The blog of DAVID KOUŘIL

USA roadtrip 2019

I finally went through, edited, and put up on the web our photos from the road trip in the USA. I split it into two parts:

Changes

We came back from vacation in the United States at the beginning of June, actually a month ago. Few days before we got on the plane back, I received a notification that the paper I’ve submitted at the end of March has been rejected.

Being at that time in San Francisco, almost at the end of our road trip, it made me think. What do I want? What do I want to do? What do I want to achieve? Where do I want to do it?

I decided there that I don’t want to continue with the PhD.

We took a walk from the Fisherman’s Wharf towards the Palace of Fine Arts and talked about it with Gabi. I can pinpoint the exact bench at the Palace park where I decided that I’m not happy in the current situation and I that want to do something about it.

I haven’t been happy for some time. I’ve actually debated it (and leaned towards leaving) at least twice before. Once after my first paper got accepted and I felt like I don’t really to do this all over again (two more times). The second occasion for my “PhD crisis” was last November, right before my supervisor gave me a strong direction for what my second paper should be about.

This time it was after a rejection, but I like to think that it wasn’t because I got discouraged by it. It just made me realize that I don’t have the necessary passion for research and academia.

I’m gonna say it—I am not excited about writing papers. I don’t see myself as an academic/researcher. I don’t like to think about a project in terms of how it differs from stuff published before (the “related work”).  I believe that nothing is completely new, somebody’s already had your idea before, maybe in a different context, maybe in a different application, but it’s there. And your job as a researcher is to defend your work, find the specific arguments why what you came up with is new, novel. For some reason this defensive approach to creating is bothering me. And, most importantly, I realized that a paper is not a satisfying end-product to me, a fulfilling result of my work enough to justify the energy that’s needed. I look back and I feel almost zero pride about the work that I did in the last two years. That’s, at least in my book, a strong indicator.

I know that a part of being successful is getting rejected and afterwards improving as much as you can (and minimize the random chance factor of the process by simply doing great work). But honestly I just don’t want to improve in this. I don’t want to shape my skills in the discipline of getting papers accepted at conferences and journals.

Finally, I’ve got to the point where I have a great need to find my place outside of the school/university environment. I’ve been at some school for most of my life and I want to break away from that so much. I want to figure out if I can survive in the “real world”, find my place in it. This might sound like a pretty stupid reason to quit (of course academia is real world too) but at this moment this is how I feel about it.

Couple of other factors contributed to my decision that I want to leave academia and once I came back to Vienna I started talking to people. I told my supervisor about my decision to quit the PhD, talked with other senior people, told my colleague/friend. This time I was determined to do something about it and the most appropriate solution was to just quit. However, once I started talking with people, other factors came into question and another option opened up.

The thing is, I still believe that PhD can give you a lot when it’s structured in the right way, you find the right environment and know what you want from it. There are aspects that I definitely appreciate. You learn how to express ideas, how to put them in context with what’s already out there (not that it’s my most favorite thing to do, but it’s nevertheless an important skill). I’ve had the opportunity to practice presenting our work on several occasions (internal meetings, talking with international guests, presenting at a top conference) which is something I’ve actually quite welcomed and enjoyed. Lastly, even though I don’t enjoy writing papers as much, I do like writing in general. And if I’m to judge, I did get better at it thanks to my time in academia.

I also started to feel a bit bad about leaving my last work unfinished—as I started reading the reviews and thinking how it could be improved. Even though the initial instinct was to just “fuck it all”, I would still like to finish what I started (at least to some extent). And of course there’s “sunk cost fallacy” which makes me feel like I’ve already invested this whole time into the degree, so I might stick it out for a bit more and then get it (even though getting the degree wasn’t ever the main goal for me).

In the end, the situation right now is this: we are moving from Vienna back to Czech Republic, which is going to put us closer to our friends and family, and basically give me a better (familiar) support network for deciding what to do next. I will still be employed at TU Wien and staying in the PhD programme for the time being. Working remotely, I’ll finish a revision for the rejected paper, and afterwards, until my contract runs out at the beginning next year, either try to go for a quick third paper or try to wrap up the degree somehow. We’ll see how everything works out (lots of unknowns).

It took me a long time to put this together because I’ve been chasing and connecting different thoughts. There are some significant changes coming and it does make me excited (and scared obviously). I’m excited because I’ve come to realize that a very important thing for me is to live my life on my own terms, powered by my own motivations. I don’t ever want to feel like I’m being pushed into some direction. I want to take action.

In between

These days have been weird.

After the deadline I’m not sure what to do with myself. I’ve wrapped up some missing implementation but honestly I had a hard time getting myself to do it. On the positive note, however, I found out that I really love to blast out some music into my headphones and just dive into the code.

I have to admit that I’m feeling a bit burned out. For me, and this is really just a personal feeling, scientific paper is not the most fulfilling output of my hard work. Somehow I have a problem to attach myself to it. Maybe that’s because I’m still not too good at it and I’m not exactly sure how it all ends up together. Submitting a paper is then a very anticlimactic event.

Also, any time I submit a paper, I have a really hard time afterwards. I don’t want to think about the paper I just submitted and I also don’t really want to even think about the next one. Because what I only see now, are the tough times. I’m just gonna wait for the review scores and then see what’s next. I guess you could say that I’m really experiencing the after-deadline “depression” and I feel really uninspired and unmotivated.

On top of that, after a long time, I got sick. Although it’s not like I was absolutely out of order, I just really wasn’t feeling well. Gabi said that maybe it was a case of spring fatigue. I’m feeling a lot better now, hopefully I can resume a normal regime next week.

This time period feels like “in between” to me not only because it’s between the paper submission and when I’ll know the results. It’s also because we are leaving for a big USA trip in approximately two weeks. Now that I wrote it down it makes me nervous. There’s still a lot to plan but I’m pretty excited. We haven’t been on a vacation last summer (which I guess wasn’t the smartest thing to do—you need to rest properly!) so I’m very much looking forward to being away.

I need to get my thoughts in order. I need to get away from the usual routine to gain perspective, figure out where I’m going and re-evaluate. I’m sure it’s gonna be an adventure and I want to enjoy it fully with Gabi. The only thing we need to be careful, is to not stress ourselves. We are both recovering worriers, we want to have everything planned and worry about things that can go wrong. This trip is not going to be perfectly planned like that and I want to accept that. I want to enjoy the moment, solve problems on the fly, and just chill out.

Finishing times

This Monday, 2am, I had a second paper deadline in my PhD studies. It for was the same venue as last year, IEEE Vis.

Last year I was totally clueless, had really no idea how to do it and my co-authors really helped out. It got accepted (and even received an honourable mention) and I’ve learned a lot from the process. I guess it’s true that when you’re thrown into the water and have to figure out how to swim, you learn the most.

This year, I’ve tried to apply what I’ve learned, but there’s no denying that it was still stressful times. Now that this is over, everything seems to be great. Weather is amazing (it was winter and all of a sudden it’s an awesome spring). I have time to do what I want. It’s amazing how much you appreciate free time after you’ve had to work on something for most of the day and week. I’m sure I’ll slip back into wasting it at least a bit but for now that’s something I’m trying to treasure.

I knew that I just have to submit because I need to get this done, get this off my table for a while. We are planning to go on a big USA trip in May and it’s very convenient if my paper is in review at that time. I will actually get the notification while still there.

Of course, even though I’ve finished this thing, there’s again more stuff to do coming up. So I’m trying to still enjoy this moment before moving onto the next thing.

Now that it’s been already few days, it’s starting to sink in. It has been one of the two primary goals that I had for 2019. It has been something in the works for a few months. And now it’s just done. No matter what the outcome will be, I’ve done my part for the moment. It’s very easy to just go over whatever you’ve been through, whatever you’ve “achieved” and not even pause for a bit to realize how big of a deal it is. Like now with the deadline, it has been on my mind for at least half a year, and I’ve been working on it intensely for several months. But the moment I get it finished, it’s like all this pressure has never been there, like there was no deadline. I feel like there are at least two lessons in this: a) how all the (usual) struggling is momentary, and b) how I need to more realize all the things I’ve already been through and successfully survived.

I’m really excited about future now. There’s just so much that can happen in one year, or even few months, and I have no idea where it’s all going to take us.

Right now I’m getting back to my routine, going to the gym, trying to eat a bit healthier, sleep and relax enough.

And most importantly, we can (finally) start planning our US trip properly.

Reconnecting

Two things I consider wins already in the new year.

First, I completely stopped biting my nails. Second, I started reconnecting with some old friends.

I’m bad at keeping in touch with people. It’s understandable, as you go through life, the paths you take diverge. It’s easer to stay close with your best friend from elementary school if you stay in or around your hometown. But I’m just not that type of person. I wanted to go out and experience the world. I went to university and then moved to a different country, and the people I meet every day have changed significantly.

I like this, I really like going away and be in different, new environments. I love meeting people with different backgrounds, different personalities and learning from them.

But I’m starting to truly realize, how important it is to have old friends. You need these people in your life, people that have seen you grow up, seen you be a totally lame person, been with you through some embarrassing events. Because those are the people that are close to you, they really know where you came from and who you are.

You have a connection with them through the way you’ve grown up.

And the connections that you make with other people are the most important thing in life.

It again reminds me a passage from Wear Sunscreen (something I still come back for life advice):

“Understand that friends come and go, but with the precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle because the older you get the more you need the people you knew when you were young.”

Winter meditations

This is what our life looks like, in the new year, in what is a not-going-away-any-time-soon winter. I’ve been alone in Vienna for some time because Gabi had to go to Brno, but now she’s back, which is great.

I’m working on my paper. I’m definitely taking a different approach than last year. It’s amazing how much I’ve learned through last year’s experience and I just hope that I’m doing it better this time. But I still expect that it’s going to get tough and I’m not going to have enough time and that I will panic.

Maybe also because of that, I’m trying to prepare myself mentally. I’m reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and this book is amazing on many different levels. For example the fact that something so old can be so relatable for today. But mainly because it’s  helping me to get my mind to the right place regarding many aspects of my life (things I’ve been struggling with for years). I really feel like there’s a lot of change happening in how I’m starting to think.

In 2019 so far I’ve been really disciplined when it comes to the gym. In January alone I had 25 trainings, which means I didn’t go only 6 days in the month. I think it’s logical what my next step is: focus more on resting properly. Weightlifting (and I guess sports in general) is nice in how you step-by-step figure things out.

So currently I’m really trying to make sure that I have enough sleep each night. I wake up early in the morning (5:30am most of the time) which means that in order to get around 8 hours of sleep I need to be in the bed around 9pm. I know that it sounds like I’m 70 but I don’t care, as long as it helps me.

And for some final news: we bought plane tickets for our trip to the USA. There was no reason to wait anymore, the flights had a pretty good price now and we decided that we want to go sooner than later. We fly in and out of Los Angeles and now the next step is to plan out where we’re gonna go, and then book a car.

Since we just definitely decided that we are doing this now, not leaving it for end of summer or anything, this also changes the way I think about work. It’s now head down and push towards my deadline at the end of March. I have to put everything into it, and I definitely have to submit something solid there. That’s the only way I will be able to go on this trip with clear head, enjoying it, knowing that I did everything I could to move forward.

New Year

At the end of the year you usually look back at what happened that year. But I already summarized my year 2018 in the coming-back-to-blogging post. So now it’s maybe time to look more in the future, what are the plans for the next year.

In 2019, I have two big items to cross out:

  1. write and submit the second paper (VIS 2019 deadline at the end of March)
  2. do a road trip in the USA with Gabi

Because of the first point, I know that the coming 3 months will be a race, going full throttle towards the deadline. I’m a little scared but on the other hand I’ve already done it and I’ve learned a lot, so hopefully I can do it better this time.

The big trip should happen in the second half of the year, although we’re still not sure if we should do it rather towards the beginning or the end of the summer season.

Besides these two huge goals, there are things I want to keep in mind, and work on throughout the year:

  • take the fitness training to another level: be more disciplined, go to the gym more often, go harder, focus on form, maintain a better diet
  • get closer to what I really want to do in personal projects: creative technology applications
  • keep drawing and painting, but figure out the balance between committing to it 100% and not doing it at all

On top of that I have a few “stretch goals” that I’m keeping private.

All in all, I want to continue in learning and improving myself. It’s going to be an exciting year and I think I’m ready to jump into it.

Twenty-seven

I turned 27 last Monday.

We had a nice chill day even though it was pouring rain the whole time. We went to Albertina to see the Claude Monet exhibition, then had lunch at Shoyu Ramen, and on the way home stopped for a cake at Gerstner.

I’m slowly but surely closing on 2 years of living in Vienna and doing the PhD. Many normal things are solved, set it their ways. I don’t worry about going to city offices and dealing with bureaucracy, moving furniture between countries, or getting internet in our apartment. I like to look back at the times, when these were our problems, and see how they are basically non-existent these days. You build up on what you deal with each day, and although there’s always something to solve, you always build on top of things and put yourself in a better position.

But even now there are stressful situations, situations that make me question everything, and in the end make me learn something.

For example the week before my birthday, I was in a really low point. Somehow my whole idea of what I want to be working on as my second paper disappeared, as I realized that I don’t really know what problems I’m trying to solve and, most importantly, how to move forward in order to have something to submit at the end of March.

What got me out of that was one thing—at least besides the fact that I again found that I can fully rely on Gabi for support—I learned that I need to trust my supervisors and the whole process. Other people have been through it and succeeded, and now they’re here to advise me. I need to embrace the fact that I don’t know everything, actually that I know very little, and that things are the way they are because they (mostly) work. This now might sound a bit depressing but for me it’s quite positive. I like to see that there’s so much to learn in so many aspects.

The truth is that I’ve learned a lot even just looking back one year. I’ve gone through the whole course of making, publishing, and presenting a paper. I’ve survived it and now that’s just done, it’s mine, nothing’s gonna take that away from me.

I think I’m addicted to this kind of growth and that’s what makes me want to keep doing this. Even if it means that sometimes things are tough. I’m doing all this to learn, and to be a better person.

I’ll finish up with two moments of our life these days. This view from our bedroom window is an absolute trash: discont shop on the ground floor of an apartment building, one of those apartment already having some weird Christmas decorations, and we have trams going right under our window. But with the street wet from all the rain it looked very cool this one evening.

And then this very photogenic dish we cooked.

Let yourself forget things

I’ve been addicted to writing things down for years. Whenever I have an idea for a project or a thought that I find worth keeping, I try to write it down in some form as soon as possible. I’m so afraid that something is going to slip through, that I’m gonna lose the thought. Any small idea has to be documented.

This also applies to books, movies and other influences. Sometimes I dream about having every book I’ve ever read noted down, with my takeaways, ratings, basically go full-on Derek Sivers. I wish to have all the things that inspire me or speak to me in some way in a list, for me to come back to and remember right away.

Lately I’m reversing on this.

I don’t want to be doing stuff just to have another record in a database. I don’t want to read 52 books in a year just to be able to say that I read one book a week. I want to just enjoy all these things, other people’s ideas and opinions expressed through books, movies, or songs.

That’s why I’m giving up documenting and tracking everything in my life recently. I let the “brilliant” moments of inspiration go.

The things that are supposed to stick with me in the end will. The ideas that are worth remembering will keep coming back.

Or so I hope.

Too many interests

These photos are from Saturday evening, when we went on a walk around the city. I wanted to test out my new lens that I got on Friday, and we couldn’t get ourselves out of the house before it was almost dark. 

Vienna right now has a really interesting atmosphere, it is not quite the usual Christmas-markety winter mood, but it’s almost that. I actually kinda like it, I guess I need changing seasons because of the different feelings they bring.

I often think about the stuff that I’m putting my time into. I’d say that I’m somebody that has many interests. I like coding, I like to draw and paint, I like reading and writing. At some point in my life I was really into music, I practiced playing guitar a lot.

I’m drawn to all of those things, but somehow the fact that I can’t commit to single one of those is bothering me. The impression, that I have from all the people that inspire me, is that you find one thing in your life that you fall in love with and then channel all your creativity through that medium. Sometimes I have a feeling that I still haven’t found mine.

Other times I feel blessed. I’m lucky that so many stories and thoughts speak to me. You can’t choose what you get drawn to, you can’t decide what you find meaning in.

So I just remind myself to be patient, follow the passions, put in the work, and wait for the moment when it all comes together.