Andrey Kurenkov's Web World Jekyll 2021-08-06T15:36:56-07:00 / Andrey Kurenkov / contact@andreykurenkov.com <![CDATA[My Tools and Practices for a Healthier and More Productive Life]]> /writing/life/habits-2021 2021-07-18T00:00:00-07:00 2021-07-18T00:00:00-07:00 www.andreykurenkov.com contact@andreykurenkov.com <p><br /> &gt; “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” <br /> -Aristotle (except actually <a href="http://blogs.umb.edu/quoteunquote/2012/05/08/its-a-much-more-effective-quotation-to-attribute-it-to-aristotle-rather-than-to-will-durant/">Will Durant</a>)</p> <p>It has been 3 years since I started <a href="https://www.andreykurenkov.com/writing/life/habits/">my blog post “Habits and Tools, Old and New”</a> with that quote. That’s a long time, and longer still given the nightmare that much of the past year turned out to be. So, I thought to write an updated version of that old blog post, once again sharing the tools and practices I find benefit my healthy and productivity. This will not be an exhaustive list since it’d be boring for me to say obvious stuff like ‘go to the gym regularly’, and will instead focus on less standard stuff I think is neat and not appreciated enough.</p> <p>So there you have it, enjoy this little summary of the things I think make my life better.</p> <ul id="markdown-toc"> <li><a href="#health" id="markdown-toc-health"><em>Health</em></a> <ul> <li><a href="#exercise" id="markdown-toc-exercise"><em>Exercise</em></a></li> <li><a href="#diet" id="markdown-toc-diet"><em>Diet</em></a></li> <li><a href="#sleep" id="markdown-toc-sleep"><em>Sleep</em></a></li> <li><a href="#meditation" id="markdown-toc-meditation"><em>Meditation</em></a></li> <li><a href="#journaling" id="markdown-toc-journaling"><em>Journaling</em></a></li> <li><a href="#pets" id="markdown-toc-pets"><em>Pets</em></a></li> </ul> </li> <li><a href="#productivity" id="markdown-toc-productivity"><em>Productivity</em></a> <ul> <li><a href="#habit-tracking" id="markdown-toc-habit-tracking"><em>Habit Tracking</em></a></li> <li><a href="#daily-todos-planning" id="markdown-toc-daily-todos-planning"><em>Daily TODOs planning</em></a></li> <li><a href="#email-task-tracking" id="markdown-toc-email-task-tracking"><em>Email Task Tracking</em></a></li> <li><a href="#time-tracking" id="markdown-toc-time-tracking"><em>Time Tracking</em></a></li> <li><a href="#pomodoro" id="markdown-toc-pomodoro"><em>Pomodoro</em></a></li> <li><a href="#easy-meeting-scheduling" id="markdown-toc-easy-meeting-scheduling"><em>Easy Meeting Scheduling</em></a></li> </ul> </li> <li><a href="#conclusion" id="markdown-toc-conclusion"><em>Conclusion</em></a></li> </ul> <p><br /></p> <h1 id="health"><em>Health</em></h1> <p><br /> Gotta have health! Both physical and mental, of course.</p> <h3 id="exercise"><em>Exercise</em></h3> <p>Let’s start with exercise, since frankly it’s the most fun to talk about. We all know we need to do it, and we all know how to do it (go to gyms or hike, play sports, etc.). The tough part is actually motiving yourself to do it regularly. So the below are my favorite ways to do just that.</p> <p>By far my favorite way to exercise is to go to <strong>fitness classes</strong>. Boxing classes, yoga classes, weightlifting classes. Nothing beats being in a physical place, among other people, with loud music and a charismatic instructor, to push yourself to your limits. And having regularly scheduled times to show up for make consistency easier. For instance, post COVID vaccine I started going to boxing classes at <a href="https://www.truestrengthmma.com/">True Strength MMA</a> and have absolutely loved it. But regular ol’ generic gyms often also provide classes as part of the membership, and for my money that is a far superior way to get a good work out than just going to the gym yourself.</p> <figure class="figure"><div class="figure__main"> <p><a href="/writing/images/2021-07-18-habits-2021/boxing.jpg"><img class="postimagesmall" style="width:70%;" src="/writing/images/2021-07-18-habits-2021/boxing.jpg" /></a></p> </div><figcaption class="figure__caption" style="padding-top:0;"><p>From the Seattle Boxing Gym, which I loved. Those big wide open spaces are for group classes.</p> </figcaption></figure> <figure class="sidefigureleft"> <img class="postimage_50" src="/writing/images/2021-07-18-habits-2021/fitbitcoach.jpg" /> <figcaption>A workout routine I did on FitBit coach.</figcaption> </figure> <p>But, fitness classes are not the most convenient. Cost, time, place – lots of factors make this flavor of working out impractical. So: replace a fitness trainer with recordings of a personal trainer, and a gym with your room. YouTube works, but I prefer apps, especially <strong>FitBit Coach</strong>; good routines, good UI, good trainers. What’s more, no equipment at all is necessary (though some helps). During COVID quarantine, this was something I made use of a lot.</p> <p>The second ingredient for COVID quarantine working out was something new to me: <strong>Virtual Reality</strong>. Specifically with the <strong>Oculus Quest</strong>, which is affordable, has a great library, and is super easy to get started with. Just like fitness classes, exercise games in VR (such as boxing, rhythm, and other types of games) make it easy to push yourself beyond what you thought possible. And it’s fun! My personal favorite exercise game by far is <strong>FitXR</strong>, but there are many options out there to pick and choose from.</p> <figure class="figure"><div class="figure__main"> <p><a href="/writing/images/2021-07-18-habits-2021/boxvr.gif"><img class="postimage" style="width:90%;" src="/writing/images/2021-07-18-habits-2021/boxvr.gif" /></a></p> </div><figcaption class="figure__caption" style="padding-top:0;"><p>FitXR, my current favorite exercise game.</p> </figcaption></figure> <p>Last, most recent, and simplest: <strong>walking</strong>. In the past, I’ve always walked or biked as part of my commute to work. With COVID, that stopped being the case. Like many, I made walking outside a regular practice for a while. Presumably also like many, I eventually fell out of that habit – until recently. Now that i’m again going on a 30 minute walk every morning, I’ve grown to place a lot of value in it. Not only is it a good way to consistently be at least a bit active, but it also makes time to reflect on the goals for today, journal, and do other little tasks to get the day going well. And it’s just walking! Not a hard task to will yourself into doing.</p> <p>As a complement to all of the above, I also like having an <strong>activity tracker</strong>. I especially like <strong>Fitbit Charge</strong>, which comes with the great FitBit app and just tracks steps and sleep and has no fancy smartwatch type features. As with other tools we’ll see later in this post, just having your behavior tracked and reported to you is a good motivator to not be lazy about health.</p> <figure class="figure"><div class="figure__main"> <p><a href="/writing/images/2021-07-18-habits-2021/fitbit.jpg"><img class="postimagesmaller" style="width:40%;" src="/writing/images/2021-07-18-habits-2021/fitbit.jpg" /></a></p> </div><figcaption class="figure__caption" style="padding-top:0;"><p>The daily summary FitBit provides in their app.</p> </figcaption></figure> <h3 id="diet"><em>Diet</em></h3> <figure class="sidefigureright"> <img class="postimage_50" src="/writing/images/2021-07-18-habits-2021/weight.jpg" /> <figcaption>My rocky history with weight.</figcaption> </figure> <p>To be clear, when I say diet I don’t mean an approach to losing weight; I mean an overall approach to nutrition, with managing weight as part of that. A good diet is obviously one of the pivotal ingredients for a healthy life, and one that I’ve struggled to do well on. In the first few years of my PhD (2018 and 2019), especially in the lead up to deadlines, I used to indulge heavily in stress-eating and my health (and weight) quickly suffered.</p> <p>So, I needed a way to have a consistently good diet – mostly not eating out, mostly not indulging in junk food, etc. My solution? <strong>pre-prepped meals</strong>. AKA prepare (healthy) meals ahead of time, and (mostly) stick to the plan. Problem: i’m not much of a cook, which makes preparing meals ahead of time a non-option. So how to attain a routine? For me, this way: let others prepare the meals. At first, this meant usually eating <a href="http://www.andreykurenkov.com/writing/art/why-i-consume-soylent/">Soylent</a> for lunch. Lately, that means ordering actual pre-made meals to have for dinner; I like <a href="https://try.factor75.com/refer-a-friend?referral=3CVXG">Factor75</a> a lot, but there are other options like <a href="https://sunbasket.com/">Sun Basket</a> as well. I am also a big fan of buying pre-prepped salads from grocery stores. Some might scoff at me not preparing these pre-prepped meals myself, but honestly they are great!</p> <figure class="figure"><div class="figure__main"> <p><a href="/writing/images/2021-07-18-habits-2021/factor.png"><img class="postimageactual" src="/writing/images/2021-07-18-habits-2021/factor.png" alt="Factor75" /></a></p> </div><figcaption class="figure__caption" style="padding-top:0;"><p>Obviously a promotional photo, but honestly it is a fairly accurate representation…</p> </figcaption></figure> <figure class="sidefigureleft"> <img class="postimage_50" src="/writing/images/2021-07-18-habits-2021/mfp.jpg" /> <figcaption>Calorie tracking on MyFitnessPal.</figcaption> </figure> <p>So that takes care of mostly eating healthy. Mostly. Pre-prepped meals are great, but still make it easy to eat a ton of unhealthy snacks on a rough day. So, I am also a big fan of <strong>nutrition tracking</strong>. I say nutrition tracking to mean not just calorie tracking, but also tracking of macros (protein, carbs, etc.). There are a few reasons this helps with having a healthy diet. First, it makes it easy to know when you have been eating too much or too little (obviously). Second, it makes you to more mindful about the food that you consume to avoid eating too much or too little, and to avoid eating too much sugar or the like. The guilt brought by seeing the quantification of your indulgence is a real force for good… Lastly, it makes it easier to avoid mindless snacking, since logging a snack is kind of a chore and one’s laziness at the thought of this task may overpower the desire of eating the snack.</p> <p>Well that’s great and all, but you gotta snack sometimes, right? In any case, I definitely gotta snack sometimes. So, these days I regularly buy <strong>healthy snacks</strong>. Like, a lot of healthy snacks. There are tons of sweet protein bars, but did you know that there exist protein <em>chips</em>? Or protein <em>cookies</em>? And though not all healthy snacks are delicious, a surprising proportion of them are (to me). And it’s always fun to find new ones to try once something gets stale. So snack away!</p> <figure class="figure"><div class="figure__main"> <p><a href="/writing/images/2021-07-18-habits-2021/snacks.jpg"><img class="postimageactual" src="/writing/images/2021-07-18-habits-2021/snacks.jpg" alt="snacks" /></a></p> </div><figcaption class="figure__caption" style="padding-top:0;"><p>Yes, I have a lot of healthy snacks…</p> </figcaption></figure> <h3 id="sleep"><em>Sleep</em></h3> <p>Ah sleep, the thing I always seem to do too much or too little of. There is little here I can share that is not the standard advice on how to get better sleep. But here is one thing I love that’s a bit more out there: <strong>QR Code Alarms</strong> in the <strong>Sleep as Android</strong> app. I am a heavy sleeper who really hates to oversleep, and so have always needed to use extra measures beyond just having an alarm to ensure I wake up. But eventually, even the hardest difficulty math problems on my app got too easy and I could still go back to sleep. So, I’ve had to use an alarm clock check that <em>requires</em> me to get out of bed. And that’s exactly what this QR code things does: you place a printed out QR code somewhere, and have to scan it for the alarm clock to stop going off. Personally I always place the QR code in a different room, so I have to leave the bedroom. It does not help me get good sleep at all, but at least it helps get up on time… And apparently I am not the only one, as there exists this random article that backs me up (<a href="https://www.insider.com/best-way-to-wake-up-in-the-morning-2016-8">“This one alarm clock setting is the best way to get you up in the morning”</a>).</p> <p>That’s great for waking up, but how about falling asleep? I have another trick I like for that: <strong>audiobooks</strong>. Nothing is worse than being unable to fall asleep for way too long, with your thoughts about falling asleep just exacerbating the situation. So how to get your mind off sleeping so you can actually fall asleep? Listen to a nice story! I like to listen to things using Audible via an Amazon Echo on my bedside table. It does not always work, but even then it sure is better to lie awake while listening to a good book than to lie awake listening to your own stressed out thoughts.</p> <h3 id="meditation"><em>Meditation</em></h3> <figure class="sidefigureleft"> <img class="postimage_50" src="/writing/images/2021-07-18-habits-2021/meditation.jpg" /> <figcaption>How I used insight timer for meditating.</figcaption> </figure> <p>First, something I’ve done on and off for many years. <a href="http://www.andreykurenkov.com/writing/life/some-thoughts-on-meditation/">As I’ve written in the past</a>, I am a big fan of <strong>meditation</strong>. This is not exactly a novel piece of advice, and you can easily find a detailed account of all of its benefits (including the just-linked blog post of mine). It’s great as a daily practice, but also as a tool for more occasional for bad days or stressful events. Not only does it help you manage you emotions and focus, but it also tends to help me remember get new ideas. I tend to think it’s almost as beneficial as physical exercise – in fact, I think it’s fair to describe as ‘exercise for the mind’. And it’s so easy to try out these days! I particularly like Calm, but Headspace and others are good too. These days I stick with the simpler <strong>Insight Timer</strong>, myself.</p> <h3 id="journaling"><em>Journaling</em></h3> <figure class="sidefigureright"> <img class="postimage_50" src="/writing/images/2021-07-18-habits-2021/journal.jpg" /> <figcaption>Some example journal entries from the past.</figcaption> </figure> <p>Next, another years-long on and off practice, keeping a <strong>digital journal</strong>. I like <strong>Journey</strong> in particular for its simplicity and cross-device syncing. more than a year ago now. This is not a big boon for mental health, but does help me reflect more on what happens in my life and think back to happy memories instead of bad ones. Plus, there is a lot of evidence that <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gratitude_journal">gratitude journaling</a> helps a lot with mental health. I don’t do this much, and probably should change that.</p> <h3 id="pets"><em>Pets</em></h3> <p>This one is common knowledge and does not call for any justification, and I only include it here to show off our family’s super cute family <strong>dogs</strong>.</p> <figure class="figure"><div class="figure__main"> <p><a href="/writing/images/2021-07-18-habits-2021/dogs.jpg"><img class="postimageactual" src="/writing/images/2021-07-18-habits-2021/dogs.jpg" alt="snacks" /></a></p> </div><figcaption class="figure__caption" style="padding-top:0;"><p>Yep, 3 young dogs live in my parent</p> </figcaption></figure> <h1 id="productivity"><em>Productivity</em></h1> <p><br /> I have this problem where I usually want to do lots of stuff, and find it hard to ever get around to doing that stuff. Not to mention all these healthy habits I need to keep up with… So, here’s some stuff that helps me stay productive. Not just in terms of work, but in terms of generally using my time well.</p> <h3 id="habit-tracking"><em>Habit Tracking</em></h3> <p>Everyone knows about keeping TODO-list, but what about a habits-list? It’s a thing! There are a few really good <strong>habit tracking</strong> apps out there, though the one I like <strong>Loop</strong> most for its minimalist feature set. You know that idea (<a href="https://lifehacker.com/281626/jerry-seinfelds-productivity-secret">often attributed to Jerry Seinfeld</a>) that having a streak to keep going is a good motivator? I’m a pretty big believer in this, and besides that as with all these other tracking thingies in this post I think just keeping explicit tabs on what I am doing makes me more reflective, self-aware, and mindful my actions.</p> <figure class="figure"><div class="figure__main"> <p><a href="/writing/images/2018-01-26-habits/habitbull.png"><img class="postimagesmaller" src="/writing/images/2018-01-26-habits/habitbull.png" alt="HabitBull" /></a></p> </div><figcaption class="figure__caption" style="padding-top:0;"><p>Not the app I use these days, but close enough.</p> </figcaption></figure> <h3 id="daily-todos-planning"><em>Daily TODOs planning</em></h3> <figure class="sidefigureleft"> <img class="postimage_50" src="/writing/images/2021-07-18-habits-2021/todoist.jpg" /> <figcaption>An example of a typical set of tasks for a given day.</figcaption> </figure> <p>For many years I found todo apps pretty useless, as I inevitably got behind and abandoned the endeavor. That changed a couple of years ago, when I figured out a system that works really well for me: <strong>short term TODOs</strong>. The reason things piled up for me in the past is that I wrote down things I’d like to eventually get around to, and then of course never did. So my alternative is to only create TODOs of small tasks – no more than a few hours long, so they often end up being ‘work on X’ – for things I plan to do today or tomorrow. Having a concrete list of things to <em>finish</em> by day’s end makes it easy to know exactly what to devote most of my time to, and helps me avoid the ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’ excuse for avoiding work. And if I don’t manage to get around to all my planned tasks, no problem! I can just reschedule it to tomorrow or delete it for now. I really like the app <strong>Todoist</strong>, once again for its simplicity, but of course there are a million for you to choose from out there.</p> <h3 id="email-task-tracking"><em>Email Task Tracking</em></h3> <p>I am a big believer in <strong>Inbox Zero</strong>, or the practice of moving emails out of my inbox (once I am done with them) by trashing or putting them into a non-inbox folder. It’s inherently enjoyable to keep things tidy, but the main thing I like about this is that it organically results in my <strong>Email Inbox being a TODO list</strong>. That is, whatever emails are still in the inbox are the ones I am not done with, either because I still need to reply to them or because I still need to do a thing associated with them. This complements my short term TODO tracking, since emails can act as the “get around to eventually” sorts of tasks. Plus, with email “snoozing” (scheduling them to be hidden until a later date) I can have emails act as reminders of due dates and the like. Obviously it takes a bit of work to keep up with this, but for me it’s totally worth it.</p> <h3 id="time-tracking"><em>Time Tracking</em></h3> <p>Yep, yet another “X tracking” thing. What can I say, I like these things to help with accountability and self-awareness. I’ve been using <a href="https://www.rescuetime.com/"><strong>RescueTime</strong></a> for years and love it. Basically, it logs every single thing I do on my phone and computer, and tells me how much time I spend doing things that are productive (like this) or unproductive (like browsing reddit). The knowledge I am ‘always being watched’, even if it’s effectively by myself, helps motivate me to not spend too much time on time-waster websites and the like.</p> <figure class="figure"><div class="figure__main"> <p><a href="/writing/images/2021-07-18-habits-2021/rescuetime.png"><img class="postimage" src="/writing/images/2021-07-18-habits-2021/rescuetime.png" alt="RescueTime" /></a></p> </div><figcaption class="figure__caption" style="padding-top:0;"><p>The RescueTime website.</p> </figcaption></figure> <p>Plus, RescueTime has a nifty feature called <strong>Focus Time</strong>. When you start focus time with the RescueTime browser extension installed, you are blocked from visiting various distracting websites (reddit, youtube, new york times, etc) until the focus time period is over.</p> <figure class="figure"><div class="figure__main"> <p><a href="/writing/images/2021-07-18-habits-2021/focustime.png"><img class="postimage" src="/writing/images/2021-07-18-habits-2021/focustime.png" alt="RescueTime" /></a></p> </div><figcaption class="figure__caption" style="padding-top:0;"><p>The RescueTime website.</p> </figcaption></figure> <h3 id="pomodoro"><em>Pomodoro</em></h3> <figure class="sidefigureright"> <img class="postimage_50" src="/writing/images/2021-07-18-habits-2021/pomodoro_2.jpg" /> <figcaption>My nice and simple pomodoro app</figcaption> </figure> <p>But time tracking alone is not enough to help me avoid distractions while I’m supposed to be working. For that, there is nothing better than a <strong>Pomodoro Timer</strong>. It’s a really <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique">well known</a> and simple idea: when you need to focus, just set a timer for something like 25 or 45 minutes, and single-mindedly focus on a given task for that time span. Then, take a short break. Rinse and repeat until you are done with the task. Just the knowledge you decided to focus is enough to help you focus!</p> <p>There are lots of nice apps for this, and the one I like is <strong>PomoDoneApp</strong>. It’s not the prettiest or smoothest ones out there, but it integrates with both Todoist (by syncing with my TODO items) and indirectly with RescueTime (by automatically starting a Focus Time session when I started a Pomodoro timer). And that’s cool!</p> <h3 id="easy-meeting-scheduling"><em>Easy Meeting Scheduling</em></h3> <p>Last but not least, a neat little tool that not enough people are aware of. Do you find yourself needing to schedule lots of meetings? Well have I got a nice tool for you: <a href="https://calendly.com/"><strong>Calendly</strong></a>. Instead of listing some good times that work for you every time you need to schedule something, just keep your calendar up to date and let this thingie do the rest. It automatically shows whoever you need to schedule with the times that work for you based on your calendar, and let them pick a time from that. It works really well!</p> <figure class="figure"><div class="figure__main"> <p><a href="/writing/images/2021-07-18-habits-2021/calendly.png"><img class="postimageactual" src="/writing/images/2021-07-18-habits-2021/calendly.png" alt="Calendly" /></a></p> </div><figcaption class="figure__caption" style="padding-top:0;"><p>What the other person sees after clicking on your link.</p> </figcaption></figure> <h1 id="conclusion"><em>Conclusion</em></h1> <p><br /> So there you had it, an info dump on all the tools and practices I’ve been getting a lot of benefit from over the past months or years. Hopefully if you were so inclined as to read all this, a few of these might prove a fruitful addition to your own life.</p> <p><a href="/writing/life/habits-2021/">My Tools and Practices for a Healthier and More Productive Life</a> was originally published by Andrey Kurenkov at <a href="">Andrey Kurenkov's Web World</a> on July 18, 2021.</p> <![CDATA[The Gradient]]> /projects/team_projects/gradient 2021-05-02T00:00:00-07:00 2021-05-02T00:00:00-07:00 www.andreykurenkov.com contact@andreykurenkov.com <p>A lot of work and team building. Visit the site!</p> <p><a href="/projects/team_projects/gradient/">The Gradient</a> was originally published by Andrey Kurenkov at <a href="">Andrey Kurenkov's Web World</a> on May 02, 2021.</p> <![CDATA[How the Year of COVID Broke Me, and How I Started Getting Better]]> /writing/life/covid_depression 2021-04-06T00:00:00-07:00 2021-04-06T00:00:00-07:00 www.andreykurenkov.com contact@andreykurenkov.com <figure class="figure"><div class="figure__main"> <p><a href="/writing/images/2021-04-06-covid_depression/2020 timeline.jpg"><img class="postimageactual" src="/writing/images/2021-04-06-covid_depression/2020 timeline.jpg" alt="Covid" /></a></p> </div></figure> <blockquote> <p>“In this survey study that included 1441 respondents from during the COVID-19 pandemic and 5065 respondents from before the pandemic, depression symptom prevalence was more than 3-fold higher during the COVID-19 pandemic than before. Lower income, having less than $5000 in savings, and having exposure to more stressors were associated with greater risk of depression symptoms during COVID-19.” —<a href="https://jamanetwork-com.stanford.idm.oclc.org/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2770146">Prevalence of Depression Symptoms in US Adults Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic</a></p> </blockquote> <figure class="sidefigureright"> <img class="postimagesmaller" src="/writing/images/2021-04-06-covid_depression/depcom464.webp" alt="Depression Comix" /> <figcaption><a href="https://www.depressioncomix.com/posts/464/"><b>Depression Comix, COVID Depression</b></a></figcaption> </figure> <figure class="sidefigureleft"> <img class="postimagesmaller" src="/writing/images/2021-04-06-covid_depression/depcom418.webp" alt="Depression Comix" /> <figcaption><a href="https://www.depressioncomix.com/posts/418/"><b>Depression Comix, The depression zone</b></a></figcaption> </figure> <p>It’s funny, i wrote <a href="https://www.andreykurenkov.com/writing/life/depression-in-2020/">“My Mental Health Struggles in 2020 (so far)”</a> last year, and since then things got far, far worse. So in this post I’ll try and explain what’s been going on with me. I won’t get into how it’s gotten to be this way, since I barely know that. Obviously a huge amount of people have had it far worse in the past year than me, but it’s not like mentall illness makes sense.</p> <p>First, this post will probably seem like a it’s just a pained call for help, so let me outline why I am doing this:</p> <ol> <li>Mostly just to let my friends and family know how i’m doing. This is just the way that makes the most sense to do this.</li> <li>Also be open about and communicate the nature of depression in the past, both to put out something others can relate to and something others can learn from.</li> <li>And yeah ok, partially it is a call for help. But only in the sense that i’ve not shared this with many, and doing so seems like a good idea. If you are reading this and wanna help, no need to do much; encouraging me to be more social would be nice, as would letting me know you care with a message or that Facebook emoji.</li> <li>I guess it feels cathartic to write this, as a sort of self therapy.</li> </ol> <p>On to what has been up with me. Take a look at this:</p> <figure class="figure"><div class="figure__main"> <p><a href="/writing/images/2021-04-06-covid_depression/range.jpg"><img class="postimageactual" src="/writing/images/2021-04-06-covid_depression/range.jpg" alt="Covid" /></a></p> </div></figure> <p>I’ve been oscillating between ‘Struggling’ and ‘In Crisis’ for months, and only recently managed to upgrade to ‘Surviving.’</p> <p>So, not great. At the root of all of this is mainly one thing: I just don’t want to do anything. Not work, not excercise, not socializing, not checking emails, not even mundane things like showering or shaving, and so of course not things like meetings, brainstorming, programming. And so on. In fact, I actively want to not do those things. All I want to do is lie in bed and do nothing. Or do unhealthy things, such as drinking or smoking, or other varieties of self harm. Of course, I find the strength to force myself to do some things, and not do the harmful things. Sometimes this makes me feel better for a while; more often it just makes me tired.</p> <blockquote> <p>“Exercise/physical activity, eating healthy, spending time in nature, finding a hobby are all things that are supposed to “be good for your mental health”… but by definition, depression is a problem precisely because it inhibits your inability to function, much less do things that are good for you. Finding a therapist, trialling multiple therapists to see which one suits me best, or even starting on antidepressants and having to check in with a doctor/psychiatrist every few weeks, or having to change medications because one might fuck up my head even more, or not even work… all takes so much fucking effort that I can’t bother to do any of it.</p> </blockquote> <blockquote> <p>I went to a counsellor at my university earlier this year, and they suggested things like group therapy for my anxiety and volunteering for causes because that can give people a sense of purpose in day to day life… and I just didn’t know how to tell them, that is exactly the problem, I have utterly no will to do any of that and that’s why I’m sitting in your office right now and I don’t know what anyone can possibly do about me being this way.” —<a href="https://www.reddit.com/r/depression/comments/i2h6dv/life_doesnt_get_better_unless_you_take_actions_to/">Reddit</a></p> </blockquote> <p>The cumulative effect of all of this is a feeling of being exhausted by the mere act of living. You constantly need to drag yourself forward, when you need to find the strength to heal and persevere. It all feels like a never ending barrage from which you just want to run away. But running away via reading or video games or anything else just makes it worse too, because soon enough you need to get back to living life again, and running away makes you ability to do that atrophy. And at some point you feel fed up with all this shit, and you just want it to stop. But you’ve got to keep going.</p> <p>And because of this there is also a pervasive sense of despair, and dread. Despair at the feeling that I am no longer myself, at not knowing when this will end, at thinking that I am just… broken. And dread at the idea of having to live like this, at having to face today and tomorrow and so many days like this.</p> <p>And then there are the thoughts. Quite rote things, “I hate myself”, “I am not a pleasant person to interact with”, “I am worthless”, etc. And the annoying thing is that these are not beliefs really, I know intellectually these things are not true. I know I am not worthless, I don’t hate myself, plenty of people care about me and like me, etc. And yet the thoughts come, and having to constantly tell yourself to stop thinking nonsense is tiring in itself. Beliefs do not dictate feelings, sadly. It’s all quite irrational, and I know it’s irrational, but it is still what it is.</p> <blockquote> <p>“Depression is a bitch. I don’t want attention, I just feel worthless. Being my only company feels toxic because I hate myself. It’s so conflicting because I want to be alone. I don’t have the energy anymore to put on a fake smile like I used to. I distance myself from my friends and they don’t notice. Yet I don’t want to be alone because I’m drowning in a pool of self hatred and depression. I try to reach out and force myself to meet with people but plans always fall through. I just want to be reminded every now and then that people care for me because I feel fucking worthless. It doesn’t help when that validation never comes.” —<a href="https://www.reddit.com/r/depression/comments/mhozjo/i_isolate_myself_and_then_feel_angry_when_people/">Reddit</a></p> </blockquote> <p>Of course, on top of the more universal traits of depression there are lots of more personal quirks. The worst for me is constantly feeling incapable of productivity and creativity. When I scroll Twitter and see cool research papers, or scroll Instagram and see cool art, or watch movies, or read books, or listen to music or podcasts, or even just watch YouTube videos, there is a little part of my mind that says ‘that’s not just because of talent – this is the result of years of honing their skill, determined work, perseverance, drive’. And then, ‘you are not capable of those things.’ And then, feelings of hopelessness, self-pity, self-dislike. Even seeing and interactive with people at coffee or grocery stores makes me feel bad, because at least they are putting in the work to do something useful. This especially sucks with friends, because of course I just want to be happy for them. And thus the desire for self isolation increases.</p> <p>I could go on and on, but the above captures the essence of what I have been going through. Part of why I am writing this now is that I am starting to be better, making it possible to write this without it being a complete downer. So, a bit on that. With medication and therapy and socializing and so on not having been sufficient, bigger life changes made sense. So, I have spent months taking on the minimum amount of work possible, tried to avoid unhealthy behavior as much as I could, moved back home with my parents, and most recently started a proper vacation with more or less zero work. With weeks off, I have had time to reflect, take baby steps towards building a consistent healthy routine, rebuild my sense of hope for the future.</p> <p>So, things are getting better. The sense of dread and despair is still there, but at least it’s lessening. So there’s that.</p> <p><a href="/writing/life/covid_depression/">How the Year of COVID Broke Me, and How I Started Getting Better</a> was originally published by Andrey Kurenkov at <a href="">Andrey Kurenkov's Web World</a> on April 06, 2021.</p> <![CDATA[Skynet Today]]> /projects/team_projects/Skynet-Today 2021-04-02T00:00:00-07:00 2021-04-02T00:00:00-07:00 www.andreykurenkov.com contact@andreykurenkov.com <p>A lot of work and team building. Visit the site!</p> <p><a href="/projects/team_projects/Skynet-Today/">Skynet Today</a> was originally published by Andrey Kurenkov at <a href="">Andrey Kurenkov's Web World</a> on April 02, 2021.</p> <![CDATA[Analysis of 100 Weeks of Curated AI News]]> /writing/ai/2020-100analysis/2020-100analysis 2021-01-28T00:00:00-08:00 2021-01-28T00:00:00-08:00 www.andreykurenkov.com contact@andreykurenkov.com <p><a href="/writing/ai/2020-100analysis/index.html">Analysis of 100 Weeks of Curated AI News</a> was originally published by Andrey Kurenkov at <a href="">Andrey Kurenkov's Web World</a> on January 28, 2021.</p> <![CDATA[AI News in 2020, a Digest]]> /writing/ai/2020-digest/2020-digest 2020-12-28T00:00:00-08:00 2020-12-28T00:00:00-08:00 www.andreykurenkov.com contact@andreykurenkov.com <p><a href="/writing/ai/2020-digest/index.html">AI News in 2020, a Digest</a> was originally published by Andrey Kurenkov at <a href="">Andrey Kurenkov's Web World</a> on December 28, 2020.</p> <![CDATA[Please Stop Saying 'An AI']]> /writing/ai/stop-saying/stop-saying 2020-12-01T00:00:00-08:00 2020-12-01T00:00:00-08:00 www.andreykurenkov.com contact@andreykurenkov.com <p><a href="/writing/ai/stop-saying/index.html">Please Stop Saying 'An AI'</a> was originally published by Andrey Kurenkov at <a href="">Andrey Kurenkov's Web World</a> on December 01, 2020.</p> <![CDATA[Hierarchical Mech Search]]> /projects/research/hms 2020-11-01T00:00:00-07:00 2020-11-01T00:00:00-07:00 www.andreykurenkov.com contact@andreykurenkov.com <p><a href="/projects/research/hms/">Hierarchical Mech Search</a> was originally published by Andrey Kurenkov at <a href="">Andrey Kurenkov's Web World</a> on November 01, 2020.</p> <![CDATA[Visuomotor Mech Search]]> /projects/research/vismechsearch 2020-09-06T00:00:00-07:00 2020-09-06T00:00:00-07:00 www.andreykurenkov.com contact@andreykurenkov.com <p><a href="/projects/research/vismechsearch/">Visuomotor Mech Search</a> was originally published by Andrey Kurenkov at <a href="">Andrey Kurenkov's Web World</a> on September 06, 2020.</p> <![CDATA[My Mental Health Struggles in 2020 (so far)]]> /writing/life/depression-in-2020 2020-09-06T00:00:00-07:00 2020-09-06T00:00:00-07:00 www.andreykurenkov.com contact@andreykurenkov.com <p><br /> <em>Disclaimer: this little blog post is not a cry for help, and hopefully not (just) a form of self-therapy, but like my <a href="https://www.andreykurenkov.com/writing/life/conveying-depression/">prior</a> <a href="https://www.andreykurenkov.com/writing/life/things-everyone-should-know-about-depression/">writing</a> on the subject is meant to (hopefully) help those dealing with similar struggles or those not aware of such struggles. Content warning, discussion of depression. Reminder to friends reading this, I’m always happy to be there and help if you need it.</em></p> <figure> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">September is US <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/SuicidePreventionMonth?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#SuicidePreventionMonth</a>. At this point in our country&#39;s history, a lot of us are struggling, and may turn to self-harm or death. Remember that so many are in similar pain, and open conversations about this reality is one of the best ways to make things better.</p>&mdash; MMitchell (@mmitchell_ai) <a href="https://twitter.com/mmitchell_ai/status/1301967935884337154?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 4, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async="" src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> </figure> <p>Two weeks ago, on the calm Sunday afternoon of August 23 2020, I started crying for no clear reason. No event in the recent past or on the horizon was on my mind, no particular trauma or anxiety was eating away at me; I just felt bad, to the point of tearing up, crying, even sobbing. All this, while pacing around the living room of my nice new apartment where I now live alone, or sitting down in my bedroom where I now sleep alone. After an hour or two, I calmed down and felt a bit better. The crying and pain was unexpected, as I had been feeling rather good for the past few weeks, and so I started to take note similar incidents from then on:</p> <figure class="figure"><div class="figure__main"> <p><a href="/writing/images/2020-09-06-depression-in-2020/list.jpg"><img class="postimageactual" src="/writing/images/2020-09-06-depression-in-2020/list.jpg" alt="List of difficulties over past two weeks" /></a></p> </div></figure> <p>Why write it down? I suppose to have an objective measure of how bad I felt, a proof that this was real and not something I could just snap out of. Because I could not snap out of it; though I knew that factually there was no reason to feel bad to the point of crying and sobbing (and moreover, that I am incredibly privileged and fortunate, have great friends and family, am still employed, etc.), still a darkness clung to me and made each day difficult, each moment of awakeness draining. Suddenly it seems I was in the grips of full-on depression, a type of sickness it would take <a href="http://www.andreykurenkov.com/writing/life/conveying-depression/">a whole other blog post</a> to try to explain.</p> <p>Now, it is again a calm Sunday afternoon, and with two weeks having passed I am sitting here writing this, feeling fine. Normal. It has been one week since I last cried, and almost one week since I talked to a new psychiatrist about my sudden descent into misery and fatigue. Perhaps the psychiatrist’s recommendation of increasing my antidepressant dosage was what stabilized me, perhaps it was other things, perhaps both, who knows. As usual, having ascended from the distorted mental space of depression leaves me feeling like just being normal, like this, is all I could ever wish for.</p> <p>And what got me into the depressive funk in the first place? It’s honestly been years since I was in a place as bad as that in terms of mental health, since I cried on a daily basis or had intrusive thoughts visualizing (though, not really considering) self harm. What got me there? Well, the general state of the world, of course. But, I also blame the decreased interaction with others that COVID 19 has made the norm for half a year now. It’s no surprise that isolation and the general repetitiveness of mostly-just-stay-home life would bear a mental cost, but in retrospect it seems like it has somehow built up, until I suddenly found myself in that dark place.</p> <p>And so, I share these sordid personal details now. I do so because I think others might be accumulating pain and struggling too, and that just sharing how i’ve struggled might help in some small ways. Like, maybe me sharing this will help others feel less alone, or less self-conscious, or more motivated to keep going. It’s too easy to get lost inside your own head, especially this year, so perhaps this account of my recent – and less recent – difficulties could make yours more manageable.</p> <p>What other sordid details of personal struggle shall I dredge up, you ask? Just a few. Again, with the intention of showing that at least for me, this year’s whole course and isolation in particular can build up to some rather nasty outcomes, and so maybe you should not feel self-conscious if the same is true for you. So, let us go on a quick tour of what I have to offer, in reverse chronological order:</p> <p>July 30th: a month ago, I had a bit of a precursor to the week of crying I already told you about. A mix of deadline-induced stress (as well as general PhD grad-school-is-hard stress), isolation (living mostly alone, and on top of that multiple days of not really talking to anyone while working on the deadline), and a last-minute discovery of a nasty bug combined to give me a little nervous breakdown a day before said deadline. I sobbed a lot and had spirals of stress, perhaps even got close to panic attacks. Luckily, a friend was awake and helped me calm down just as this was starting, and the next day my collaborators were understanding and wisely suggested I not worry too much about the situation and take the weekend fully off.</p> <p>A few days of rest and catching up with friends and family proved to be all I needed to return to normal. And afterward, I began a routine meant to help me stay that way (that evidently did not quite suffice, but still, I felt good for a few weeks):</p> <figure> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Have been trying to improve daily routine lately, particularly:<br />- Going out for walks twice a day (early and late)<br />- Limiting drinking to one glass of wine with dinner (on weekdays) <br />- Resetting sleep schedule to sleep and wake earlier<br /><br />Anyone else finding ways to improve lately?</p>&mdash; Andrey Kurenkov 🤖 (@andrey_kurenkov) <a href="https://twitter.com/andrey_kurenkov/status/1291439005578309632?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">August 6, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async="" src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> </figure> <p>July 4th: This was a few weeks after I had returned from living with family in Georgia to living by myself in California. That first weekend of being in my apartment proved more depressing than I had expected, and I felt down. Not as down as the things I had already described, but still, it hit me harder than I expected. I thought it was only natural to return to my own life after a time of staying with family, and moreover needed to move soon, and had this deadline, so it seemed to make sense to return here and focus on those things. But still, I felt miserable.</p> <p>May 17th: The whole idea of living with family for a while came about unexpectedly, while talking to my mom on the phone. I was doing okay, but at this point growing numb to the sameness of every day, every week. Although flying was of course a risk, the truth was that I felt I needed this just then, badly enough to agree with my mom and book a ticket for less than a week later. I was in a state of malaise, of im-okness that felt like it was wearing me down day by day. The trip home did help, as expected, and perhaps I should have stayed longer.</p> <figure> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Sharing something fun! <br /><br />A little mini-movie to show how wonderful it is to go on long walks with our family&#39;s two pups. It&#39;s so great being home for a while, even if so much else in the US is a mess... <a href="https://t.co/UzvoVXDQJE">pic.twitter.com/UzvoVXDQJE</a></p>&mdash; Andrey Kurenkov 🤖 (@andrey_kurenkov) <a href="https://twitter.com/andrey_kurenkov/status/1273367351438782465?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">June 17, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async="" src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> </figure> <p>April 23: A month and change into sheltering in place, the introverted notion of ‘wow, shelter in place is kind of nice and relaxing, I could get used to this’ had passed, and I started feeling less energetic and motivated. I was exercising multiple times a week, following a healthy diet, sleeping well, doing a lot of socializing with friends online, enjoying video games or reading or movies regularly, and yet somehow still I felt myself growing less energetic. After consulting with my general care provider, I decided to resume the taking of antidepressants (which I had weaned down to not taking just months prior) as a precautionary measure against depression. I got around to finishing <a href="https://www.andreykurenkov.com/writing/life/things-everyone-should-know-about-depression/">“Things Everyone Should Know About Depression”</a> soon after, in the spirit of such precautionary measures, and I suppose it was not too surprising I ended up having to remind myself of my own advice from that post over the last few weeks.</p> <figure> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Navigating mental health during the pandemic is even more complex than usual. It&#39;s okay to not be okay right now.<br /><br />Sometimes we have to focus on looking after our mental health, and everything else will follow. 💜<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/AcademicChatter?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#AcademicChatter</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/AcademicTwitter?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#AcademicTwitter</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/phdchat?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#phdchat</a> <a href="https://t.co/Fl6inIUj5m">pic.twitter.com/Fl6inIUj5m</a></p>&mdash; Dr Zoë Ayres (@ZJAyres) <a href="https://twitter.com/ZJAyres/status/1278092344366161920?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">June 30, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async="" src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> </figure> <p>So there you have it. Despite being in an incredibly fortunate situation (able to keep working, friends and family largely well and there for me, etc.), and despite active efforts on my own part to maintain my mental health, I still had episodes of intense pain and misery. Does that show that I am weak? That I can’t take care of myself? When I was at my low points it was all too easy to feel that way, and I did to some extent, and that’s why I write this now to hopefully help others fight such thoughts, and accept that struggle is fine and natural this year and all you can do is your best to feel well.</p> <figure> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">&#39;Thirty-nine per cent of graduate students screened positive for anxiety, and 32% screened positive for depression.&quot;<br /><br />Terrible to see this... I am fortunate enough to have been able to keep working remote, and even still i&#39;ve felt this year has been tough. <br />2020, please just end. <a href="https://t.co/EKdzEegb91">https://t.co/EKdzEegb91</a></p>&mdash; Andrey Kurenkov 🤖 (@andrey_kurenkov) <a href="https://twitter.com/andrey_kurenkov/status/1296230912288382978?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">August 19, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async="" src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> </figure> <p>And one last thing: I hope this can be a reminder to face your struggles, and seek help, if you need to. Though I’ve had a few tough days and weeks this year, for the most part it’s been ok, these are nothing compared to months-long episodes of depression I’ve dealt with in the past. And I really do think that this is because I pushed myself to ask friends and family to talk, and was open about my pain if I felt I needed to be, or otherwise just spent time with them rather than close off and stay alone. And further, because I talked to doctors when it seemed like a necessary step. Rejecting and ignoring your pain, just because objectively things are not so bad (or, if they are so bad), will just make it worse. Don’t feel ashamed about it, and instead be honest and face it as best you can.</p> <p><a href="/writing/life/depression-in-2020/">My Mental Health Struggles in 2020 (so far)</a> was originally published by Andrey Kurenkov at <a href="">Andrey Kurenkov's Web World</a> on September 06, 2020.</p> <![CDATA[COVID-19, Inequality, and Donating What You Can Now]]> /writing/life/covid-donate 2020-06-21T00:00:00-07:00 2020-06-21T00:00:00-07:00 www.andreykurenkov.com contact@andreykurenkov.com <p><br /></p> <figure class="figure"><div class="figure__main"> <p><a href="/writing/images/2020-06-21-covid-donate/covid.png"><img class="postimageactual" src="/writing/images/2020-06-21-covid-donate/covid.png" alt="Covid" /></a></p> </div></figure> <figure class="figure"><div class="figure__main"> <p><a href="/writing/images/2020-06-21-covid-donate/jobs.png&quot; alt=&quot;jobs.png"><img class="postimageactual" src="/writing/images/2020-06-21-covid-donate/jobs.png" alt="jobs.png" /></a></p> </div></figure> <figure class="figure"><div class="figure__main"> <p><a href="/writing/images/2020-06-21-covid-donate/race.jpeg&quot; alt=&quot;race.jpeg"><img class="postimagehalf" src="/writing/images/2020-06-21-covid-donate/race.jpeg" alt="race.jpeg" /></a> <a href="/writing/images/2020-06-21-covid-donate/race2.jpeg&quot; alt=&quot;race2.jpeg"><img class="postimagehalf" src="/writing/images/2020-06-21-covid-donate/race2.jpeg" alt="race2.jpeg" /></a></p> </div></figure> <figure class="figure"><div class="figure__main"> <p><a href="/writing/images/2020-06-21-covid-donate/income.png&quot; alt=&quot;income.png"><img class="postimageactual" src="/writing/images/2020-06-21-covid-donate/income.png" alt="income.png" /></a></p> </div></figure> <p><a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/may/28/us-coronavirus-death-toll-racial-disparity-inequality"> As 100,000 die, the virus lays bare America’s brutal fault lines – race, gender, poverty and broken politics </a></p> <p><a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/14/us/politics/coronavirus-economy-recession-depression.html">I.M.F. Predicts Worst Downturn Since the Great Depression</a></p> <p><a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/19/coronavirus-pandemic-billioinaires-racial-wealth-gap">Coronavirus has widened America’s vast racial wealth gap, study finds</a></p> <p><a href="https://www.vox.com/covid-19-coronavirus-economy-recession-stock-market/2020/6/1/21276909/george-floyd-police-coronavirus-crisis-minnesota-unemployment-protests">George Floyd and the cascade of crises in black America</a></p> <p>This is the world we live in now – one in which those worst off are hit hardest by the Coronavirus, and the inequalities and ugly divides within the United States get even worse.</p> <p>I asked myself what I should do about this, as someone who at least has a stable income and considerable savings from the 2 years I worked as a software engineer in the Bay Area. The answer was simple: donate a lot of the money I had saved, and do it now, ideally in a way that got it to those likeliest to get hit hardest by the pandemic.</p> <p>And so, I donated 20% of my cash savings, $7000, to GiveDirectly’s <a href="https://www.givedirectly.org/covid-19/us/">Project 100</a>, which <a href="https://www.freshebt.com/blog/give-directly-cash-transfers/">simply</a> “gives $1000 cash transfers, no strings attached, to families in financial need to help make ends meet during the coronavirus crisis.” I also donated smaller amounts to other causes, but 20% was the big one. I decided on this amount as something sensible to still leave me with significant savings in case of a crisis or need (I might actually want to buy a car some day, who knows).</p> <p>I share this not to elicit praise or pat myself on the back, but rather to suggest you consider doing something similar, if you are in a similar position of having considerable amounts of money saved up in checkings or savings accounts. Now more than ever it made sense to just do something big, to really give away what I could, in the face of this enormous crisis that will only make the lives of those who already have a much harder life that I do that much harder.</p> <p>To really address these issues would require far more than individual actions, of course. But personally, it just seemed to make sense to still do what I could, and I only hope this post might give some others in a similar position this idea to consider.</p> <p><a href="/writing/life/covid-donate/">COVID-19, Inequality, and Donating What You Can Now</a> was originally published by Andrey Kurenkov at <a href="">Andrey Kurenkov's Web World</a> on June 21, 2020.</p> <![CDATA[Lessons from the PULSE Model and Discussion]]> /writing/ai/pulse-lessons/pulse-lessons 2020-05-25T00:00:00-07:00 2020-05-25T00:00:00-07:00 www.andreykurenkov.com contact@andreykurenkov.com <p><a href="/writing/ai/pulse-lessons/index.html">Lessons from the PULSE Model and Discussion</a> was originally published by Andrey Kurenkov at <a href="">Andrey Kurenkov's Web World</a> on May 25, 2020.</p> <![CDATA[Why and How to Get the Most Out of Twitter]]> /writing/life/twitter-tips 2020-05-11T00:00:00-07:00 2020-05-11T00:00:00-07:00 www.andreykurenkov.com contact@andreykurenkov.com <p><br /> I used to be completely mystified by the appeal of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitter">Twitter</a>, and indeed actively disliked the idea of being active on it. Yet in the last few years, I’ve become quite fond of it as a platform:</p> <figure class="figure"><div class="figure__main"> <p><a href="/writing/images/2020-05-11-twitter-tips/usage.png"><img class="postimageactual" src="/writing/images/2020-05-11-twitter-tips/usage.png" alt="Usage" /></a></p> </div></figure> <p>This post is meant for anyone who is likewise mystified, or for anyone getting started and trying to figure out the best way to use it. I’ll first lay out what I (as someone who is fond of the platform) see as the appeal of Twitter, and then how I try to go about using it to get the most out of it (as someone who has laid out some rules of thumb for myself based on my experience using it).</p> <p>A lot of writing already exists that does this, but much of it is quite formal and focuses on stuff like ‘networking’ and ‘professional advancement’; this won’t be that serious and will instead just present my personal perspective, often with embedded tweets to serve as examples. I won’t get into the mechanics of signing up or tweeting conventions too much, <a href="https://medium.com/@jinjizhang/rookies-guide-to-twitter-tips-tricks-on-getting-started-getting-the-most-out-of-your-feed-7f604aa354c7">there</a> <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/how-to-setup-twitter-search-hashtag-and-login-help/">are</a> <a href="https://journals.plos.org/ploscompbiol/article?id=10.1371/journal.pcbi.1007513">plenty</a> of <a href="https://iaphs.org/tweet-not-tweet-twitter-academics/">other</a> write ups for that.</p> <ul id="markdown-toc"> <li><a href="#what-you-can-get-out-of-twitter" id="markdown-toc-what-you-can-get-out-of-twitter">What you can get out of twitter</a> <ul> <li><a href="#news" id="markdown-toc-news">News</a></li> <li><a href="#visibility" id="markdown-toc-visibility">Visibility</a></li> <li><a href="#entertainment" id="markdown-toc-entertainment">Entertainment</a></li> <li><a href="#conversations" id="markdown-toc-conversations">Conversations</a></li> <li><a href="#connections" id="markdown-toc-connections">Connections</a></li> </ul> </li> <li><a href="#how-to-get-the-most-out-of-twitter" id="markdown-toc-how-to-get-the-most-out-of-twitter">How to get the most out of twitter</a> <ul> <li><a href="#do-follow-people" id="markdown-toc-do-follow-people">Do: follow people</a></li> <li><a href="#do-be-positive-and-polite" id="markdown-toc-do-be-positive-and-polite">Do: Be positive and polite</a></li> <li><a href="#do-use-it-to-make-your-work-more-visible--accessible" id="markdown-toc-do-use-it-to-make-your-work-more-visible--accessible">Do: Use it to make your work more visible &amp; accessible</a></li> <li><a href="#do-feel-free-to-be-opinionated-or-silly" id="markdown-toc-do-feel-free-to-be-opinionated-or-silly">Do: Feel free to be opinionated or silly</a></li> <li><a href="#do-remember-that-behind-each-account-is-a-fellow-human-being-except-for-bots" id="markdown-toc-do-remember-that-behind-each-account-is-a-fellow-human-being-except-for-bots">Do: Remember that behind each account is a fellow human being (except for bots)</a></li> <li><a href="#dont-indulge-too-much" id="markdown-toc-dont-indulge-too-much">Don’t: indulge too much</a></li> <li><a href="#dont-engage-in-needless-disagreements" id="markdown-toc-dont-engage-in-needless-disagreements">Don’t: Engage in needless disagreements</a></li> <li><a href="#dont-focus-on-the-numbers" id="markdown-toc-dont-focus-on-the-numbers">Don’t: Focus on the numbers</a></li> <li><a href="#dont-propagate-misinformation" id="markdown-toc-dont-propagate-misinformation">Don’t: Propagate misinformation</a></li> </ul> </li> </ul> <h2 id="what-you-can-get-out-of-twitter">What you can get out of twitter</h2> <h3 id="news">News</h3> <p>First and foremost, Twitter is a means to be ‘plugged in’. Whether its news regarding your profession, your hobbies, or any other topic, chances are if you get on Twitter and follow the right people it’ll quickly become a means of keeping up with what’s going on. Of course, it’s also a source of misinformation, but as long as you stay <a href="https://abcnews.go.com/US/ways-spot-disinformation-social-media-feeds/story?id=67784438">duly critical</a> Twitter can legitimately make you more informed about stuff you care about and current events.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">🤯😯<br /><br />Simple idea with amazing looking results! Always exciting to see. <a href="https://t.co/jZPjaqLoUD">https://t.co/jZPjaqLoUD</a></p>&mdash; Andrey Kurenkov 🤖 (@andrey_kurenkov) <a href="https://twitter.com/andrey_kurenkov/status/1255363161210920960?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 29, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async="" src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <p>As an academic whose field (Artificial Intelligence) is pretty active on Twitter, I was surprised to find how effective it was for surfacing exciting new papers, announcements about conferences, and other such relevant and useful information. Not only that, but it has often led me to encounter papers I would have likely just not seen otherwise.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Super cool way to convey research in an accessible way! Bravo 👏 <a href="https://t.co/WL1zkBPUoK">https://t.co/WL1zkBPUoK</a></p>&mdash; Andrey Kurenkov 🤖 (@andrey_kurenkov) <a href="https://twitter.com/andrey_kurenkov/status/1249904200458178560?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 14, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async="" src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <h3 id="visibility">Visibility</h3> <p>Of course, the flip side of the above is that by tweeting you can try and let the world know of your own news.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">When looking at RL training, it&#39;s often frustrating to see the agent taking so long to discover simple things you could code up yourself for parts of the task.<br /><br />Well now you can!<br /><br />Check out our new work on RL with an Ensemble of Suboptimal Teachers, to be presented at <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CoRL2019?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CoRL2019</a>. <a href="https://t.co/CWV3VY7iID">https://t.co/CWV3VY7iID</a></p>&mdash; Andrey Kurenkov 🤖 (@andrey_kurenkov) <a href="https://twitter.com/andrey_kurenkov/status/1172333254046650369?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 13, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async="" src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <p>You don’t need to engage with the site much to do this, and in fact many professors seem to be on the site primarily to share their lab’s work.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Want to have your robot cut tofu or scoop icing? Our work on assistive feeding combines low-dimensional latent actions with shared autonomy for precise assistive teleoperation. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/RSS2020?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#RSS2020</a><br />paper: <a href="https://t.co/UIpUGJPQeQ">https://t.co/UIpUGJPQeQ</a><br />video: <a href="https://t.co/fsqzB6ha1p">https://t.co/fsqzB6ha1p</a><br />w/ Hong Jun Jeon, Dylan Losey</p>&mdash; Dorsa Sadigh (@DorsaSadigh) <a href="https://twitter.com/DorsaSadigh/status/1258556202830553088?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">May 8, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async="" src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <h3 id="entertainment">Entertainment</h3> <p>That being said, Twitter is not all work and no play. Like much of the internet, memes and cute videos circulate on it non stop which Twitter presents to you via its mysterious algorithm for choosing the content to surface. Personally I do quite enjoy the element of randomness in my browsing, but you also have the option to limit what you see to just being a chronological view of what people you follow post.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Far too relatable 😅 <a href="https://t.co/8y8mDSfgzn">https://t.co/8y8mDSfgzn</a></p>&mdash; Andrey Kurenkov 🤖 (@andrey_kurenkov) <a href="https://twitter.com/andrey_kurenkov/status/1248729851978113024?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 10, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async="" src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">In case you need some more weird amusing Twitter accounts to follow... here you go! This one is great :D <a href="https://t.co/vz9fj8faIV">https://t.co/vz9fj8faIV</a></p>&mdash; Andrey Kurenkov 🤖 (@andrey_kurenkov) <a href="https://twitter.com/andrey_kurenkov/status/1257859826001907714?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">May 6, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async="" src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <h3 id="conversations">Conversations</h3> <p>Twitter can often be a place to air one’s thoughts, and as a result can also be a place to discuss such thoughts. Of course you can’t exactly have deeply nuanced and rich conversations, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the usefulness of some of the exchanges I’ve had on there.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">&quot;&quot;I think generally people underestimate the capability of AI — they sort of think it&#39;s a smart human ... But it&#39;s going to be much more than that. It will be much smarter than the smartest human.&quot;<br /><br />Present day AI is not as smart as any human, and we dont know if it ever will be.</p>&mdash; Andrey Kurenkov 🤖 (@andrey_kurenkov) <a href="https://twitter.com/andrey_kurenkov/status/1167271071545876480?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">August 30, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async="" src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">ah thank you, good to know the term already existed and has seen some adoption! I (and it seems others) knew of the concept but not the term, and the term itself is sensible and useful as shorthand.</p>&mdash; Andrey Kurenkov 🤖 (@andrey_kurenkov) <a href="https://twitter.com/andrey_kurenkov/status/1253800196766461952?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 24, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async="" src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <h3 id="connections">Connections</h3> <p>Lastly, you can legitimately get to know the body of work of people and interact with them despite having never met them. This is of course not a close connection, but it is still a potent way for getting initial connections to people in your community. These initial connections can then lead to meeting in person down the line, which is often quite fun:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">A positive aspect of Twitter (and especially <a href="https://twitter.com/AcademicChatter?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@AcademicChatter</a> Twitter): finding out about cool people you would not otherwise have known about, keeping up with their work / views / memes, and making plans + being excited to meet in person eventually at a conference or something.</p>&mdash; Andrey Kurenkov 🤖 (@andrey_kurenkov) <a href="https://twitter.com/andrey_kurenkov/status/1231419616909357057?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 23, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async="" src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <h2 id="how-to-get-the-most-out-of-twitter">How to get the most out of twitter</h2> <h3 id="do-follow-people">Do: follow people</h3> <p>Twitter has a lot of quite active users, and once you find a few that post things you find cool or interesting it becomes quite fun. When I come across a cool seeming person these days I often check if they have a Twitter account to follow, and likewise follow any random people I come across on Twitter itself. Some stuff out there implies your following-follower ratio matters, but I’ve never about it myself and just follow people as I feel like it.</p> <h3 id="do-be-positive-and-polite">Do: Be positive and polite</h3> <p>Personally, I try to be pretty positive when Tweeting. It’s ultimately a social platform, and everyone’s experience on there is a function of how everyone else uses it. There is enough negativity, cynicism, and mean-spirited criticism out there in the world, so even when having a disagreement I aim to be at least respectful to others, and generally leave my moping to myself.</p> <p>Of course, this is a rule of thumb and there are likely times in which you may share sad or negative sentiments, too. In fact, <a href="https://socialbearing.com">a little analysis</a> shows I do so myself:</p> <figure class="figure"><div class="figure__main"> <p><a href="/writing/images/2020-05-11-twitter-tips/chart_tweets_by_sentiment.png"><img class="postimageactual" src="/writing/images/2020-05-11-twitter-tips/chart_tweets_by_sentiment.png" alt="Usage" /></a></p> </div></figure> <h3 id="do-use-it-to-make-your-work-more-visible--accessible">Do: Use it to make your work more visible &amp; accessible</h3> <p>Self-promotion can often feel lame to do, but personally I quite enjoy coming across various projects I might have never seen if not for Twitter. The enforced brevity of Twitter is actually kind of a benefit here, as it’s just a place for you to ‘elevator pitch’ it to people and share a link if they feel like reading more. This is very commonly done by AI researchers, for instance:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Automatic Curriculum Learning For Deep RL: A Short Survey<br /><br />What is ACL? Why use ACL? Which forms of ACL (e.g. goal generation, reward shaping, procedural gen. of envs, self-play)? What open questions?<a href="https://t.co/2mAVUqbR0S">https://t.co/2mAVUqbR0S</a><br /><br />w <a href="https://twitter.com/RPortelas?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@RPortelas</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/cedcolas?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@cedcolas</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/lilianweng?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@lilianweng</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/katjahofmann?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@katjahofmann</a> <a href="https://t.co/to8cmc4DRM">pic.twitter.com/to8cmc4DRM</a></p>&mdash; Pierre-Yves Oudeyer (@pyoudeyer) <a href="https://twitter.com/pyoudeyer/status/1238123536004403200?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">March 12, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async="" src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Check out our work on joint semantic matching and co-segmentation in PAMI! <a href="https://t.co/oBRFHMXqGo">https://t.co/oBRFHMXqGo</a><br /><br />Code: <a href="https://t.co/IOz8hqxj10">https://t.co/IOz8hqxj10</a><br /><br />Yun-Chun will start his exciting Ph.D. journey in U of Toronto with <a href="https://twitter.com/animesh_garg?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@animesh_garg</a> <a href="https://t.co/JA8U9v3Bw4">pic.twitter.com/JA8U9v3Bw4</a></p>&mdash; Jia-Bin Huang (@jbhuang0604) <a href="https://twitter.com/jbhuang0604/status/1254203605139283973?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 26, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async="" src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <p>You can also make a Twitter thread and share the ‘high level’ view of the work and its main take aways, which makes it much easier for people not in your immediate field to get a first feel for it and perhaps get interested. In this way Twitter is also a nice platform for science communication and engagement with non-experts.</p> <h3 id="do-feel-free-to-be-opinionated-or-silly">Do: Feel free to be opinionated or silly</h3> <p>That being said, once again, all work and no play is not my policy on Twitter. It can be quite fun to share jokes or take part in memes, so if you are moved to do so I don’t think there is a big stigma about being a bit silly on there.</p> <h3 id="do-remember-that-behind-each-account-is-a-fellow-human-being-except-for-bots">Do: Remember that behind each account is a fellow human being (except for bots)</h3> <p>A good rule of thumb for everywhere on the internet, really.</p> <h3 id="dont-indulge-too-much">Don’t: indulge too much</h3> <p>Although Twitter can be occasionally feel productive due to you coming upon news and such, at the end of the day it is a social media platform that is engineered to try and get you as addicted to it as possible. As with any such platform, not spending much time is a good idea. I’ve long had it on my phone and used it as my default way to fill empty time, but recently decided to uninstall it and only use it via a browser to limit my usage. I also use the time tracker RescueTime to guilt-trip myself into not wasting too much time on there or elsewhere, and would recommend it.</p> <figure class="figure"><div class="figure__main"> <p><a href="/writing/images/2020-05-11-twitter-tips/time.png"><img class="postimageactual" src="/writing/images/2020-05-11-twitter-tips/time.png" alt="Usage" /></a></p> </div></figure> <h3 id="dont-engage-in-needless-disagreements">Don’t: Engage in needless disagreements</h3> <p>This is a corollary to the above. In a weird way, I actually think of Twitter as a useful mental excercise tool; you will likely see takes or ideas you disagree with, and i’ve found consciously choosing not to engage and instead just move on to be something i’ve gotten better at over time. The occasional discussion can be fun, of course, but more often than not this mostly a waste a time and better avoided.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Agreed!<br /><br />Not wasting your energy on dead end / unproductive conversations is essential to getting the most out of Twitter.<br /><br />As you use it you will most likely see things you disagree with; %99 of the time, best to let it go and move on.<br /><br />Save your energy for positive exchanges :) <a href="https://t.co/IEe4hE88gn">https://t.co/IEe4hE88gn</a></p>&mdash; Andrey Kurenkov 🤖 (@andrey_kurenkov) <a href="https://twitter.com/andrey_kurenkov/status/1248367472580767744?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 9, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async="" src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <h3 id="dont-focus-on-the-numbers">Don’t: Focus on the numbers</h3> <p>Twitter puts numbers (followers, favorites, retweets, etc.) in your face to an ever greater extent than other social media platforms, and even has a little personal analytics tool to track these numbers. For some professions cultivating a following is of course important and it’s not realistic to ignore these numbers, but personally I try to do just that as much as possible. In fact, I have installed a plugin called <a href="https://bengrosser.com/projects/twitter-demetricator/">Twitter Demetricator</a></p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">This Twitter Demetricator extension is really a game changer for this site! <br /><br />So refreshing to not care how much something has been shared/liked and just to judge content (see example in img). <br /><br />Plus encouraged me to uninstall on phone, also a good call. <a href="https://t.co/fm63zlQw3t">https://t.co/fm63zlQw3t</a> <a href="https://t.co/V30PSyfss5">pic.twitter.com/V30PSyfss5</a></p>&mdash; Andrey Kurenkov 🤖 (@andrey_kurenkov) <a href="https://twitter.com/andrey_kurenkov/status/1251293638593622016?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 17, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async="" src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <h3 id="dont-propagate-misinformation">Don’t: Propagate misinformation</h3> <p>Lastly, you might be surprised with how easy it is to fall for false information and propagate it via likes or retweets. A good rule of thumb is to not immediately believe anything you read, until you can verify the primary source that information is based on.</p> <p><a href="/writing/life/twitter-tips/">Why and How to Get the Most Out of Twitter</a> was originally published by Andrey Kurenkov at <a href="">Andrey Kurenkov's Web World</a> on May 11, 2020.</p> <![CDATA[Things Everyone Should Know About Depression]]> /writing/life/things-everyone-should-know-about-depression 2020-04-27T00:00:00-07:00 2020-04-27T00:00:00-07:00 www.andreykurenkov.com contact@andreykurenkov.com <h2 id="foreword">Foreword</h2> <p>This post is a lot to take in, so if you choose to not read it right now, I would recommend you at least watch this 4 minute video:</p> <iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/z-IR48Mb3W0" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen=""></iframe> <p>You can also choose to watch this video version instead of reading:</p> <iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/TYWbUmSzSYU" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen=""></iframe> <hr /> <blockquote> <p>“In 2017, an estimated 11 million U.S. adults aged 18 or older had at least one major depressive episode with severe impairment. This number represented 4.5% of all U.S. adults. … Approximately 35% of adults with major depressive episode did not receive treatment.”<br /> —<a href="https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml">National Institude of Mental Health</a></p> </blockquote> <blockquote> <p>“Overall, male university students exhibited low overall mental health, limited mental health knowledge, weak mental health beliefs, poor mental health attitudes, high self-stigma to seek help, significant impacts of help-seeking on self-confidence, and low intention to seek professional help. “<br /> —<a href="https://www-tandfonline-com.stanford.idm.oclc.org/doi/full/10.1080/07448481.2018.1434780?journalCode=vach20">Mental health literacy, stigma, and help-seeking behaviors among male college students</a></p> </blockquote> <p>Help starts with understanding. Though false stereotypes about people with depression<sup id="fnref:1"><a href="#fn:1" class="footnote">1</a></sup> certainly persist, another important issue is that many people just don’t know much about it. If your knowledge about depression amounts to “it’s a mental health thing where you feel terrible, sometimes to the point of being suicidal, and there are a lot pills for it”, you are not equipped to help yourself or others when faced with this disease. And yet, based on the above statistics it’s clear that just about everyone needs to be ready to do just that.</p> <blockquote> <p>“Based on data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2007, approximately 25% of adults with mental illness believed that others are sympathetic toward patients diagnosed with these conditions.”<br /> —<a href="https://mhc.cpnp.org/doi/full/10.9740/mhc.2018.09.227?journalCode=mhcl">Evaluation of perceptions and knowledge of mental illness in the United States through crowdsourcing</a></p> </blockquote> <blockquote> <p>“Mental health literacy seems to have a promising effect on care seeking. Individuals who better recognize their mental illness and its manifestations, as well as treatment options to address its varied impressions, might better avail themselves of those options (Jorm, 2012).”<br /> —<a href="http://journals.sagepub.com/stoken/rbtfl/dDpyhM2zRi.Fg/full">“The Impact of Mental Illness Stigma on Seeking and Participating in Mental Health Care”</a></p> </blockquote> <p>There are already many resources aimed at assisting with that, such as <a href="https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/people-depression-wish-you-knew#1">“What People With Depression Wish You Knew”</a>, <a href="https://www.verywellmind.com/depression-facts-you-should-know-1067617">“7 Facts You Should Know About Depression”</a>, and many more. Much of their content is focused on explaning what depression <strong>is not</strong> with statements such as “Depression Is More Than Ordinary Sadness” and “It’s a real disease”, which is commendable but also results in them not discussing many aspects of what depression <strong>is</strong>. This is going to be the aim of this piece; more specifically, the intent is to make it easier for anyone to empathize and help others dealing with depression or to face it yourself<sup id="fnref:3"><a href="#fn:3" class="footnote">2</a></sup>. More concretly, I will address the following:</p> <ul id="markdown-toc"> <li><a href="#foreword" id="markdown-toc-foreword">Foreword</a></li> <li><a href="#what-is-depression" id="markdown-toc-what-is-depression"><strong>What Is Depression</strong></a></li> <li><a href="#what-causes-depression" id="markdown-toc-what-causes-depression"><strong>What Causes Depression</strong></a></li> <li><a href="#what-is-it-like-to-have-depression" id="markdown-toc-what-is-it-like-to-have-depression"><strong>What Is It Like To Have Depression</strong></a></li> <li><a href="#how-can-you-know-you-have-depression" id="markdown-toc-how-can-you-know-you-have-depression"><strong>How Can You Know You Have Depression</strong></a></li> <li><a href="#what-to-do-if-you-think-you-have-depression" id="markdown-toc-what-to-do-if-you-think-you-have-depression"><strong>What To Do If You Think You Have Depression</strong></a></li> <li><a href="#are-antidepressants-necessary-to-heal-depression" id="markdown-toc-are-antidepressants-necessary-to-heal-depression"><strong>Are Antidepressants Necessary to Heal Depression</strong></a></li> <li><a href="#how-to-help-someone-who-has-depression" id="markdown-toc-how-to-help-someone-who-has-depression"><strong>How To Help Someone Who Has Depression</strong></a></li> </ul> <blockquote> <p>If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the <a href="https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/">National Suicide Prevention Lifeline</a> at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.<br /> For more mental health resources, see our <a href="https://www.verywellmind.com/national-helpline-database-4799696">National Helpline Database</a>.</p> </blockquote> <figure class="sidefigureleft"> <img class="postimagesmaller" src="/writing/images/2020-04-27-depression/depression_comics_symptoms.jpg" alt="Depression Comix" /> <figcaption><a href="https://www.depressioncomix.com/posts/425/"><b>Depression Comix, "They're back"</b></a></figcaption> </figure> <figure class="sidefigureright"> <img class="postimagesmaller" src="/writing/images/2020-04-27-depression/depression_comics_sleep.jpg" alt="Depression Comix" /> <figcaption><a href="https://www.depressioncomix.com/posts/306"><b>Depression Comix, "I Slept 14 Hours"</b></a></figcaption> </figure> <h2 id="what-is-depression"><strong>What Is Depression</strong></h2> <p><a href="https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/major-depression#1">Clinical depression</a> is a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64063/">diagnosable health condition</a> with the following diagonostic criteria<sup id="fnref:4"><a href="#fn:4" class="footnote">3</a></sup>:</p> <blockquote> <p>“Depressed mood and/or loss of interest or pleasure in life activities for at least 2 weeks and at least five of the following symptoms that cause clinically significant impairment in social, work, or other important areas of functioning almost every day:<br /> 1.Depressed mood most of the day.<br /> 2.Diminished interest or pleasure in all or most activities.<br /> 3.Significant unintentional weight loss or gain.<br /> 4.Insomnia or sleeping too much.<br /> 5.Agitation or psychomotor retardation noticed by others.<br /> 6.Fatigue or loss of energy.<br /> 7.Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt.<br /> 8.Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness.<br /> 9.Recurrent thoughts of death (APA, 2000, p. 356).”</p> </blockquote> <p>This period of 2 or more weeks of “depressed mood and/or loss of interest or pleasure in life activities” is known as a major depressive <strong>episode</strong>, and many people with depression experience more than one such episode in their life:</p> <p>“Major depressive disorder is one of the most common forms of psychopathology, one that will affect approximately one in six men and one in four women in their lifetimes (Kessler et al., 1994). It is also usually highly recurrent, with at least 50% of those who recover from a first episode of depression having one or more additional episodes in their lifetime, and approximately 80% of those with a history of two episodes having another recurrence (American Psychiatric Association, 2000; Kupfer, Frank, &amp; Wamhoff, 1996; Post, 1992). Once a first episode has occurred, recurrent episodes will usually begin within five years of the initial episode (Belsher &amp; Costello, 1988; Lewinsohn, Clarke, Seeley, &amp; Rohde, 1994), and, on average, individuals with a history of depression will have five (Kessler &amp; Walters, 1998) to nine (Kessler, Zhao, Blazer, &amp; Swartz, 1997) separate depressive episodes in their lifetime.<br /> —<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2169519/">Risk for Recurrence in Depression</a>”</p> <p>Another important thing to note about episodes is their length. <a href="http://www.mydr.com.au/mental-health/depression-q-and-a">Depression is <strong>not</strong> a temporary mood</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>“It is natural to temporarily feel ‘down in the dumps’ from time to time, especially if you are going through an upheaval, loss or stressful situation. Some people refer to this as ‘feeling depressed’. However, if these feelings are intense and persist over weeks or months and if they stop you enjoying or even doing your normal activities, it’s likely that you have depression. Depression is a serious illness that can have a great impact on your everyday life. It’s not something you can normally ‘just snap out of’.”</p> </blockquote> <p>In fact, this is precisely what makes it so bad; generally, even with treatment it’ll take weeks or months to get better.</p> <h2 id="what-causes-depression"><strong>What Causes Depression</strong></h2> <p>The science is <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-depression-just-bad-chemistry/">still unclear</a> on the balance of genetic and environmental causes for depression, so it’s generally correct to understand that it is caused by a combination of the two. According to <a href="https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/depression#inheritance">Genetics Home Reference</a>:</p> <p>“Depression is known to run in families, suggesting that genetic factors contribute to the risk of developing this disease. However, research into the genetics of depression is in its early stages, and very little is known for certain about the genetic basis of the disease. … Nongenetic (environmental) factors also play critical roles in a person’s risk of developing depression. The disorder can be triggered by substance abuse, certain medications, or stressful life events (such as divorce or the death of a loved one). … It is likely that environmental conditions interact with genetic factors to determine the overall risk of developing this disease.”</p> <p>It is however important to note that if you have a close relative who had dealt with depression, you are more likely to experience it as well:</p> <p>“People who have a first-degree relative (for example, a parent or sibling) with depression appear to have a two to three times greater risk of developing the condition than the general public. However, many people who develop depression do not have a family history of the disorder, and many people with an affected relative never develop the disorder.”</p> <p>It’s also the case that for some people depression is at least partially caused <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651">by seasonal changes in weather, and especially lack of sun</a>. Lastly, different occupations and socioeconomic conditions of course have different risk levels for depression:</p> <p>“Rates for clinical depression in 55 industries ranged from 6.9 to 16.2 %, (population rate = 10.45 %). Industries with the highest rates tended to be those which, on the national level, require frequent or difficult interactions with the public or clients, and have high levels of stress and low levels of physical activity.”<br /> —<a href="https://link-springer-com.stanford.idm.oclc.org/article/10.1007/s00127-014-0891-3">Prevalence rates for depression by industry: a claims database analysis</a></p> <p>“Our results show that graduate students are more than six times as likely to experience depression and anxiety as compared to the general population … 39% of graduate students scored in the moderate to severe depression range in our study, as compared to 6% of the general population measured previously with the same scale “<br /> —<a href="https://www-nature-com.stanford.idm.oclc.org/articles/nbt.4089">Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education</a></p> <figure class="sidefigureleft"> <img class="postimagesmaller" src="/writing/images/2020-04-27-depression/depression_comics_energy.jpg" alt="Depression Comix" /> <figcaption><a href="https://www.depressioncomix.com/posts/418"><b>Depression Comix, "The Depression Zone"</b></a></figcaption> </figure> <figure class="sidefigureright"> <img class="postimagesmaller" src="/writing/images/2020-04-27-depression/depression_comics_thoughts.jpg" alt="Depression Comix" /> <figcaption><a href="https://www.depressioncomix.com/posts/405"><b>Depression Comix, "Depression Lies"</b></a></figcaption> </figure> <h2 id="what-is-it-like-to-have-depression"><strong>What Is It Like To Have Depression</strong></h2> <p>The above definitions are somewhat formal, and I suspect do not help very much with understanding what a person dealing with it is going through. Speaking less formally, there are at least three parts of the subjective experience of depression one needs to understand:</p> <ol> <li>Emotional: Your baseline enjoyment of life decreases. In other words, you start constantly feeling a sense of suffering, or emotional pain, for no clear reason. Your are more negatively impacted by set-backs, and find it harder to enjoy the things that bring you pleasure and joy.</li> <li>Physical<sup id="fnref:5"><a href="#fn:5" class="footnote">4</a></sup>: You have less energy. Just about anything feels like a tiresome undertaking, and you often feel like just lying down and doing nothing. It may <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-bipolar-lens/201503/when-your-mind-wont-let-your-body-move">seem impossible to do the smallest of tasks</a><sup id="fnref:spoons"><a href="#fn:spoons" class="footnote">5</a></sup>.</li> <li>Mental: Your thinking becomes distorted and negative. Your self esteem decreases, so that you feel worthless. Thinking and concentraing becomes harder, as if trying to see something through a fog. It’s hard to imagine things becoming better, or to form a positive idea of the future in general. You have a variety of <a href="https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/unwanted-intrusive-thoughts">intrusive negative thoughts</a>, which at the worst often deal with self harm of even suicide; these thoughts can happen regardless of however much you believe or agree with their content.</li> </ol> <p>This is still somewhat abstract and hard to empathize with, so to further understand this condition I recommend listening to this song:</p> <iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/yUnIU8RMawo" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen=""></iframe> <p><br /></p> <p>So, as you can imagine it’s a difficult and highly painful condition to be in. The above is what you really need to understand, though <a href="http://www.andreykurenkov.com/writing/life/conveying-depression/">it only starts to describe it</a>.</p> <h2 id="how-can-you-know-you-have-depression"><strong>How Can You Know You Have Depression</strong></h2> <p>One of the tricky aspects of depression is that the above stated symptoms can often happen to varying degress as part of normal life, without reflecting a mental health condition. So how do you know whether you are going through a rough patch, or are dealing with depression?</p> <p>The obvious answer is that you should consult a mental health professional, if you think depression is a possibility. But that’s also not an easy thing to do. So, an easy alternative is to start with a a <a href="https://psychcentral.com/quizzes/depression-quiz/">short multiple choice quiz</a>, which can inform you on whether it is time to seek professional help. There are also <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/top-iphone-android-apps#talklife">many apps</a> that serve a similar purpose.</p> <figure class="sidefigureleft"> <img class="postimagesmaller" src="/writing/images/2020-04-27-depression/depression_comics_glasses.jpg" alt="Depression Comix" /> <figcaption><a href="https://www.depressioncomix.com/posts/431"><b>Depression Comix, "Success"</b></a></figcaption> </figure> <figure class="sidefigureright"> <img class="postimagesmaller" src="/writing/images/2020-04-27-depression/depression_comics_future.jpg" alt="Depression Comix" /> <figcaption><a href="https://www.depressioncomix.com/posts/264"><b>Depression Comix, "To See A Future"</b></a></figcaption> </figure> <h2 id="what-to-do-if-you-think-you-have-depression"><strong>What To Do If You Think You Have Depression</strong></h2> <p>These are my <strong>personal and subjective</strong> recommendations on things to keep in mind and do if you think you may be dealing with depression.</p> <p>First, try to understand that however bad things may seem, your perception of how bad things are is distorted by this condition, and objectively things are probably not as bad as they seem. One thing I found helpful was to think of there being two of me - the “depressed Andrey” and the “healthy Andrey”, with the former thinking quite unlike the latter; it was important to remember that what I considered my true self, with the beliefs I agreed with, was the healthy Andrey. Keeping that in mind may not make you feel better, but it’ll make it easier to motivate yourself to take the following steps to get better.</p> <p>Second, do your best to continue living your life as before. Keep waking up, showering, going outside, seeing friends, excercising, etc (to the extent that you can; do not feel guilty about things you cannot do). The more you keep moving, keep believing if you put in the work things will get better, the less painful it will all be. It may not be easy, but the important thing is to not give up, and to keep making the effort. One thing that helped me is an unwavering belief in “this too shall pass”; if you truly believe the above facts about depression, you should also believe that it <strong>will</strong> pass with treatment, so it’s only a matter of time and perseverance.</p> <p>Third, try to reach out for help. First and foremost, try and confide in your close friends and family, who can help you in this difficulty time. If it is an option, a therapist, or at least a support group, is an ideal first option to help you cope with this. Depending on their recommendation, you may also want to see a psychiatrist and consider taking antidepressants. Although you may be uncomfortable with this course of action, <a href="http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=education_statistics_depression">you really ought to go through with it</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>“Up to 80% of those treated for depression show an improvement in their symptoms generally within four to six weeks of beginning medication, psychotherapy, attending support groups or a combination of these treatments. (National Institute of Health, 1998). Despite its high treatment success rate, nearly two out of three people suffering with depression do not actively seek nor receive proper treatment. (DBSA, 1996)”.</p> </blockquote> <p>Fourth, if there are external/environmental causes for your depression, do your best to remove them. For instance, if you are stressed by work, try and put it on pause. This too is likely not easy, but if it is doable it is definitely beneficial. At the very least, it’s a good idea to have things to look forward to, such as a vacation or a trip to be with family.</p> <p>Fifth, if things are getting really bad and seem to just be getting worse, be cautious with making life altering decisions at this time. As described above, your thinking and by extension your decision making becomes distorted and therefore unreliable. I personally almost called off applying for PhD programs while depressed, and am very glad in hindsight that I did not. One thing that helps is to try and remember this notion of the “healthy you”, and what that version of you would think of this course of action. Consulting with others is a great idea, as well.</p> <p>Needless to say, this especially applies to any thoughts of self harm; if things are getting to the point of getting concerning, try and make ahead of time what you’ll do when in a really tough place to survive it, such as calling the <a href="https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/">National Suicide Prevention Lifeline</a>. One thing I found helpful was to just promise to myself that no matter how things got, no matter how many thoughts about it I had, I would not really consider or attempt suicide; to be honest, you may think about it a lot, but knowing that these are just thoughts and you don’t truly consider that an option makes them more bearable.</p> <h2 id="are-antidepressants-necessary-to-heal-depression"><strong>Are Antidepressants Necessary to Heal Depression</strong></h2> <p>It’s easy to feel uncomfortable about the idea of antidepressants, but the fact is that they are often an effective treatment for depression:</p> <blockquote> <p>“The various antidepressants have been compared in many studies. Overall, the commonly used tricyclic antidepressants SSRIs and SSNRIs performed equally well. Studies of adults with moderate or severe depression showed:<br /> Without antidepressants: About 20 to 40 out of 100 people who took a placebo noticed an improvement in their symptoms within six to eight weeks.<br /> With antidepressants: About 40 to 60 out of 100 people who took an antidepressant noticed an improvement in their symptoms within six to eight weeks.”<br /> —<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK361016/">Depression: How effective are antidepressants?</a></p> </blockquote> <blockquote> <p>“All antidepressants were more efficacious than placebo in adults with major depressive disorder. … Our literature search was as comprehensive as possible, including the largest amount of unpublished data to date, which are associated with less favourable effect sizes for antidepressants.”<br /> —<a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(17)32802-7/fulltext">Comparative efficacy and acceptability of 21 antidepressant drugs for the acute treatment of adults with major depressive disorder: a systematic review and network meta-analysis</a></p> </blockquote> <p>However, <a href="https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/are-antidepressants-effective#1">they are not the solution for everyone</a>: “But a report recently published in The Journal of the American Medical Association showed that the drugs work best for very severe cases of depression and have little or no benefit over placebo (inactive pills) in less serious cases.” Certainly <a href="https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/can-depression-be-cured-without-medication-1117144">mild to moderate depression can be healed without medication</a>, and in fact that has worked for me in the past, but in a severe case such as mine it should really be considered. This is really a case where talking to a therapist or psychiatrist is ideal, to understand your needs.</p> <p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2719451/">Antidepressants do have side effects</a>, and some people struggle with finding the right medication for them. In my case, my psychiatrist asked me to ask my relatives what worked for them, and that indeed proved very effective for me (after months of excercise, therapy, talking to friends, and other measures did not improve my condition). So to conclude, while they are not necessary, antidepressants are an important option that should be considered with the consultation of a mental health professional for serious cases of depression.</p> <p>Antidepressants are not meant to make you happy (they are not ‘happy pills’), so much as to heal you of depression and just make you normal. In my case, I did have a brief period of time after starting on them in which I was unusually cheerful and energetic, but this soon subsided and I just started to feel like my regular self. One thing to know is that you will need to continue taking them for some time after your depression improves, and it may take a process of gradual reduction to be able to stop. In my case this slight lack of freedom has certainly been worth it, but it is something you should be aware of.</p> <h2 id="how-to-help-someone-who-has-depression"><strong>How To Help Someone Who Has Depression</strong></h2> <p>This one is tough, but boils down to the same one always needs to do to help someone: have compassion, care for them, and just be there. Beyond that, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-help-a-depressed-friend#take-care-of-yourself">many</a> <a href="https://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/helping-someone-with-depression.htm">lists</a> out there provide good further recommendations. One thing I will personally emphasize is that you should try and be direct about asking if someone is doing well. If they seem to be having many of the symptoms of depression, don’t hesitate to follow up a simple “how are you doing lately” with “are you sure things are alright? it’s just that you seem more down than usual lately”, or the like.</p> <hr /> <p><strong>Feedback</strong> If you think there are other essential bits of information I should add to this, or have other feedback, feel free to reach out to me at my email andreyvkurenkov at gmail dot com .</p> <div class="footnotes"> <ol> <li id="fn:1"> <p>When I write “depression” in this post I refer to major depressive disorder, also known as clinical depression <a href="#fnref:1" class="reversefootnote">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:3"> <p>I will do this through a mix of summarizing what is objectively known about depression and sharing my own personal experience with it. Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional or doctor, and write this only as someone who has dealt with depression and educated myself about it. What I share about my own experience will of course not be universal, but will still hopefully be helpful. <a href="#fnref:3" class="reversefootnote">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:4"> <p>This is according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which has historically had some flaws, but in this case provides a sensible definition. <a href="#fnref:4" class="reversefootnote">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:5"> <p>These are of course partially mental, so I mean physical here in the sense of dealing with physical movement or sensing. <a href="#fnref:5" class="reversefootnote">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:spoons"> <p>This is sometimes conveyed with the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spoon_theory">spoon metaphor</a>, which involves imagining us all as having a limited discrete quantity of ‘energy units’ every day, which one can think of as spoons, and understanding that those with mental illness have fewer of these each day and so can do less. <a href="#fnref:spoons" class="reversefootnote">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> <p><a href="/writing/life/things-everyone-should-know-about-depression/">Things Everyone Should Know About Depression</a> was originally published by Andrey Kurenkov at <a href="">Andrey Kurenkov's Web World</a> on April 27, 2020.</p> <![CDATA[Endings]]> /writing/life/endings 2020-02-25T00:00:00-08:00 2020-02-25T00:00:00-08:00 www.andreykurenkov.com contact@andreykurenkov.com <p>That last drag of a cigarette,<br /> or last drink in a bar, <br /> or last shot at a party,<br /> That last song at a concert,<br /> or last shot in a movie,<br /> or last line of a novel,<br /> That last day of a trip,<br /> or last hour before a flight,<br /> or last night in a country,<br /> That last hug in a relationship,<br /> or last email for a job,<br /> or last kiss of a couple,<br /> That last hour of a night,<br /> or last image of a dream,<br /> or last breath of a life,<br /> Those last moments,<br /> Followed by,<br /> exultation,<br /> or grief,<br /> or boredom,<br /> So profound,<br /> And yet,<br /> Life goes on,<br /> And beginnings follow</p> <p><a href="/writing/life/endings/">Endings</a> was originally published by Andrey Kurenkov at <a href="">Andrey Kurenkov's Web World</a> on February 25, 2020.</p> <![CDATA[Lessons Learned the Hard Way in Grad School (so far)]]> /writing/life/lessons-learned-from-failures 2020-02-16T00:00:00-08:00 2020-02-16T00:00:00-08:00 www.andreykurenkov.com contact@andreykurenkov.com <figure class="figure"><div class="figure__main"> <p><a href="/writing/images/2020-02-16-lessons-learned-from-failures/failures.png"><img class="postimageactual" src="/writing/images/2020-02-16-lessons-learned-from-failures/failures.png" alt="Timeline" /></a></p> </div></figure> <blockquote> <p>“Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” —Winston Churchill</p> </blockquote> <blockquote> <p>“Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.” —Henry Ford</p> </blockquote> <blockquote> <p>“If we knew what we were doing, we wouldn’t call it research.” —Albert Einstein</p> </blockquote> <h1 id="why-i-wrote-this">Why I Wrote This</h1> <p>Struggle, failure, and sometimes feeling out of your depth are all inherently part of the PhD experience. These are often also accompanied by <a href="https://www.ascb.org/careers/frauds-managing-imposter-syndrome-grad-school/">impostor syndrome</a>, or the feeling of being inferior to those around you and a ‘fraud’. Something I find odd is that the existence of impostor syndrome is common knowledge by now, and yet just knowing of it is not enough to avoid succumbing to it. Likewise, knowing that facing failure is a universal trait of succesful people (as indicated by the quotes above) does not automatically make doing so yourself easy.</p> <p>So, with a few years of grad school and many failures now behind me, I decided it would be nice to try and help some of my fellow students with these things. But given reiterating things we already know seems ineffective, I decided to take a different tact: just put my record of failures out there, so others facing similar struggles can objectively know they are at least no more an impostor than I am. And so I did, with the following video:</p> <iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/uxYpJ5mMKx0" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen=""></iframe> <p><br /> This post is an addendum to that, summarizing the main non-obvious lessons I took away from these failures. You can either read the below text, or watch this follow up video in which I convey what is written in the text, or both: <br /></p> <iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/YQC74cSgM1Q" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen=""></iframe> <p><br /></p> <h1 id="the-lessons">The Lessons</h1> <h2 id="test-your-ideas-as-quickly-and-simply-as-possible">1. Test your ideas as quickly and simply as possible</h2> <p>Research involves a lot of debugging and trying to pinpoint why things are working (is your code buggy, or is the idea itself wrong). One easy to agree with but hard to internalize practice is to construct contrived scenarios in which you know your idea should work, so that you can ensure the code is not a problem. In other words, construct <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanity_check">sanity checks</a>, such as for instance if you are working on object recognition, start with a synthetic dataset of simple geometric shapes that simply has to work.</p> <p>With my first project at Stanford, I did not realize to do this until after testing my code on the real task, and starting with the sanity check instead might have saved a good deal of time. This has been an essential go-to practice for me in every project since.</p> <figure> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr" style="margin:auto;">Neat thing from a while back: visualization of an RL agent&#39;s policy globally (in many states) while doing rollout.<br /><br />Would be cool to see more like it, since shows if the agent is optimal or not and how much it generalized.<br /><br />Should be fairly doable in Atari or 3D robotics envs... <a href="https://t.co/sD70b6ydJJ">pic.twitter.com/sD70b6ydJJ</a></p>&mdash; Andrey Kurenkov 🤖 (@andrey_kurenkov) <a href="https://twitter.com/andrey_kurenkov/status/1227099590131716098?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 11, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async="" src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> </figure> <h2 id="persevere-but-also-pivot">2. Persevere, but also pivot</h2> <p>One of the basic frustrating things with research is that perseverance is essential, but so is recognizing that something is not going to work and rethinking your approach. So, which should you do when you idea is not working, persevere or pivot? Both – persevere for a while, try to see more clearly why things are not working and whether they might work, and move on if they don’t.</p> <p>But moving on need not result in losing all the wrong you’ve just done. Hopefully, you had good reason to believe your idea was good in the first place, and it not working can yield a different but related direction to explore. This was the case for me with my second scrapped project; the next major research project I did was directly inspired from the struggles of that scrapped project. Likewise, the project I am currently focused on acquired its focus only after months of things not working.</p> <p>So, keep an eye out for the insights to be found in failure.</p> <h2 id="focus-on-one-or-two-big-things-at-a-time">3. Focus on one or two big things at a time</h2> <p>One of my weaknesses as a grad student is a tendency to want to multi task and take on many side projects (as evidenced by the above youtube video and the text you are reading now). Some amount of exploration and side projects are of course not bad – personally I think more AI researchers should engage in science communication – but it’s easy to overdo it. In particular, at least as a junior PhD student having more than two research projects going at a time (importantly, with one in the implementation phase and one more in the ideation phase) is a good recipe for at least one of those projects dying off.</p> <p>A related notion is ‘ideas are cheap, execution is everything’. That is to say, ideas are not worth much without execution to hone and actuate them (of course, advisors not directly writing code but suggesting ideas and being in the loop of execution is still invaluable). This is important to remember when you have a cool new idea and are tempted to get efforts on it going despite already having some projects in flight; if you don’t have the bandwidth to execute the idea the best thing is to wait.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Legitimately one of the best insights I&#39;ve internalized after years of doing research is the old classic - &quot;ideas are cheap, execution is everything&quot; [not quite everything, we still need cool ideas, but y&#39;know] <a href="https://t.co/9JK5tDhCKw">https://t.co/9JK5tDhCKw</a></p>&mdash; Andrey Kurenkov 🤖 (@andrey_kurenkov) <a href="https://twitter.com/andrey_kurenkov/status/1222930287111233536?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 30, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async="" src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <p>My suggestion to people who like side projects and multi tasking, like me: learn and embrace patience. The ideas that really excite will stick with you, and if you are patient there will come a time when it is strategically smart to go ahead and execute them.</p> <h2 id="find-a-good-team-and-be-a-good-team-player">4. Find a good team, and be a good team player</h2> <p>I intentionally avoided focusing on my successes in grad school in the above video, but thankfully I have had a few of those too. And every time I have succeeded, it was because I had great mentors and fellow PhD students working with me on whatever we were doing, and the success was really not my own but the team’s.</p> <p>Unfortunately, such a team dynamic does not necessarily come about by itself; research can sometimes be a lonely endeavour, with you toiling away primarily by yourself with occasional feedback. For a largely applied discipline with a lot of implementation effort (such as AI), I really don’t think working in such a mode is ideal. So, if you do find yourself in such a spot, proactively trying to find people to work with might be a good idea. Personally, I’ve found working with both post-docs (who can be more hands-on than most advisors) and one or two fellow grad students (who can get their hands dirty alongside you) to be very helpful.</p> <p>But even if you find people to work with, that does not mean things will be easier automatically. Effective teamwork is a tricky thing (so much so that I wrote up <a href="http://www.andreykurenkov.com/writing/project/effective-teamwork/">a little summary</a> of the main things to do and not do), and it’s up to you to be mindful of how things are in terms of team dynamics. For the last few times that I put significant amounts of work into efforts that were in the end scrapped, I would say the main cause was me going at it too much by myself and not getting enough of a team consensus around one direction. So, remember to not be too much of a lone wolf and to be an effective communicator.</p> <h2 id="maintain-your-health">5. Maintain Your Health</h2> <p>No matter how much of a tough skin you have, research is not meant to be easy and sometimes things will get tough. Unfortunately, in grad school it’s all too easy to let yourself completely give up on work-life balance at such times and go full on tunnel vision mode. Sometimes going all in on research leading up to a deadline is not a bad idea, but you have to be cognizant of whether you have enough physical and emotional energy for it and at all costs avoid burn out. And the fact is, burn out, anxiety, and even depression are things you may have to face at some point.</p> <p>So, it is all the more important to practice and get good at relaxing (weird as that may sound). Seriously, knowing yourself well enough to have good healthy ways of dealing with stress is <strong>essential</strong> and often not praised enough. Personally, when I was dealing with clinical depression I leaned on a whole set of activities that kept me going: reading on my porch most evenings, watching a ton of fun anime, going to kickboxing classes, cooking, and where I was really down playing some really absorbing video games (Civ 5, I’m looking at you).</p> <p>These days I am really big on napping, but i’m also a big believer in <a href="https://youtu.be/7QyObECIZAE">meditation</a> and of course the benefits of excercise and a good support network cannot be overstated.</p> <h2 id="conclusion">Conclusion</h2> <p>So there you have it, my main lessons gathered so far. This is not all the advice I think is useful for taking on grad school, but it is the advice I had to learn the hard way and that I think is at least somewhat interesting. Feel free to comment with your own thoughts on this topic!</p> <p><a href="/writing/life/lessons-learned-from-failures/">Lessons Learned the Hard Way in Grad School (so far)</a> was originally published by Andrey Kurenkov at <a href="">Andrey Kurenkov's Web World</a> on February 16, 2020.</p> <![CDATA[Is NeurIPS Getting Too Big?]]> /writing/ai/neurips-too-big 2019-12-23T00:00:00-08:00 2019-12-23T00:00:00-08:00 www.andreykurenkov.com contact@andreykurenkov.com <p><a href="/writing/ai/neurips-too-big/">Is NeurIPS Getting Too Big?</a> was originally published by Andrey Kurenkov at <a href="">Andrey Kurenkov's Web World</a> on December 23, 2019.</p> <![CDATA[AI Coverage Best Practices, According to AI Researchers]]> /writing/ai/best-practices 2019-11-11T00:00:00-08:00 2019-11-11T00:00:00-08:00 www.andreykurenkov.com contact@andreykurenkov.com <p><a href="/writing/ai/best-practices/">AI Coverage Best Practices, According to AI Researchers</a> was originally published by Andrey Kurenkov at <a href="">Andrey Kurenkov's Web World</a> on November 11, 2019.</p> <![CDATA[OpenAI's dexterous robotic hand — separating progress from PR]]> /writing/ai/openai-rubiks 2019-10-21T00:00:00-07:00 2019-10-21T00:00:00-07:00 www.andreykurenkov.com contact@andreykurenkov.com <p><a href="/writing/ai/openai-rubiks/">OpenAI's dexterous robotic hand — separating progress from PR</a> was originally published by Andrey Kurenkov at <a href="">Andrey Kurenkov's Web World</a> on October 21, 2019.</p> <![CDATA[In Favor of Developing Ethical Best Practices in AI Research]]> /writing/ai/ethical-ai 2019-09-21T00:00:00-07:00 2019-09-21T00:00:00-07:00 www.andreykurenkov.com contact@andreykurenkov.com <p><a href="/writing/ai/ethical-ai/">In Favor of Developing Ethical Best Practices in AI Research</a> was originally published by Andrey Kurenkov at <a href="">Andrey Kurenkov's Web World</a> on September 21, 2019.</p>