Academia is Broken.

What is happening to me?

Tears rolled down my cheeks as I sat in the emergency department, waiting to be seen by a neurologist.

It started an hour earlier. I was on my lunch break, sitting in the café at the children’s hospital next door. I noticed an absence of peripheral vision on one side. Yet I was otherwise comfortable, so I finished my meal. I moved to a bench in the vibrant foyer of the children’s hospital, and began texting a colleague.

That’s funny. I seem to be making a lot of typos today. It’s taking me 3 tries to get a word right.

“I’m freaking out a bit rn…about 40 mins ago when I sat down to have lunch I noticed peripheral vision on my right side was gone. Left [cafe] early and it seemed to get better as soon as I walked away. But still freaking out because I am having trouble spelling simple words on my phone. I don’t know if this is the start of a migraine 😐 Or a freaking stroke lol”

Gosh, that message took about 5 minutes to finish!

Colleague: “Numbness?”

“No pain at all. Or numbness”

Colleague: “Tingles?”

“No. No kaleidoscope”

Thank goodness for autocorrect…

Colleague: “When you’re stressed, which eye twitches first? How’s the hearing on the right side?”

“Left is usually the worst ear. No different with twitch. But the strangest park [sic] is spelling. It’s still happening. WTF. Like I’m slightly slew [sic]”

Colleague: “Go to the back rooms. Close your eyes for a bit. Then massage the temple. Have you got your heated eye pads?”

“Just once a while ago”

Colleague: “Your eyes probably need some rest”

“Not here. And 3 hour combined after. *Coming”

Colleague: “If there’s no pain, tingles, numbness, then no stroke. Peripheral vision – we stare at screens all day. We look at little letters. No meeting ATM? Head down to the library and relax. Then head straight home after the IR meeting.”

I made my way back to the office. Something was definitely wrong.

“Few yes maybe a break ground. Feel like me brain has feeling shut down”

Colleague: “Yeah you were doing a lot of PhD reading.”

“This spelling is weird of all.”

Colleague: “Gooo head down to the library and rest your eyes for 15min”

(Colleague sends a photo of a sign found on most highways in Victoria, which reads ‘Trouble concentrating? Powernap now’)

Colleague: “VicRoads will tell you the same thing”

I didn’t have a chance to reply. Another colleague visited my desk to see if I’d be coming to the 2pm IR meeting. It was 2:03pm. I’d been so engrossed in my texting troubles that I’d lost track of time.

Yes, I meant to say. I’ll be right there.

But the wrong words came out.

Holy crap. Puzzled, I tried again, but to no avail. My speech was slurred and my brain felt jammed. I knew what I wanted to say, but had to fight myself to get a few key words out. Meanwhile, the colleague that came to check on me had summoned a couple of nurses in my department.

“Can’t…spell…vision…right side…”

They quickly assessed my pupils and motor function. All clear, but I still needed help. They escorted me downstairs to the emergency department. I was terrified, and began crying on the way there. When we arrived at the triage desk, my right hand went numb. It took me about 20 seconds to recite my date of birth. I was given a seat in the emergency department and my vitals signs were measured. Everything was within normal range except for my heart rate, which was elevated from all the stress. My partner was contacted. He arrived in 15 minutes, and I tearfully recounted the story to him, finally beginning to regain control of my speech.

What is happening to me?

The neurologist approached with a friendly expression, aware of my anxiety but thankfully choosing not to address it directly. I told her what happened. She asked if I was stressed.

“Well, I did wake up at 3am this morning, wondering if I would get my PhD done in time.”

“You’re doing a PhD?”

“Yes.”

She made a note. Her reaction spoke volumes, as if my symptoms all made sense now. She reassured me that I had experienced a migraine,  not a stroke. Although my experiences were common to both conditions, stroke symptoms occur simultaneously, whereas mine happened in waves over the course of an hour.

I was relieved, but of course shaken. Have I pushed myself too much? Was it really worth it? It got me thinking about the pressures in the academic industry. Life as a research student was the prequel to a career in which uncertainty and imbalance reigns supreme.

Here are just a few problems with academia:

  • Academics are rewarded by volume of publications, which can compromise quality
  • Bold headlines are more appealing, and can lead to unethical research practices and frivolous claims. Media-savvy academics and research centres are more ‘successful’ in terms of funding and career progression.
  • Peer-reviewing is by and large a voluntary, unpaid service. The publisher benefits unfairly from free labour.
  • If authors want readers to view their articles for free i.e. open access, they must pay a high premium, often in the thousands of dollars.
  • The academic industry is rife with phony publishers and conferences, feeding on the aforementioned desperation to demonstrate academic activity in the form of articles or presentations. My inbox was bombarded daily with requests to contribute to articles or attend events usually unrelated to my field of research. Publishing my university email address in academic articles does not mean I consent to be spammed. There is no industry regulation; nothing similar to the Australian ‘do not call’ telemarketing register currently exists for the academic industry.
  • Income is uncertain and dependant on grant money. Work-life balance is extremely difficult to achieve.
  • Ranking indexes for academics creates unhealthy competition. I have heard of academics deliberately choosing not to collaborate with certain people in their department to prevent being overtaken in terms of academic output. Promotions are also difficult to attain.
  • Ranked indexes for publications introduce an overinflated, often inaccurate, highly subjective estimation of prestige and credibility.

Academia is broken. Research is interesting to me, but is the mental and physical price of a research career just too high? Does the industry need an overhaul?

Japan Shopping Haul

Here’s a guide to the fruits of my 2018 Japan shopping adventures: basically a combination of popular cosmetics + Rilakkuma merchandise!

K- Palette 1 Day Tattoo

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I’ve yet to find a long-lasting, true black eyeliner. This one sticks around the longest of everything I’ve tried so far, but for me it’s not quite ideal. It smudges and fades with just a little moisture, and my wings rarely stick around till the end of the day.

Canmake Cream Cheek

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This is a nice find. Such a silky consistency! I chose the deepest colour I could find (Japanese cosmetics do not exactly cater to darker skin tones). Easy to blend and can even be applied on the lips and eyes (with primer).

Macherie Perfect Shower

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A great product, unlike anything I’ve found in Australia. Perfect for taming hair without a sticky hairspray feel. It does its work then seems to disappear! Magic.

Eye mask

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I rarely get eye strain, but I tried this mask when I was having an achey day…and it sent me to sleep.

Bioré SP50 Sunscreen

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This is unlike any sunscreen I’ve found in Australia. It’s silky, smooth and watery, so it glides on like nicely. It’s an ideal base without having to rely on BB creams or foundations with SPF.

 

2 Weeks in Japan: Early Spring

This is a summary of my first ever trip to Japan. I travelled in the first 2 weeks of Spring 2018, so it was cool and cherry blossoms were around, but not yet in full bloom.

The itinerary involved a fair bit of cross-country travel but was also quite relaxed, sampling a little of every place and avoiding more active pursuits such as hikes.

See also: Japan Shopping Haul

Itinerary:
Tokyo: 4 nights
Hiroshima: 2 nights
Miyajima: 2 nights
Kyoto: 3 nights
Takayama: 2 nights
Tokyo: 1 night

Key purchases: Local SIM, Japan Rail Pass.
Very useful: Hyperdia search tool, Google Maps, Google Translate for images, GuruNavi app, Japan Travel app

Tokyo

Getting started
Tokyo is of course a must-see. There are many districts catering to many tastes. Metro train travel is fairly straightforward, thanks to Google Maps’ handy public transportation feature. At Haneda airport, I bought a local SIM, which for 5BG and one month validity cost more than 5,000 JPY. That’s pretty expensive, so I’d recommend shopping around.

I also purchased my Pasmo card at the airport, which is for all metro trains in Japan. I loaded 10,000 JPY, and that was enough for me.

For those with JR passes, it’s quite easy to validate your pass and begin reserving bullet train seats. However, not every JR ticket office can process JR passes for the first time. Refer to your JR pass brochure for the exact locations. There is usually only one office in most major cities.

What I did
– Visit an Owl Cafe in Asakusa (featuring more than just owls – there was a capybara, fennec foxes, flamingoes, a cockatoo, a duck, and a monkey!)

– See the Sensō-Ji Temple

– Eat amazing ramen at Fuji Ramen in Asakusa

– Visit Ueno Park, which has a few museums too

– Check out the tech stores in Akihabara

– See the iconic Shibuya Crossing

– Visit Imperial Palace

– Shop at Daimaru and visit their food hall

– Go to a hedgehog cafe in Harajuku! So kawaii!!!

– Walk through the shopping streets of Ginza

– Have a lovely tempura banquet at Hakata tempura Takao Minami Aoyama

Also worth checking out: Skytree, a tower with viewing deck.

Hiroshima

For all its renown, Hiroshima is a city of just 1 million. It’s pleasant with plenty of open spaces and a pretty river. Visiting the Peace Memorial Museum was a powerful, moving experience. There are shrines up in the hills which people can walk up to, but I chose to take one of three city bus tour routes (free with a JR pass). Try the Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, which is less pancakey and more like a pressed loaded noodle heap.

Miyajima

aka Deer Island! There are approximately 2,000 wild but placid deer roaming free. They can be friendly, but also very cheeky! Keep important papers carefully concealed, as the deer like chewing on paper and any other snacks they can find. To get here from Hiroshima, you need to take a half-hour metro train ride to Miyajimaguchi station, walk to the port and take the JR ferry, which is a pretty short ride (less than 30 mins).

I visited the aquarium and then spent the rest of my time at the ryokan I booked about a 20 minute walk away from the town centre, as breakfast and dinner was included. Again, there are scenic shrine walks with lovely views of the mainland. You also can’t miss the Floating Torii on the ferry over.

Kyoto

I wanted to check out Himeji castle on the way from Hiroshima to Kyoto, but it seemed a little too ambitious as a day trip. The train doesn’t stop for long at the smaller stations, and lugging my suitcase on and off the train a total of four times didn’t appeal. Perhaps for backpackers, this won’t be so much of an issue. Urban Kyoto was not particularly remarkable, in my opinion. The main drawcard was the Fushimi Inari, which was swarming with tourists. Nijō Castle was another place of interest. Curry was the dish of this city for me.

Takayama

Onward to the alpine town of Takayama. I took the bullet train from Kyoto to Nagoya, then switched to a slow train. This 2-hour ride was a highlight of my trip. The train line runs along the mineral-rich Nagara River, with views to behold. Imagine brilliant teal water, sometimes rushing through dam openings, other times glassy and reflecting houses and mountains above. Spring comes late to Takayama, so there were still snow-capped mountains providing wonderful views.

I stayed at Takayama Ouan, which has private onsens on the top floor overlooking the town and mountains beyond. Another highlight of the trip!

Overall, my trip was a relaxing amble through the major attractions of Japan. There is of course more exploring to do. For my next Japan trip, a journey to Hokkaido would definitely be on the list.

Tas xo

Starting a Startup with the Plato Project

As part of my mission for personal growth through acquisition and sharing of knowledge, the increasingly popular social entrepreneurship movement appeals to me.

My health care background also fuels my interest in sustainable and empathetic innovation. In fact, my desire to effect change through consumer involvement and facilitation has informed other professional interests of mine, including health informatics and user experience design.

Social entrepreneurship appeals to the altruistic part of me that doesn’t feel the need for voluntourism to appease. I believe in empowerment – that is, helping people to help themselves. But I also want to give back to my local community before seeking to change the world. You know, baby steps 😉

I first found out about the Plato Project through a sponsored ad on my Facebook news feed. I always keep an eye out for interesting business articles, and Plato’s ad drew my attention and prompted me to quickly scan the landing page. The opportunity to develop an idea for a startup with a short course, delivered under a school of thought focused on mindset and purpose, was novel and in line with my own style of thinking and working. The Plato Project is focused on helping entrepreneurs develop purposeful business in a way that is meaningful to each creator.

I took the plunge and signed myself up. I already had an idea brewing in the back of my mind for a couple of years, so now was as good a time as any to develop it into a tangible business plan, which is the end product at the end of the course.

Sessions were held on Saturdays at the very swish Edgelabs space in Fitzroy, Melbourne. The environment did wonders for my creativity and productivity!

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Our facilitator was Ben Roulston, an experienced entrepreneur and enthusiastic teacher. Multifaceted educational tools and resources were provided, including:

  • Self-directed learning through Plato Project’s online learning portal
  • Templates for each activity that would fit neatly into the final business plan
  • Group discussion and idea sharing
  • Interactive tutorials
  • Facilitated free time to work on activities
  • Insightful guest speakers
  • One-on-one phone meetings with Ben to discuss individual progress and obtain personalised feedback

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Each and every 6-hour day would be over before I knew it. Time flies when you’re having fun, becoming inspired and learning heaps!

My time with the Plato Project gave me the opportunity to introduce myself to like-minded entrepreneurs – not only my classmates, but entire networks dedicated to value-driven global citizenship. During my time as a class participant, I was able to arrange meetings with two guest speakers and gain valuable insight and advice about my business, while offering ideas of my own. It’s the empathetic exchange of ideas and stories that makes the Plato experience so positive.

You can learn more about the Plato Project here, and find me on Linkedin if you’d like more info on my activities.

Tas xo

On Nature

I’m at peace when there are few humans around me. When I’m experiencing the sheer beauty and vastness of the scene before me and it’s just me and the world – a silent yet devastatingly expressive entity. I revel in my existence and my freedom, and feel truly, deeply grateful for being there to witness such a moment.

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Review: Elyros Restaurant, Melbourne

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Cretan Cuisine in Camberwell

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of catching up with one of my colleagues, the lovely G, at Elyros Restaurant and Wine Bar.

It’s refreshing to come across a restaurant serving niche dishes from the Mediterranean island of Crete. Cretan cuisine is seasonal, and remains true to its natural sources.

Our bread basket featured a variety of savoury and sweet breads, complete with a healthy dose of olives, olive oil, creamy yoghurt and chunky dip featuring a hint of chilli and capsicum.

The wine list is extensive, organised by country or region, and comes complete with maps.

Elyros has a $45 set lunch menu on Sundays from 12pm-3pm. It’s filling and hearty yet light at the same time. A lovely introduction to a quaint little island I’d love to visit someday!

xo Tasneem

Rediscovering Suminagashi Art

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I recently rediscovered suminagashi, a Japanese paper marbling art, after 20 years.

When I was around ten years old, we had a suminagashi activity in my classroom. I remember quite enjoying the process of playing with dyes, swirling them around in water, and capturing a cool snapshot of that movement.

I made a couple of creations, and took them home at the end of the day. I tucked them somewhere in the back of a folder…and there they stayed – for two decades.

Until I found them recently, still in great condition! I marvelled at how pretty they were. I decided to frame them both, and now they hang in my apartment as wonderfully modern art pieces that I created as a child!

I’ve decided to revisit suminagashi, and rekindle that creative spark!

I purchased this marbling kit, which I will experiment with in the coming weeks. So watch this space!

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Tas xo