Sunday, December 21, 2008

Snow Angel

Snow Angel II, originally uploaded by jen_m_stewart.

Lots of snow in Boston these days...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


One of the things I've enjoyed about being a doctoral student at MIT has been the UROP program in which we have a chance to work with undergraduates on research. One of the undergrads who has worked with me the past 2 semesters stopped by my office today and in addition to asking for a letter of recommendation for Master's programs also spent some time chatting with me about career decisions more broadly and why some people are more successful than others post-graduation.

As often happens, I had more thoughts about the conversation later in the day while walking home which I wanted to try to capture in this post. Overall, I think it is a really difficult decision of which career path to head down for all but the lucky few who just feel extreme passion for one particular calling and never really face the question. For everyone else, I think either facing this question of what to do with one's life either causes both anguish and great character development, or they take shortcuts (doing what their parents tell them to do, or doing what everyone else around them is doing) and miss out on both. I was mentioning to her that I felt like one of the keys is to try to be focused and persistent when the going gets tough and you found that you've taken a wrong turn or life has thrown a curveball or obstacle at you. After graduating from undergrad, there is a lot less structure to life and so a good deal more self-discipline and self-motivation are needed to continue to excel/work hard when it is the case that many people experience some level of disillusionment or uncertainty along the way.

On the walk home, I was thinking how life's a bit like an obstacle course, where you have to follow what you're passionate about but also recognize that there will be times when that passion wanes. The trick is knowing when to use self-discipline to just power through those periods and when to recognize that you've hit an obstacle or gone down a wrong path and need to really change course. I think at least for me, I've been lucky to have always thrown myself into whatever course I was walking down 100%. I think that generated some kind of momentum that I could then use to change directions slightly while keeping ambition high compared to others who may have gotten discouraged and gone through periods where frustration set in and made it difficult to stay motivated or resulted in periods of disillusionment.

I was also thinking about how being driven toward some goal is relatively easy early in life, but then the flip side of it shows up later. The flip side of being driven is having to make sacrifices. Of course for those with talent or passion the sacrifices seem smaller, but nonetheless, doing anything extraordinary requires making some sacrifices made deliberately or unconsciously in terms of friendships and relationships. So I think being a driven person requires more and more conscious choices later in life where we have to weigh the long-term career goals against sacrificed time/energy for relationships and friendships. I think this is probably easier for guys than for girls to navigate. In the end, I think success in life is probably about many things, of which getting to certain career goals is one part, to be weighed in the proper context of the balance of life. Problem sets and analytical skills we get in spades at schools like MIT, but help and guidance in navigating these softer but much more important life decisions is rare and probably best exchanged among friends and mentors, but this leads to a certain inevitable character of the blind/in-experienced leading the blind. Maybe that is why each generation ends up making some of the same mistakes and learning many of the same life lessons of the ones that have gone before. So in the end, I'm not entirely sure what makes some people more successful in life than others, but I think some of the ingredients are here in terms of passion, focus, perspective, balance, persistence, self-discipline, momentum and friendship. All broad concepts but I think ones that show up in the particular stories of our lives.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

INSEAD - Europe Campus - Fontainebleau

INSEAD - Europe Campus - Fontainebleau

I will be staying here for two nights Jan. 4-5th when I give my talk at INSEAD. Looking forward to it!

Fontainebleau is a picturesque French town steeped in history and named after the fresh water spring that gave rise to it. It is a name that immediately conjures up images of Forest and Castle.

With 15 million visitors a year the forest is one of France’s major tourist and leisure activity attractions. It is particularly known for its unique rock formations and soft white sand that makes it the Mecca of Rock climbers. It has been described as simply “the best bouldering area in Europe if not the world”.

In 1998 the Fontainebleau Forest became the 356th Biosphere Reserve within a global network of more than 90 countries. It is 250 km2 of temperate forest - composed mainly of oak, Scots pine and beech - heath lands, open rock areas of sandstone and wetlands, semi-permanent ponds caused by rainfall and the sandstone’s impermeability.

The castle is the 12th century Château, initially a hunting lodge and then the summer residence of many French kings. François I, a great supporter of the Renaissance, rebuilt it in the 16th century combining the Renaissance and French gothic styles to create a new one and invited artists like Leonardo da Vinci to improve on it. It was here that the Mona Lisa was exhibited for the very first time! In the 17th century it was the turn of the Sun King, Louis the XIV, to add his touch to the royal residence. The gardens of the Château are the work of his chief landscape designer, André Le Nôtre. The 18th century brought Marie-Antoinette to Fontainebleau. Her apartments were later remodelled and used by the Empress Josephine when Napoleon Bonaparte made the castle his main residence. Before leaving for the island of Elbe on April 20, 1814, he gave his farewell speech in the courtyard which is now called the “Cour des Adieux”, the Farewell Courtyard.

Today INSEAD is one of the Château’s preferred partners and is a benefactor to the restoration of Queen Marie Antoinette’s Turkish Boudoir. Some of the school’s big events, like the Summer Ball and the PhD Graduation ceremony, are held in halls of the Château that are not open to the general public. This collaboration is a tribute to the beginnings of the school, for it was here, in a wing of this 12th century Château that INSEAD was born half a century ago.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Stuck in Hotel During Mumbai Terrorist Attack, Prof. Escapes - The Tech

Stuck in Hotel During Mumbai Terrorist Attack, Prof. Escapes - The Tech:

"On the night of Nov. 26, Sloan Professor Eric von Hippel SM ’68 was awoken by explosions and gunshots from his room at the Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai, India. Von Hippel experienced and survived the terrorist attack that devastated one of India’s largest and most developed cities.

Terrorists attacked several iconic spots around South Mumbai in a three-day siege that finally ended on Saturday. Among the sites attacked included the Oberoi Hotel, the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel near the famous Gateway of India, and the historic railway station formerly known as the Victoria Terminus. Police reported nearly 200 deaths and over 300 wounded from the string of coordinated attacks. According to the New York Times, about 30 died at the Oberoi Hotel where von Hippel was a guest.

After escaping the attack site, von Hippel penned an e-mail to friends and colleagues describing his survival story during the terrorist attacks.

When he was awoken at 10:30 p.m., von Hippel did not know what was occurring. He heard people smashing the hotel’s windows in an attempt to let out smoke, which was entering their rooms through the bottom of the doors."