aryanhwy: (Default)
Today my advanced seminar switched gears from the formal logic we've been doing since October to philosophy of math. I still want the presentations to be student-given, but it's very different covering a chapter of philosophy, including motivating discussion, than it is covering a bunch of technical definitions, lemmas, proofs, etc., so I wasn't sure how things were going to go.

I couldn't have been happier. The student who volunteered for this week smashed the presentation and was very good at guiding and directing discussion, and pretty much everyone in the room was willing to talk -- and more importantly, to talk to each other rather than to me. I tried to stay in the background as much as possible, because as soon as The Teacher speaks, especially to ask a question, then the discussion suddenly becomes Students Answering the Teacher's Question, rather than a philosophical discussion.

Today was an overview of issues in philosophy of mathematics, which boil down basically to: What is the ontology of mathematics? and What is the epistemology of mathematics? I.e., what are mathematical objects, and how do we know things about them?

A lot of people already have some strong leanings towards various positions, either from their own mathematical practices, or from other metaphysical or epistemology leanings they have independently from math, and it was fun seeing them beginning to articulate these leanings to each other. At one point, one student boldly proclaimed that "THIS is what philosophy is for"---not those 'soft' questions in ethics about utilitarianism vs. consequentialism, etc. (I LOVE that "determining the real nature of mathematical objects and how mathematics relates to the world" is what they think is the most important goal/pursuit of philosophy. I guess I shouldn't be surprised; they're all taking this class!).

Another brought up the very good question of what the difference is between dragons and numbers, on an anti-realist position. One person had an answer: "Practicality. We use numbers and dragons differently".

Someone else advanced the rather bold claim that not only do we apply numbers to the real world because they work, but also the converse -- numbers work because we use them.

I am really looking forward to the coming weeks' discussions.
aryanhwy: (Default)
....except not quite.

One thing I love about teaching is getting to revisit old favorites from my own undergrad days. When my 2nd years last year indicated they wanted to do some philosophy of math this year, I knew exactly what book to go to -- Stewart Shapiro's Thinking About Mathematics, which I had as a textbook in Mike Byrd's grad-level philosophy of math course. (This will not be the first time that I'm teaching undergrads things I either got in a grad course or have previously taught in a grad course. I'm working under the assumption that if I don't tell them this is hard, they won't know. So far, it's working beautifully.)

We're starting this topic next week in seminar, so today I spent the day curled up reading a book and taking notes. It feels like being an undergrad again, the entire process is one that I don't often have to do any more (particularly this year, I have rarely had to do any teach prep earlier than about 1-1.5 hours in advance of when I teach. Reading something almost a week in advance and taking notes is uber-preparation for me!)

One thing I love about teaching from books I used as an undergrad is seeing all my notes from that era. The name/date in this book is from almost exactly 15 years ago -- January 2002. It's not as heavily annotated as some, but there is one page where the entire margin is covered in a rant against intuitionism:


And in another place you can tell from the non-verbal notes alone the strength of 20-year-old me's realism:


Sometimes I still agree with 20-year-old me's comments, sometimes my views have tempered a bit over time.

It does feel very much like being an undergrad again, except not in one very specific way. Poor Gwen had a cough yesterday that developed into an awful chesty phlegmy thing overnight, and then woke up crying "my ear hurts!" and a bit later "my heart hurts!" so we took a trip down to the doctor in the morning. The diagnosis was viral, so plenty of rest prescribed. Since I'm still feeling under the weather myself, we've both spent most of the day in bed watching movies (and look over, I think she's now on to her second nap).

I think 20-year-old me would've been pretty pleased to find out that 15 years later, I not only get to read the same things that enthused and inspired me then, but they still enthuse and inspire me now, and not only that, I get to touch them as they were taught to me, and not only that, I get to do it while cuddled up in bed, sick kid in one arm, cat in the other. Okay, she probably would've preferred the kid to not be sick, but if the choice is between sick kid and no kid, I'll take the sick kid any day of the week.
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The worst part about school? School holidays...which OF COURSE do not match up with academic holidays. When Gwen was at nursery, nursery was open every day that the university was open, with the exception of the first May bank holiday (I never understood why, of the two May bank holidays, academic staff, including nursery staff, got both of them, off, but faculty ONLY GOT ONE OF THEM. Plz explain to me how is fair?), so we didn't have to worry about whether it was term time or out of term time.

School, however, has this dreaded week called half-term. Or in the case of the Choristers, a dreaded week and a half.

I failed at adulting when it came to advanced plans, and about two weeks in advance of it found me texting the rest of the moms in Gwen's class going "so....what exactly do you guys do for child care during half term?" Of course, most of them either have at least one stay-at-home parent or don't live in Durham so their options don't apply. But one of them is AMAZING, and said "I could take Gwen Tuesday or Wednesday for the day, if you want. Or, I could do both days and she could spend the night." And then invited the third girl in the class over, so for about two weeks now Gwen has been SO EXCITED about the prospect of having a "girl's night out" with T. and N. It'll be her first sleep-over, despite the fact she's been asking for one for six months or so now.

But that still left five days.

Gwen's passport expires in December, which means we need to get it renewed before we go to the US for Christmas, which means a trip to London, which means taking her out of school for a day -- unless we could do it during half-term. But given MY teaching schedule, we couldn't find any day that I was free from teaching or could reliably be sure I'd be back in time for an afternoon class. So in the end, Joel picked Gwen up when school let out on Wednesday, and the two of them went down that evening for a Thursday morning appointment. That took up all day, and also meant I didn't have to figure out how to get her from school at 15:15 when it was the day of the first Board of Studies meeting of term, which generally lasts from 14:00-17:00.

Another mother texted me that St. Oswald's (another school in town) runs a holiday club that her two children go to, one in Gwen's class and one in an older class whom Gwen has made friends with. I sent them an email, with no response, and finally called them about a week in advance. They could take her Monday, Thursday, and Friday.

So that left today, when I had Latin reading group in the morning, a tutorial in the afternoon, and then a meeting with a student. Normally, for one tutorial, I'd bite the bullet and bring her with, but this one was the first of term, which has a somewhat different dynamic. So I sent out an email to three of my colleagues -- one who is a mother, one who shares the office next to mine, and one who is the aunt of one of Gwen's best friends whom I happened to be scheduled to babysit Wednesday night... -- and thankfully "Auntie Liz" said Gwen could spend the hour in her office.

So today, Gwen played in my office for about an hour, and then watched CBeebies with the headphones on for 1.5 hours while I skyped into reading group; then we had lunch at the pub together (chips and beans, mushy peas, and blackcurrant cordial); then I settled her in Liz's office chair with headphones and my laptop and 101 Dalmations on youtube. Apparently she was good company, and she then happily colored on my whiteboard for another hour until my student came, at which time I set her up with the remainder of the movie.

By the time my student left, it was about 15:30 and the most appropriate thing to do was go and meet Thomas and Gemma at the pub. Because if there is one thing I have won at in terms of parenting, it is having trained my child to entertain herself while I drink beer. She adores Thomas, and loves seeing Gemma when she can, and while I had a pint and a half she drank another glass of blackcurrant (with a bendy straw!) and didn't even tease for more when she was done with it. Instead, she sat nicely with us for awhile, and then ended up taking my phone over to another table and sat by herself, quietly, playing games. When she grew bored with that, she took her stuffed animals to a couch and lay down to "rest", and for a moment I almost thought she'd actually fallen asleep. (And indeed she was tired enough that I promised to carry her part of the way home.)

You do what you gotta do...


Sep. 22nd, 2016 09:23 am
aryanhwy: (Default)
Back in spring I joined an "Academic Mamas" group on FB, and it's been quite interesting. One thing that has recently come to the fore, in many different threads, is what students should call their teachers. There are a lot of people in the group who are very exercised by ensuring that their students call them "Prof. X" or "Dr. X" and not "hey [given name]" or "M(r)s. X".

I can understand stressing the importance of using Prof. or Dr. rather than a gendered title reflecting marital status, since the latter has no place in the classroom; I still remember my first course at UW-Marshfield/Wood County, and the first thing the teacher said was "You can call me Julie or Dr. Tharp, but Mrs. Tharp is my mother-in-law, and I will not answer to that." But what I find interesting is the number of people who take umbrage at the idea of their students calling them by their first name, and the reason many of them give is that it undermines their authority in the classroom, and they insist on the use of their formal title as a sign of authority and respect.

I find this baffling.

Maybe it's because, even 7+ years, "Dr. Uckelman" just isn't who I am. Dr. Uckelman is a person who writes snooty, irritated complaint letters, or who opens a bank account, or who has only recently gotten used to being "Mrs. Uckelman" on account of having a child. (This is an interesting side topic: I got used to being "Sara Uckelman" pretty quickly after getting married. But being "Mrs. Uckelman" remained a very weird concept, in part because growing up, my mom was "Mrs. Friedemann" mostly in contexts that involved her being my mother, not her being my dad's wife. So it was weird to be a Mrs. without kids. Since I've had Gwen, I've found it easier to be Mrs. Uckelman -- though since I had Gwen after the PhD, I often feel torn and that I should be Dr. Uckelman to these people.) Maybe it's because I started teaching back when I was still "Miss Friedemann" and like heck was I going to let ANYONE know this; in a sense, I established my authority in my first teaching experience by being Sara, rather than by being [title] [surname], and that is what I have become comfortable with. I respect that some students may be more comfortable with calling me Dr. Uckelman than calling me Sara; but that's their prerogative. I find it off-putting, especially when it's amongst students I work closely with or who are my supervisees; I worry that they do it because they feel that they must keep me at a distance, and I don't want them to feel that way. But I am not going to insist that they call me something that they are not comfortable calling me with. I'll just keep signing my emails "Sara", and eventually they'll come around.

Because with one exception, I don't recall any case where I felt like my authority in the classroom was compromised. The exception was when I was TAing intro logic with Antonio Rauti, so this had to have been my 2nd year in grad school, so I was 21, possibly (if it was second semester) soon to be 22. I had a student, a graduating senior (i.e., he had to be a year older than me) double majoring in math and computer science and already accepted to grad programs at Harvard and Stanford. He was taking Phil 211 because he needed humanities credits to graduate, and it made it clear during the first tutorial that he was unimpressed with the idea of a young woman teaching him logic.

The last day of class, he came up, shook my hand, and said basically that he thought I'd done a good job and he took back his comments (not in so many words, but that was clearly the intent).

Which makes me wonder: What is it about me or my teaching style that I am not encountering the sorts of disrespect and lack of authority that these other women, who insist that their students keep them at arm's length? While I'd like to say that I'm just a natural in the classroom someone who can command respect regardless of age or gender, I think a much more likely explanation is the same one as for why I feel like I've made it as far as I have in academia without experiencing the overt sexism that many other women have had: I'm simply oblivious to it. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. If I don't feel like I am not maintaining my authority in the class room, does it matter then if I am or not? (In this case, authority is very different from sexism: If I am oblivious to the sexism, it's still happening. But if I am oblivious to my authority being undermined, is it being undermined?)

As I said in one of the twitter conversations this spawned, I like teaching 18+ people because they have the potential to be my peers. In terms of being fellow adults responsible for themselves, they already are my peers. Maybe in terms of the academy, they aren't my peers when they arrive fresh faced first term first year. But part of my job is to get them to the point where they can be them by the end of their 3rd years, by the time they're doing actual real research underneath me, by the time we're covering advanced topics in their classes. I want to be able to send these students drafts of my papers, to show them what the research process looks like. I want to encourage them to write papers with me. I want them to feel a part of a research group. This will never happen if they are always [given name] and I am always Dr. X. Why not establish things as I mean to go on? I don't want to spend the first year or two teaching them to call me Dr. Uckelman only to then try my best to get them to say "Sara" in their final year: This doesn't make sense.

Finally, I also asked a bunch of the women: If you insist that they call you "Dr. X" as a sign of respect, do you in return call them "Mr./Ms./Mx. X"? For the most part, the answer was no, and the reason given was that "Dr." is an earned title but "Mr./Ms./Mx." is not. I'm not sure I understand this as an explanation. Partly because, while "Dr." is an earned title, most of us cannot say that we earned our position at university, teaching these people, or that we deserve to be there (this isn't to say that our being there isn't merited); academia is such a crap shoot, that I feel it is more pure luck rather than any just desserts on my part that has put me in front of my students.
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Inspired by my success at Logic Colloquium last month, I decided today that not only was I going to not go back to my hotel to hide instead of having dinner, I was going to make sure I had dinner with someone. (Two important facts: One, the conference ran from 9am to 7pm with too few coffee breaks in the afternoon. Two, there's a restaurant in my hotel that I could've eaten at, so I had a legitimate alternative to going back to my hotel and hiding that didn't involve other people.)

One of the short talks this afternoon was really interesting, and I chatted with the speaker, and one of his friends, during the coffee break. So when they were hanging around looking up something on her ipad after things broke in the evening, I walked over and asked if they'd ever been to Budapest before, and if they knew of any good places to eat. Turns out, Diana was getting recommendations from tripadvisor and had just found something highly recommended not far from us. So I boldly invited myself along, and we set out. Tripadvisor did not lie: Bors Gasztrobar was delicious, and worth the wait. They're a take-away gastro-pub selling baguettes and soup, and their tiny space was squashed full with people ordering. When we finally got our sandwiches, we sat down on the back of a truck parked right in front to eat. I was feeling proud of myself for having initiated contact, AND having gotten excellent food and some friendly conversation out of it, when Joan said abruptly, "I read a bunch of your papers for my master's thesis. I really enjoyed them, and wanted to tell you, but didn't really know how, so I'm just telling you." Turns out he'd wanted to talk to me at Logic Colloquium last month, but apparently was unsure of how to initiate a conversation!

Sometimes, it's good to remember that the uncertainty can be two-sided -- and this is likely to happen more and more often as I get older and become more senior. Someone asked in another conversation if I was at the last AiML, and I said "I've been at every AiML since Manchester, except for Australia". Manchester AiML was 2004, TWELVE years ago. People who are PhD students now were still in high school, or even grade school, in 2004. It's weird how simply being around a long time is enough to transition you.
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Monday and Tuesday I went down to Leeds for Logic Colloquium. It runs until Saturday morning, but we leave for Raglan on Saturday morning, and I have enough stuff to do, that it didn't make sense to stay for the whole conference. My talk was at the end of the day on Monday, after which I couldn't have gotten home early enough for Joel to get anything done at the new house, so I spent the night with a SCAdian friend and stayed for most of the next day (which turned out to be a very good idea, since I got an email Tuesday morning from someone who had been hoping to meet me at the conference, so we were able to have lunch together).

Logic Colloquium is a big conference -- my talk was just a contributed one, so there were 6 other talks going on at the same time, but even so I had between 60 and 70 people in my audience -- and pretty heavily skewed to the mathematical. My talk was in the "history of logic" panel on Monday; it was one of three talks in the session, and that session was the ONLY one on history. Compare this with five talks in the session on "philosophical logic", and the eight sessions just on model theory. The last Logic Colloquium I went to was the one in Nimegen, back in 2006, I believe. All this combines to make a conference where the percentage of people that I know vaguely is very small, and the percentage of people that I know well almost 0.

10 years ago, this would've been horribly daunting. I remember Nijmegen being intensely uncomfortable because there were ALL THESE PEOPLE that I didn't know and didn't know me and they were all talking about things I didn't know anything about and I was talking about something they didn't care about (I again talked on a historical topic; and I remember that session being markedly smaller). I was so glad Joel was there, and other people from the ILLC, so I wasn't completely alone, but it was tough.

It was tough in the way a lot of conferences were tough in the early years of my PhD. So that was the image I had in mind when, after a morning of talks in a huge lecture hall where I didn't see anyone I recognized, I had to make plans for lunch. Did I want to admit I'd have no one to eat with and simply go to one of the restaurants nearby? Or did I want to head to the refectory like most of the other conferencers and try to insinuate myself into a table where they were sitting? Interestingly, I thought of Glumbunny's recent post and my response to it, and recognizing that simply the fact that the options I was considering were "lunch by self or lunch with others" rather than "lunch or skip lunch" showed how much braver I've gotten over the years, so I decided to head to the refectory; and of course, on the way there, bumped into someone whom I first meet in 2005, the summer before we moved to Amsterdam, when we were at the same two-week proof theory course at Notre Dame. The last time we'd seen each other was at LC Nijmegen, a decade ago. A decade ago, I would've made awkward talk and then disappeared off onto my own, but instead, I got my food, went to the table he was at, asked if I could join, and then made conversation! How have you been, where are you at now, do you like it, what do you teach, how many others in your department are as marvelous. I had this entire litany of questions to ask and we had a very nice conversation!

10 years ago, it never would've occurred to me that one could learn social skills. Social interactions always seemed to be such an unbounded, chaotic enterprise, that the very idea that there could be rules or patterns or tropes that one could take advantage of seemed mystifying. If there is one thing I could go back and tell 10-years-ago me, it would be that that's not true. That the other people who are standing awkwardly around the coffee breaks not talking to anyone are probably not talking to anyone because they don't have anyone to talk to, not because they don't want to talk. That if you go over and ask them what they think about the talk they just went to (whether or not you went to the same one), they'll probably be glad that someone talked to them. That pretty much no one is going to be insulted if you ask them what they're working on, or what they will be teaching in fall, or whether they've done any sightseeing in the area or plan to. That the set of questions they will ask you is relatively predictable, so you can think about potential answers in advance. That there are polite exit strategies, such as "I need to go finish my slides" or "I'm going to get another cup of tea".

It's marvelous: I can now go to conferences armed with concrete strategies for talking with people. Best discovery I've made this decade.
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It's not that I haven't been writing, it's that I've been writing A LOT, just elsewhere. Most of it here, but some of it here and here, plus academic writing, and trying to put in my 400 words regularly. Plus another writing thing, which will get another post. I had once made the decision not to fragment, that I would write everything here, but this eventually turned out to be unfeasible; first the C&I blog split off, and then I had dedicated/project-specific blogs, and then I re-invented Diary of Dr. Logic as a space in which I could right relatively public facing pieces about philosophy, logic, and academia (so if you're interested in any of those, head on over!), as opposed to this space which is moderately personally facing; it's all public, but I didn't feel the need to actively advertise my blathering about my child to unknown academic peers.

So, what's new? I survived another academic year; one of my thesis supervisees got the highest thesis mark of all the philosophers (v. proud), another one is headed to Stanford for his master's. Today is the two year anniversary of officially accepting the position in Durham; I'm still amazed at my good luck. Last week I got back from two weeks in Australia (conferences! Meeting SCAdian friends in person! logic! beer! echidnas! and -- as you can read in the most recent Dr. Logic post, some experiences the writing up of which has garnered me 1500+ post views, and two write-ups in big name philosophy blogs (Feminist Philosophers and Daily Nous), which is a very weird sort of fame. What academic piece will I ever write that will ever be read as much as that post?

Monday Gwen "graduated" from nursery, complete with caps and gowns. While I find this aping of the adult ceremony rather gauche, I have to admit, it is amazingly cute:


As they called each child forward to receive a certificate, the head teacher announced one thing that the child would be remembered for. Many will be remembered for being kind, a good friend, imaginative, etc. Gwen's friend D. will be remembered for spelling out her name to anyone who asked what her name was; her friend T. will be remembered for once explaining at group time that all of his blood had been removed from his body and hence he could not be expected to participate; and Gwen will be remembered as the child who when asked what she wanted to have to drink for lunch, replied, "I'll have wine".

(I see I haven't recounted that anecdote here. One evening when I picked Gwen up, her teacher pulled me aside with that look/tone of "she's had an accident/been exceptionally naughty". "I asked Gwen whether she wanted to have milk or water with lunch..." [and I started thinking, did she ask for milk? did it make her ill? what happened?] "...and she thought, and said, 'I'd like wine!'" Ah, my girl. :) )

Australia deserves a post of its own. We'll see if it gets one.
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Last year I joined twitter, and starting butting my head into other people's conversations (because that's what twitter appears to be). As a result of this, I received an invitation to come to Munich, give a talk, and be interviewed for the History of Philosophy Without Gaps podcast (the episode is not yet available). The talk I gave in Munich was on my growing research in women and logic in the Middle Ages, so the guy running HoPWG mentioned that there was going to be a women in the history of philosophy conference in Cambridge the next summer that I might be interested in. In fact, it went even further: He told the organizers about my research and they added me to the list of invited speakers.

So tomorrow there's this one day conference in Cambridge that I'll be talking at. But it starts early enough in the morning there's no way I could take the train down the same day. They agreed to pay two nights in college for me so I could come down the day before. Now, theoretically, I could've booked a late train, stayed in Durham long enough to pick Gwen up from nursery and get her home and fed, and possibly even late enough to put her to bed...but then it'd be late when I got into Cambridge, and then I'd be tired the next day, etc. So if I wasn't going to be around to pick Gwen up, there really wasn't any reason not to head down right after I dropped her off.

This morning I woke up, pleasantly, about half an hour earlier than usual, before Gwen woke up, and feeling nice and rested. We did our morning things without any rushing, and when I dropped her off I barely got my extra hugs and kisses for the two nights I'd be gone. I then had a leisurely walk to the station, and an uneventful train ride down where I actually got loads and loads of work done. (In terms of counting words, I'd added 20,000 to my draft textbook. This sounds way more impressive than it is, since at least 3/4 of this was cut and pasted from another draft textbook, and much of those words will be heavily re-written or omitted.) After a pleasant walk through the sun from the station to Newnham College, I dropped my bags, repacked my canvas bag with my embroidery and a book, and headed back to a pub I'd seen on my walk in, where I sat on the verandah overlooking the river, with a pint of ale and my book. After that, upon the suggestion of a friend I walked downriver about 1.5 miles through sunny meadows filled with cattle until I reached the Orchard Tea Garden, which is basically an orchard with extremely comfy canvas chairs scattered all over. I got myself a scone with clotted cream and raspberry jam and a bottle (a big one, because it was hot, and I also had the walk back!) of raspberry lemonade. Sat down in the sun to read and eat and drink...and fell asleep instead. Oh, not for very long, only about half an hour; I don't know, I wasn't really checking the time. I then read some more and leisurely walked back, where I planned to drop my things and then take my book out into the college gardens (which are beautiful) to read some more, but by the time I'd checked my email and done a few things, I didn't really have any desire to leave the room; besides, the gardens are encircled by tall enough buildings that the sun was just beginning to dip below them, even though it still won't be dark for another hour or so.

This doesn't feel like a real day, and it reinforces my belief that Cambridge is not a real place, but some weird alternate reality. This is the first time its unreality has extended so far as the train ride down, though.
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You know, every time I visit and see my name listed there, I am taken aback. I am surprised that this ever happened.

This is not, I think, a manifestation of imposter syndrome. I don't actually doubt my ability to be successful at what I do. It's not just my publication track record that shows this, but the fact that I understand the things I love well enough to talk about them to people who know nothing about them and have them go "Oh, that's really interesting!" (and mean it). A few months ago I posted a series of questions (without context) on FB, to pump people's intuitions about how 'while' works in English, both semantically and syntactically. I got a huge flood of responses (more than 50 people contributed), some from native English speakers, some from non-, some from logicians, some from philosophers, and most from people who were neither. Their responses were crucial for helping me figure out exactly how medieval views about the truth conditions of 'P while Q' differ from contemporary logical accounts of the connective. Yesterday I sent off the final version of the paper, which will be published in August, to the editors, and included in it is an enormous footnote thanking every single one of them. I then also shared the final paper with all of them, and it has been really gratifying how interested the non-academics are in reading it, even if they know they won't understand the logical symbols or the Latin, and also how interested they were in giving me their answers in the first place and getting to "do science" with me. This extended encounter is yet another reason why I am firmly of the "FB is NOT the devil" camp: In what other sort of context could I have so easily brought in to the research process a whole ton of non-specialists? How often do non-specialists get to participate in this sort of thing? Sure, there are things like medical trials, or the sorts of psychological experiments like the ones I sign Gwen up to do (she got to do TWO yesterday morning!), but these are all rather concrete and particular, rather than theoretical and abstract. I really, really love being able to share this side of thing with non-academics, and I think I do it well. So it's not imposter syndrome.

Ahem. I got a bit side-tracked. So why do I find it so strange to see my name in a list of academic staff in a philosophy department? It's because I never thought I'd play the game well enough, the game of "being a philosopher". I still have a very tenuous relationship with contemporary philosophy as a discipline, and I have to walk a very fine line to ensure that my deep ambivalence for a lot of things in contemporary philosophy doesn't show to my students. (Let's just say: I'm glad I won't be tutoring metaphysics next year.) My supervisees, on the other hand, do tend to see that side of me, and I think that's OK. I think my resistance to traditional approaches to philosophy, my common response of "but why should I care?", forces them to sharpen their ideas and be very explicit about what it is they are doing and why. (Not all final marks for 3rd year theses for this year have been settled yet, but on the whole I am amazingly proud of my students. They produced some really exceptional work. I've got my first meeting with next year's students this afternoon, and I am quite excited about the new crop.)

Because I don't really self-identify as a philosopher, I never actively did things to make myself more attractive as a full-time member of a philosophical faculty. I never taught undergraduate philosophy before fall 2014. I've never been to the APA (less important in Europe, but unheard of in the US). I basically conducted my affairs with the opposite of imposter syndrome -- namely, megalomania (and I've talked about that before; though I see now I used the term 'monomania', and I'm not sure which is appropriate. I think 'megalomania'), a type of hubris in which I went about doing what I wanted to do sure that one day my brilliance would be recognized. (Well, that's putting it a bit cheekily, but in a sense, that's what I did: I did what I wanted in the way that I wanted and did it well, and trusted that this would be all that I needed to get where I wanted to in life.)

If you've grown up with the American Dream, this doesn't seem like hubris, it seems like realism. But anyone who has been a part of contemporary academic philosophy knows that departments aren't just sitting there twiddling their thumbs until someone with merit comes along and then they say "Let's give that person a job"; it isn't like that at all. Competition is so fierce, there is so much one can do to improve their chances, and I did none of them.

So I look at that staff list, and I am surprised. By every narrative you're given of the discipline nowadays, I shouldn't be here. I sure am glad that I am.
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Back in March I received an email telling me I'd been nominated by my head of department to attend a fancy "Excellence in Research" dinner up at the Castle early the next term, and that I should prepare a poster or an exhibit or something related to my research as there would be a little symposium for an hour before the dinner. I had a vague idea that I'd make a poster, but it was low enough down the priority queue that I didn't seriously start thinking about it until Wednesday last week (the dinner was last night), and realized (a) I'm really bad at poster design, (b) even if I got it finished before going out of town on Friday, there was a good chance that I wouldn't be able to get an A0 poster printed on the day on Monday. So I ended up doing a bit of a collage:


So I stood next to that for an hour last night, and it actually did exactly what I wanted it to do: It got people to come over to talk to me because they were curious about what went into the collage and they couldn't read it from a polite distance, as you often can with actual research posters. I decided I didn't want something that people could understand without talking to me, and it seems to have worked.

But what I found funny was how easy it was to slip into "salesperson" mode -- to figure out where the person was coming from and what drew him (invariably "him") to my display, and to tailor my pitch to exactly their interests. Middle-aged businessman with the air of an engineer who is looking at the formulas? Talk to them about dynamic multi-agent systems, program verification, temporal logic, etc. Retired gentleman whose eye was caught by the manuscripts? Talk palaeography and give the joke about the time I was told that I speak Latin like a medieval Englishman. No matter who came to talk to me, I could find some hook to hang the fact that what I do is incredibly interesting on.

And it was so easy. I remember when this used to be hard, it took a lot of work, a lot of pretending. And it just wasn't last night. I can do this, I can do it well, I can do it well while wearing awesome shoes.

There was a moment during my undergrad when I suddenly realized that at some point previous, I had become shy. I hadn't ever been particularly shy as a teenager, and there was no single defining turning point, but a gradual change such that all of a sudden I was on the other side suffering from a sometimes crippling inability to talk to people I didn't know, especially is huge social situations. Last night was sort of the opposite of that. I've pretended to be comfortable in these situations for so long, that it's no longer pretense. It certainly helps that I was there with a focal point, a reason for people to come and talk to me, but I fully suspect that if I had been one of the minglers rather than one of the standers, I would've done fine.

So I don't know at what point pretense becomes real, but it was at some point before last night.
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If ever there was a day for sunshine and the arrival of spring, the first day of a four-day weekend would be it! In the morning Gwen and I cleaned up all the planters from last summer, tearing out the dead plants and removing a layer of moss and weeds -- all except for the planter which had the strawberries, since amazingly some of the strawberries survived!

We then took a break as just 'cause it's Good Friday doesn't mean Latin reading group up in St. Andrews doesn't meet, so I left Gwen in daddy's capable hands and headed up to the bedroom to skype in as I usually do (well, usually I do it from the office). I do enjoy 21st C academia: First Neffie came and sat on my lap, and later on I swapped her for Gwen, who was suddenly struck by the need for some cuddles.


Afterwards, she and I headed out to B&Q (she on her bike, which makes the walk substantially faster!) to go plant shopping. Last year we waited way too late, really, which is why we didn't get much from our tomato and pepper plants, so I didn't want that to happen again. It turned out we erred on the other side with our trip, since the only vegetable seedlings were peas, broad beans, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower. We ended up coming home with one box of pea sprouts and one of cauliflower sprouts, which we cheerfully planted. We also went a bit crazy and came back not only with four raspberry canes (it had always been my intention to clear out some of the growth in the alley behind our garden to plant raspberries there; but I hadn't gotten around to it yet), but also two blackberry canes and a blueberry bush. Oh, we're going to have fun!

Gwen and I then headed over to the new place via the river, stopping halfway there to patronize the ice cream van.


(Amazing sometimes the photos you can get via cell-phone selfies quickly snapped!)

We then cleared out a bunch of debris from the alley garden, and planted the raspberries and blueberries; not sure yet where the blackberries will go. We did supper at the Elm Tree, where the cook gifted Gwen with a bag of mini chocolate eggs, simply because she is so cute. It was past bedtime (and dark) when Gwen and I started back home, but she was in a surprisingly good mood (and had been pretty much all day!), that as we crossed the bridge and I pointed out how beautiful the castle was in the twilight with the lights on, and she said "someday I want to go there", I took a gamble and asked if she wanted to go there now. So we did.


We alternated her walking and me carrying her, and we made it home all the way without any whining, even though by the time we got there it was an hour past bedtime and she'd walked or biked around 4.5 miles over the course of the day.
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Over Easter break, they're painting and replacing the carpets in my building, so last week we were delivered stacks of cracks to pack up all our books, etc. Over the course of this morning, people came in, and took, a few at a time, all my books away.

It was actually really unsettling. It was bad enough having them packed up, and seeing the blank shelves on the walls, but at least the books were still in the room with me. But then people I don't know came and took them away, to a place I don't know, with the mere promise that I'll get them back on the 19th of April. And I'm actually not especially happy with this.

Around lunchtime, someone else came in and packed up my computer and printer. The entire office is bare and lacking in color. Except for the fact that my rocking chair is still in its corner, it feels rather like the day I moved in, which in turn makes it feel like I have to move out, and I think that's part of why I don't like it. I don't ever want to leave.

I wanted to meet with each of my advisees before the end of term, to ensure they're all on track for finishing up their dissertations over break, so of course a couple scheduled meetings with me today. Half an hour ago the last one left, after an absolutely lovely hour of discussion, and now I won't see him or any of them for five weeks and this makes me rather sad. Monday afternoons and Thursday mornings are the highlights of my week. Now I've got five weeks' break, then three weeks of teaching, and then all good things must come to an end. They'll take their exams, they'll graduate and...I hope at least some of them stay in touch.

I'm thinking of taking them all out for drinks after our final seminar. I have loved this class and teaching these students so much.
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It was around 6 years ago that we decided to retire our desktops in favor of dedicated laptops. With docks, the experience at home wasn't all that different -- we'd come home from the office, put our laptops in the docks, and then have full monitors, full keyboards, external mice, etc.

My keyboard, which got me through all of grad school both in the US and in the Netherlands, not to mention regularly caking up with cat hair, finally gave up the ghost when Gwen was a month or two old (when the 'tab' button no longer works, you know it's unusable), at which point I was just TOO TIRED. Too tired to research alternatives, too tired to find out if there were any computer stores in Tilburg to try things out in person, too tired to care.

Fastforward 4+ years, and guess who still hasn't replaced her keyboard, and thus hasn't used her dock or her external monitor in that period? (And, yes, that monitor sat on my desk, unloved for about 3 of them, until finally, after we moved to Durham, Joel decided it was too old and sold it). Part of the reason I continued to have little impetus to replace the keyboard in the intervening time is that I rarely had time when I could be "tied" to a desk -- instead, if Gwen was around, I found it much more convenient to have the flexibility of bringing the laptop with me wherever she was.

At Durham, I was given a desktop, but it's a) Windows, b) doesn't know me, c) so locked down I couldn't install any of the programs I want/need, etc., so I basically use it to play music, retrieve scans from the scanner, and watch snooker. I bring my laptop out every day, and usually plunk it down on a pile of books, to bring it to the right height, on my desk.

I've long been a fan of extended mind/embodied cognition theories wherein external scaffolding, such as technology, are not merely tools that we make use of but somehow become a part of the architecture of our minds. I used to jokingly say that I store my beer preferences in Joel. More generally, people are increasingly relying on technology for the storage of facts; it doesn't matter if I don't know what the atomic weight of baryllium is, if I know where to retrieve this fact from my external storage. I feel that my laptop is rather like my glasses -- I can function without both, but not well, and not happily.

In the last few months my research pendulum has swung from the onomastics side of things back to the hard logic side of things; I've had to write (and rewrite) definitions, come up with lemmas, prove things, etc., and in doing so I've been spending more and more time in front of the whiteboard. It's not that I really do anything all that different when I'm writing on the board vs. writing on paper vs. typing on the computer -- but for some reason (part of it is the standing up; part of it is the moving around; part of it is the ease with which things can be erased and restored) I find I think differently when I'm in front of the board: I'm much more likely to get clear thoughts typed up if I first draft them on the whiteboard.

Where the board is hung in my office, I can see it from my desk (even though it's on a wall 90 degrees from my desk, and on the other side). So, once things have been outlined on the board, in principle, I could sit at the desk and do the relevant transcription, but I'm finding I don't. Instead -- and this is why I am glad I have a laptop -- I either plunk my comfy chair in front of the whiteboard and work there, or I balance the laptop on top of the printer, and type/write/transcribe standing up.

I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately because I can feel the processes working differently. I don't really have any conclusions to draw, simply observations.


Feb. 26th, 2016 08:34 am
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Last night's was a fun one, falling in the category of "SCA/academia mash-ups". These come in various kinds -- sometimes it's all of my SCA acquaintances showing up in garb to conferences, sometimes it's SCA events co-located with conferences, and sometimes it's bringing academic colleagues to the SCA. Last night's was of the latter kind -- I don't remember much, but I remember that all my logic seminar students were sitting in on various classes of the sort you get at University or Raglan Fair, and LOVING it. One moment stuck with me, which is why I remember the dream at all, when I looked across a room and saw one of my quieter, more reserved students with his head thrown back grinning as he learned about medieval hunting practices.

These vignettes always amuse me.
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So this year I'm doing something with my advisees which I don't think anyone else in the department does -- namely, I've now twice gotten them all together in my office to talk through their thesis work with the others. (I think I wrote about this after our first meeting last term). I do this mostly for selfish reasons: I really really really want a research group. Building a research group takes time. I haven't been here long, so I don't have one yet. But I can pretend my undergrads are my research group in the interim. But it's also for some unselfish reasons: I think it's useful for people to have to articulate their ideas in speech, not only in writing, and for them to field questions from people who aren't directly doing the same thing. I also think it's useful for people to see what kinds of research other people are doing. (Again, I feel like I said all of this before in a previous post).

We had our second group meeting today, and it included (unsurprisingly) all the people who have so far sent me a draft chapter or two, minus one person who is busy Wednesday afternoons, and plus my MA student whom I've added to the invitation list so that he at least can begin to feel a part of a research group, too. I enjoyed it as much as I did the last one, and had two concrete indications that it's not just a personal indulgence. First, one student (doing probability theory), when it was his turn to discuss, turned to another (who is doing basically applied phenomenology) and said "Your suggestion of a random selection process last time was really helpful, thank you" -- showing getting all these people with disparate backgrounds and disparate topics can be useful for getting new ideas or seeing new angles. Second, as we wrapped up, they all asked "Are we going to do this again before the end of term?" Well, sure! I'd be more than happy to if we can find a free period.

So, yay.
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The sun is shining, spilling through the windows out of which I can see the lofty cathedral tower. I have spent the morning writing, and even though it's something I must write rather than something I wish to write or I enjoy writing, it is nevertheless writing, something I do all too infrequently during term time. Now I am taking a break, gently rocking in my rocking chair while bathed in sunlight, reading a chapter of a friend's PhD thesis with a view towards our collaborating on a project on the use and history of the concept of 'chimera' in philosophy and science. There is one last cookie sitting on the shelf beside me, but the day has been so good, I don't even want to eat it.

In a few minutes, one of my favorite students (whoever said one doesn't, or shouldn't, have favorites amongst their students doesn't understand that having favorites doesn't entail treating other students unfairly or inequitably) will arrive; after seminar on Monday he had a worry about something we proved and we've been emailing back and forth about it, until we decided it would be more efficient to simply talk in person.

We spend more than an hour pinning down definitions and working through alternative formulations of the problem, until he has come around to my point of view that the result as proven in the book holds, but I've come around to his point of view that the general worry that he had about that type of proof is legitimate. He also shares the news that he's been offered a funded PhD position. How can that not brighten my day?

Now the sun is beginning to set, sinking behind the old Shire hall. I still have more than an hour at my disposal; I may even finish up the writing assignment before I go home, leaving me free to enjoy my Friday evening.

Sometimes, I still have to pinch myself that this isn't all a dream.
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Tomorrow morning we're all getting up far earlier than we'd like to, to take a bus, a train, another bus, a plane, another plane, another bus, and another train to get from Durham to Bolzano, where we'll get two full days before doing the trip in reverse. Recently I obliquely mentioned that I scored a family invitation for all of us to Italy, and that's this. In early Nov. our friend Tarek, whom we've known since he did the logic year at Amsterdam and who is one of those people who is in the "friend" rather than "academic colleague" category (he's in the hug upon meeting category of people; he's crashed at our place in Tilburg) emailed me saying "Hey, we just discovered we have this budget to use up before the end of the year, want to come to Bolzano to give a Digital Humanities talk?", and since the only days that would work for everyone involved would have me gone for a weekend, meaning Joel wouldn't have been able to do any work on the house anyway, as he'd be in charge of Gwen, I figured I'd be a bit cheeky and say "Hey, if you've got all this budget to use up before the end of the year, why don't you invite BOTH of us, and we'll pay for Gwen?" It's not something I'd ordinarily do, but Tarek is a friend of both of us, AND he has, in the past, been quite accommodating about the whole "kids" issue: Nearly 4 years ago now he invited me to come to Osnabrueck (where he was at the time) to give a short course on medieval logic, and my reply was "I'd love to! I'll have a 5 month old baby that I'll (presumably) still be nursing. You organize childcare for her, and I'll come), and he did.

That trip was Gwen's first visit to Germany -- country number 4 -- and it was great fun to bring her with. So I'm thoroughly delighted about this trip -- I get to talk Joel to Italy! This will be Gwen's 19th country! Tarek will get to meet Gwen again! Our two talks together will be better than one alone! It should be much fun.
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Today, I covered roughly 6 white boards with definitions, lemma, theorems, proofs, and scary set-theoretic notation, knowing that I could write in a compressed/abbreviated form while speaking the sentence aloud and everyone would either follow me or be confident enough to ask for clarification ("What does 'QED' stand for?"). After having built up the importance of completeness to them since the beginning of my 2nd year course last year, we were finally in a position to prove the completeness of K, T, D, B, S4, S5, and other systems. (Proof of the completeness of K, verbatim from what I wrote on the board: "trivial".)

I had to pause the students for a moment to reflect on this. This time last year, if they had come into a room with all of that scribbled on the boards, they would've fled in terror or said "there's no way I can do that, that's way too hard." Instead, one of them commented on how it seemed almost a let down, how easy it was to prove completeness results, though it's only in retrospect, after 6 chapters and almost an entire term's worth of work proving other results along the way, that it is so easy.

But that's how logic should be: If you set up the definitions right, the results should be almost automatic. The question, then, is getting the right definitions...


Nov. 26th, 2015 08:46 pm
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Last week when in Germany I had to cancel the Thurs. incarnation of my logic seminar, asking everyone to come to the Monday one instead (thankfully, everyone except for three could, so I met with them immediately after and we did a truncated version). But then wanting to get all the people usually who go on Thursday back to Thursday, I decided not to ask for student volunteers to present, as they'd only have 2.5 instead of 7 days to prepare, and that didn't seem fair.

Let's do a whole chapter instead of half a chapter, I said. It will be easy, I said. I'll do all the prep work, I said.

I sort of ran out of time and thus didn't start looking through the material until 9:00 this morning (i.e., two hours before seminar started). That was when I realized...I don't remember ever having done this chapter as an undergrad. So far, everything else we've done has required minimal prep on my part, because we're going at a pretty easy pace, students do most of the presenting, the techniques are ones I've used regularly over the last decade, or as I reread the chapter I remember my experience of learning the material. Except, I think we must've skipped ch. 5, because I didn't remember a single thing from it.

AND it is by far the most technical chapter that we've looked at yet. I did make it through the entire thing in my prep time, identifying which proofs to go over in detail, which to say "trust me, it works" (the reason we're doing this chapter faster is because the material in it -- while interesting -- isn't really relevant for the rest of what we want to do; it's a bit of an aside. Which is probably why we skipped it when I was an undergrad...), and found myself with 4.5 pages of notes, which is A LOT even for a two-hour seminar, especially when most of it is proofs rather than conceptual stuff.

I got through all the material, but MAN two hours of solid proof work -- lots of walking back and forth and gesticulating and writing on the board and erasing and writing again -- on top of two hours of prep work, I was ravenous by the time we were done! Had enough time to dash off to the pub, down my chili and garlic bread, and head back to the office where my MA student wanted to go over his (quite interesting and exciting sounding!) PhD proposal that he wants to submit next month. Then I had about an hour of downtime before I met with one of my undergrad supervisees who wanted to run through his thesis organization so far, and then to go through one of the technical papers he's reading, because he thought he understood the proof but was unsure of some of the notation. (Side note, this particular student pleases me so much. He's doing PPE, and when he first approached me about doing his thesis with me, back in April, I asked him if he knew anything about computational social choice, because this struck me as exactly the sort of thing that he might be interested in. He had never heard of it. Today, he was tossing around phrases like "Pareto efficient" and "random serial dictator" like a pro. *so proud*) So that was another hour of intensive proof work.

I'm knackered. Never have I been so glad to come home to find supper nearly finished. I'd been planning to do pasta with white sauce, which isn't difficult, but even so, SO nice to step in the door to yummy, yummy smells of lentils and rice. I'm off to go take a bath and then call it a night; though I'm quite pleased that despite having no gumption to do anything, I've managed to mend two more pairs of Gwen's pants and write a blog post on names as signals in historical fiction, something I've been meaning to do for a few days now. So I can go to bed with a clear conscience.
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I will preface this by saying that these comments come from a position of incredible privilege, and that much of what I do that I will talk about here I am only able to do because of that privilege.

You hear a lot about work/life balance in academia -- when you're writing a PhD and it threatens to swallow your entire life, when you're a woman trying to figure out when/if to have kids during your academic career, after you've had kids, even if you don't have kids but have a full-time position where your duties are amorphous enough that it's easy for them to spill over into the evenings and weekends. If anything, having a kid has forced me to balance the two better than perhaps I had pre-Gwen: I don't do (much) work on the evenings or weekends because I simply can't. I'm either actively involved with Gwen or I'm too tired.

But there's a tenor underneath a lot of the conversations surrounding this that I have found increasingly problematic, and it's this unspoken feeling that a proper work/life balance involves a sharp division between the two. Don't let your work encroach on your life, don't your life encroach on your work. But over the years, I have grown less and less comfortable with this.

It used to be that I kept my onomastic research and my medieval re-enactment proclivities under wraps when hanging around with logicians. I didn't want them to think I wasn't "serious" about logic, or that I wasn't "serious" about academia/research in general. And then I gave the game away one year at the Leeds Medieval Congress, when both I and my future-PhD-committee-member were both in the audience of a session on medieval Scotland, where one of the talks was about names and it turned out during the Q&A that I knew more about medieval Scottish border names than the speaker did...

And that caused me to start thinking: Why do I try to keep my two lives separate? Is it healthy to do so? Is this the right way to balance things?

The conclusion that I've come to over the years is, NO. It is not healthy to pretend to one half of my life that the other half doesn't exist -- it isn't healthy in either direction. It isn't healthy for me to pretend to Gwen that I don't have work responsibilities; it is fine for me to abrogate them on weekends to spend time with her, but it is important for me to explain to her when she says "I don't want you to go" that it is important that I do, that part of my job is to travel and go to conferences and give talks and part of my job is to not be there to read her stories and sing her songs and cuddle her at night. It is important that she know that I will miss her tremendously, and that I am sad to leave her -- but that I am going to leave her anyway, and that I will come back for her. This is important for her.

It is important that when she is ill and cannot go to nursery and neither of her parents an escape their work responsibilities that we respond by bringing her with. It is important that I sit in research committee meetings with a feverish toddler asleep in my arms. It is important that I attend faculty meetings armed with stories and paper and markers, and that I read to her, quietly, while attending said meetings.

It is important that I run a tutorial in my office with toys scattered across the floor and her constantly climbing in and out of my lap to put "stickers" on my shirt. This is important not so much for her as it is for the students who will see me balancing my life and my work simultaneously, and see that it can be done.

It is important that I talk about my experiences raising a child in my classes, when relevant -- and when you talk about language and meaning and successful conversation, having a young child gives you plenty of fodder. It is important that I share duplicate copies of my books and tell my students I have them because I married one of my classmates, who had the same text books as me, and that's why I have two.

It is important that when I am invited to give a short course at another university, I say "I'd love to, but at that point I'll have a 4 month old baby, and, assuming I'll still be nursing, she's coming with so you need to provide childcare during the lectures." (And they did, except for one where the plans fell through and I brought her along and one of the organizers held her and entertained her in the back of the room, and I found just how impossible it is to lecture when you have a 4 month old child in the room because your attention is so very zeroed in on her. I could probably do it now, now that she's older, but it was the strangest experience.)

It is important that when I am invited to give a talk on relatively short notice, I say "It depends on whether I can leave the solo parenting to my husband for the weekend -- " (because we try to keep parity on this) " -- or better yet, invite both of us. For the topic you're interested in, we can both speak, so pay for both of us to come, we'll pay for Gwen, and you'll get two interesting, and relevant, and different talks."

[[Which is how it turns out that Joel, Gwen, and I are likely going to Bolzano for a few days in late December, just before we head to the US for Christmas. I've never been to Bolzano, and Joel has never been to Italy (despite the fact that I love Italy and have wanted to go there -- anywhere there -- with him for some years now!).]]

It's important that academic connections see pictures of me in funny clothes and a crown on FB. It is important that they see pictures of my child, and my growing happiness and delight in her. It is important they see pictures of my purple hair.

It is important that my non-academic friends see me post about my research, that I ask specialist questions of my academic friends with them in the audience. It is important that when I do something I find particularly interesting, I share it with everyone, not just the inner circle of academics.

It is important that I do the research that matters to me and that I don't pretend to half of my academic contacts that I'm not. It is important that I don't do the research that matters to me because sometimes it matters more that I spend all day away from the computer with my daughter.

It is important that I have hobbies and that people know that I have hobbies. It is important that there is a LIFE to be balanced with the work.

All of this is important, because I think that "work/life balance" is in fact the wrong way to describe it, because it implies that your work is not a part of your life and that your life is not a part of your work, and if that is true, then you will never be able to balance the two.


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