. Therefore, I owe these people a lot. I owe the society a lot. It’s not really about the grade that I get – grades are supposed to be the effect of comprehension – it’s about what I really learn. I have to learn. Then I have to learn to apply what I’ve learned. I feel like this is the only way for me to pay back to society.

Whenever I see those muddy, tattered shoes, or loosely-fit uniform blouses, or those worn off pants of some public school elementary students, I feel like Poverty is really trying to catch my attention. And that as a scholar, I have to help in some way to improve the condition of my country. As a scholar, I don’t have an excuse to just “enjoy.” I have to study well so that when I graduate, I can use the skills that I have learned to help the country in some way.

When I study, my aim is to improve my skills and myself as a person. I study to broaden my bounded rationality. I study to remove my biases. I study to better understand the things that are happening around me. I study to help in finding better solutions to problems. I study to grow as an individual. I study to be a responsible citizen, and not to gain the highest grade possible. I mean, come on. We should study to learn. Grades are but crude estimations of the measurement of how much we have learned, subject to those things that our teachers feel we should’ve learned.

Anyway, I’ll end it here because I feel that mind is starting to slow down. But yeah, how about you?

 

Why do you study?

Something to think about

“The mass had been clamoring for nothing more than equality. Just to site one example, a lot of poor families have insufficient resources to sustain their meals. All they want is for the Government to help them so they could at least have full stomachs. How hard can that be? It seems to be very straightforward, right? Why can’t the Government and the politicians just give them what they want? It doesn’t even matter if the leaders have some other motives – political, that is. It doesn’t matter if they choose to do it just to get the votes of the masses.”

“But they don’t.”

“Why so? When so many Filipinos die of hunger? And if not hunger, malnutrition? If not that, then from diseases, diseases that aren’t even supposed to be terminal?”

“Well, it’s because we have limited resources in the form of funds. Of money. So, the Government has to prioritize. It’s a challenge.”

“How, when, and where should the money be spent? Most importantly, for whom should the money be spent?”

“Then the Government should prioritize the poor families. Anyway, who wouldn’t agree that they are the ones who need the support the most? See, some are so unfortunate that they can’t even eat thrice a day! So, really, do we need to debate and argue about it when it is so straightforward? If children are not given enough food and nutrients, then they can’t absorb what they study. That is the case even if primary education is free. And so with that, the free access to primary education is compromised or worse – rendered useless. And then the cycle repeats when they grow up illiterate and when they get discouraged from searching jobs that won’t accept them. They would settle for jobs that pay much, much less. So less that the wage they receive wouldn’t be enough to sustain their needs. And the cycle of poverty repeats itself.”

“Yes, I get what you mean. But I refuse to believe that it is as simple as that. Remember that the fund used by the Government comes from taxes.”

“Yes, I know that. What’s your point, then?”

“The amount of taxes collected, they are not equal for all. Taxes collected from higher earners are higher. The higher the income of the individual, the higher the tax collected from that individual. ”

“I do know about that. And I believe that is just fair. Well, don’t you?”

“Yes, it is fair. Well, as long as the funds are used for projects that prioritize the higher income earners which are also the higher tax payers.”

“I’m listening.”

“Just try to imagine a simpler model. Perhaps a nation is too large for you to really get down to brass tacks.

Imagine a household with four members: a mother, a father, a daughter, and a son. Now, it’s Family Day. They do not have enough resources, so the mother decided to prepare a chocolate cake and nothing more. Her eldest child, her daughter, went to the mall and bought all the ingredients needed for the preparation. Meanwhile, her son, being only eight years old, stayed at home and played with his friends as he waited.

The daughter went through hell.

Since it was Family Day, the mall was really crowded. Some of the ingredients were already out of stock to make things worse. And so she had to go to another store to look for these missing ingredients. After everything, her patience gets tested by a very jammed traffic flow.

Finally, she arrives.

Her mother asks her to help in preparing and in baking the said cake.

Done. Now, the daughter just needs to do one extra assignment. That is, to wash all the dishes heavy with hard-to-remove icing.

The son is asked by the mother to wash his hands after playing outside with his friends. The father helped in setting the table. Now that everyone is seated, it is time to pray.

Now, it’s time to eat!

Their limited budget produced a quarter-foot radius chocolate cake. How do you think the cake has to be sliced?”

“Well, of course it has to be sliced equally.”

“Do you think that’s fair? No. That may be equal. But that is not fair.

The mother sliced the cake unevenly. Two were substantially larger than the other two. The bigger slices she gave to her husband and to her hungry son who was very tired from running a while ago. Meanwhile, she and her daughter got the two smaller slices.”

“I don’t see why the daughter should receive a small piece, after everything. If I were her, I’d be quite hurt.”

“Exactly. That is exactly why the Government could not just give priority to the poor. In the first place, most of the funds come from the sweat and blood of those who are said to be more fortunate, those who have more money.”

“But the son was too young to help. Moreover, I do believe a lot of ‘sons ‘do not have the capacity to contribute, even if they wanted to. In fact, a lot of them are not even given the chance to contribute more than what they give primarily because they do not have high-paying jobs. Do you think they would hate having higher-paying jobs? No. But they are left with no choice. As I said earlier, no food, no energy. Nothing fuels their minds. It’s hard to study. Also, secondary and tertiary education are very costly. Even if they get to finish primary education, that wouldn’t be sufficient to alleviate them from poverty. You know that. So the Government should help them to prevent the cycle from repeating.”

“I do get what you mean, and I agree. My only point is, it is not as simple as that. Let us not forget that the richer members of our society are the ones who create jobs. They are responsible for employment generation. Even if the poor finish high school or even college, the lack of available jobs will also hinder them from financially progressing. All I am saying is, there are other factors that have to be weighed before the Government could decide on how to allocate the funds. It’s not just about who needs it the most. It’s also about who have contributed the most.

Just try to imagine the behavioral response of the daughter after learning that the fruits of her efforts were given not to her, but to the ones who had little to give during the planting period. Do you think she will be inspired or motivated to help next time? Perhaps she will be coerced to help. But this time around, she might do things a little different. She’d be giving a little less effort.”

“I see…”

“And what about the son? Do you think he would be driven to help? When he could just play around with his friends and get the largest piece in the end? There is no way he would. Giving too much support to the mass may give similar results. It is a form of disincentive to work harder.”

“Then that arrangement can be a disincentive to work for both the rich and the poor?”

“Yes, in its extreme case.

Also, I think the Government can give support in other ways. You know, train them to fish and not give them fish. That will prove to be much more helpful, I believe.”

“Much more sustainable as well.”

“Exactly.”