The long haul: failures, successes, and equilibrium

Drawing from the informal poll I did weeks ago on Instagram to solicit suggestions on what content should appear more on this blog, one of the suggestions was a discussion of my failures in academia. I don’t know why, but it kinda just popped up in my head as I was vacantly gazing outside the window. My dog was chasing a garden rat.

When I was a student, both undergrad and grad, I imagined academe would be nice place where everyone is civilized (not all), intellectual (definitely not all), and working together towards the common goal of human enlightenment (some are actively conspiring against this). Plus, my dad is an academic and he got to travel—business class!—everywhere. Given these rose-tinted goggles, I sought my place in academe.

What most people see on the outside are the happy moments: graduation, completion, and acceptance. These are moments I choose to present. However, this is all superficial. What often goes unrecorded are the constant failures, rejections, and plain old stress. Also, back pains because of too much sitting and irritated eyes because of too much screen-staring. And indigestion. Lots of it.

What I learned, especially in these two years of holding an active academic position, is that everything oscillates until it reaches equilibrium. If you haven’t failed yet, you will, and vice-versa. You just don’t know when. So here’s a short summary of my academic journey. It’s not always smooth, as you may infer. Caveat abound. Some unconscious self-censorship may be present.

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Student-professor relations

Starting from a Twitter thread by @roythaniago (see below) which basically compiled a bunch of complaints students had to their professors, I also want to chime in with my own two cents.

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Reflections of an academic: one year after

After a year in academia, let me solemnly reflect on where I’ve been, what I’ve done, and what the future may hold.

The month was September. After a couple of months stressing over job applications, I finally landed a teaching job at my alma mater. Of course, it was exciting. Being an academic was what I wanted to be since my Bachelor’s degree. I didn’t even have to go through a rough adjustment phase; it felt like I was coming home.

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A letter to me in 2016

Dear me in 2016,

You enrolled in this MSc Strategic Studies program hoping to be able to contribute to your country’s national security. You thought you would become a strategist, someone who could help Indonesia in its time of doctrinal stagnation. You had high hopes for yourself that you would come home and be there for your country, even when they rejected you twice.

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Reading science fiction in an age of political turbulence

Lately, I’ve found myself reading more classic science fiction. I went through Asimov’s entire Foundation saga, and am currently reading Clarke’s Odyssey series and his Rama series. The science fiction of old reflected a time of general optimism for space travel and colonisation. One day, we’d escape our cradle, Earth, and settle throughout the galaxy. We may or may not encounter other intelligent life-forms; even Asimov thought humans would be the dominant space-faring species in the Milky Way (but he hinted, at the end of Foundation and Earth, that Andromeda may host a new form of life we’ve yet to encounter).

The main enabler for us to engage in space travel would be technology. As we sailed the seas with ships and aircraft carriers, so too will we travel the stars in advanced starships like the USS Enterprise. At this moment, we’re taking baby steps towards the development of space technology, slowly and clumsily crawling towards that dramatic breakthrough or “revolution” that would propel us into the future. But, Asimov’s dreams of humans establishing a galactic empire tens of thousands of years into the future maybe under attack.

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Strategic Gaming: Civilization V and My Studies

Studying about war and strategy is boring, especially when we cover the dry, theoretical aspects like Clausewitz and game theory. What’s even more problematic is the fact that there are few ways in which I can translate what learned in class into real-life situations. Sure, I understand that strategy is a clash of wills, but how do I observe such a phenomenon without leaving the comfortable ivory tower? Furthermore, observing behaviour takes a long time.

Luckily, there’s Civilization V, which helps the aspiring strategist apply what they learned in a sandbox simulation of real-world politics. Having invested over 300 hours in Civilization V without any end in sight, I can safely say the game provides, within its artificial limits, a place for me to apply theory into practice. Or at least understand the more abstract concepts in strategy.

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