Taste Test: Teaism

When I decided what to write about this month, I thought that reviewing a new restaurant or coffee shop in the city would be both fun and a good incentive to get out and explore. For this post, I decided to visit Teaism.

Teaism is described on Google Maps as a “relaxed space for tea & Asian-style eats.” There are a few locations in the city. I had actually been to one for lunch several years ago, but couldn’t remember much about it, so I thought I’d visit a different location and try it out again near Dupont Circle.

First of all, it was an adorable townhouse-style place. It was pretty crowded when I got there, and it was not a typical meal time either (I think I got there around 3 pm). Seating downstairs was somewhat limited, but they did appear to have a second level, which I did not get the chance to explore. I liked the casual setting; customers order at the counter and then wait until their number is called.

The menu (which you can find here for the location I visited) was varied and interesting, and I think the prices were reasonable for a “treat yourself” kind of meal. (It wasn’t extremely expensive, but I maybe wouldn’t go there every single day for lunch.)

I loved how they had options for both vegans and non-vegans; that is sometimes difficult to find, and I think it is a good way to introduce non-vegans to plant-based recipes that they might actually like without requiring them to take the initiative to visit a completely vegan restaurant.

I ended up going with the vegan cheeseburger; since it appears to be the signature vegan item on their menu, I wanted to try it out and see how that was. It came with a side of broccoli with sumac vinaigrette. I thought the cheeseburger was great. Whatever cheese they used (Chao, perhaps?) was a really good imitation cheese. The burger did not taste identical to a beef burger (although there are some really good imitation burgers out there nowadays!)– it was just a veggie burger that was made with beets and Tempeh. I did think it was delicious! But not the kind of thing you see as a “substitute” for a regular burger, more of an alternative. The broccoli was actually one of the most interesting things I have tried in a long time, which is funny considering how simple it was. Perhaps I just haven’t tried this type of vinaigrette before, but it had a very vibrant and fresh flavor while simultaneously seeming to lack flavor. Don’t get me wrong, I would totally order it again. It was good, in a weird way.

Usually around this time of day, I would go for an iced coffee beverage. I suffer from horrible afternoon slumps. However, this time I decided to try tea. Obviously. I went with their iced matcha sweet green tea, which I also thought was great. I’ve tried a lot of not so good matcha teas, but theirs was lovely, which I guess is to be expected! I also enjoyed the cute little green garden with benches in front of the restaurant.

Overall, I would definitely visit Teaism again. Maybe I would try a different location, as the menus seem to vary. I would also be interested to try many of their sides, or possibly breakfast.

Although I ordered food during my visit to get the full experience, I think this would also be a nice place to visit if you like the coffee shop vibe while doing some work on the computer or writing! I could certainly see myself spending hours there and trying several of the hot teas.

Have you been to Teaism before? Also, does this “taste test” concept interest you? Let me know, and if so I will be sure to make it a series on my blog!

-AK

My greatest weaknesses

Today we are getting deep, and I will be sharing what I perceive to be my greatest weaknesses. Of course, if you know me, you are welcome to develop your own opinion on the matter! I thought this would be interesting to discuss in case anybody can relate, and also just as an exercise in humility…

  • I have too many interests. This sounds like one of those “weaknesses” that isn’t really a weakness that somebody would use in a job interview or something, but it really is problematic for me. I am constantly starting new projects and, while I try my best to finish them, that doesn’t always work out. It isn’t even that I have a short attention span — I legitimately just have so many interests (reading, writing, blogging, fitness, playing guitar, makeup, singing, creating online content, political science/ my research, spending time with friends and family, and occasionally *gasp* relaxing among other things) that when I spend too much time doing one thing, all I can think about is everything else I could be doing that I am missing out on.
  • I am too nice. I believe that I am also a kind person who is generally sympathetic and genuinely wants to make others happy and make the world a better place, but in addition to that, I am too *nice*, which is different from being kind. I find it difficult to burden others with negative emotions I feel, so I am always “happy.” Also, if people treat me poorly or say something that pisses me off, unless I am very close and open with them like my family, I can’t respond in the straightforward way I’d like to. I usually just shrug it off or laugh and walk away, but it is a problem because this way people never learn when their actions genuinely bother me, so the behavior doesn’t change. I always act friendly and nice, even if it isn’t how I’m really feeling. Even toward people I dislike (which is usually a short/ nonexistent list, but still).
  • Similarly, I am hyper aware of the moods and emotions of people around me, and it is sometimes difficult to just be myself because I “can’t” be responsible for a negative shift in others’ moods. If I’m in a group and somebody says something that makes another person feel sad/mad/annoyed, I instantly know. I feel like all of my words and actions are so calculated as a result, because I genuinely don’t want other people to experience negative emotions because of me. Because of the way I phrase things to spare others’ feelings, sometimes my honest opinions come out sounding political and diplomatic. Although I’m not disingenuous, I will never be the blunt person who always tells the harsh truth.
  • I can be very selfish and borderline obsessive about time. I think this is something that I have begun to change, and I have recently been conscious about making more time for friends and family. But, because of my introverted nature and because of my ever present consciousness that time is slipping away and I only have a finite amount in life, it is very difficult for me to spend time doing things that feel meaningless to me or that lack value (i.e., small talk or conversations that I find boring, walking slowly to get from one place to another, sitting around on my phone while in the presence of another person, etc.) when I know that I could instead be doing one of the many productive things I listed earlier. (I also know that it is fine to relax, but none of the things I just mentioned are relaxing to me.)
  • I can be very perfectionistic, and sometimes about the wrong things. Just spent 20 hours writing a paper and I’m sick of looking at it? Probably won’t even check it for typos. But if my pillow is misplaced or there is a mess in the kitchen, I’ll go crazy.
  • I used to be pretty carefree, but now I am extremely paranoid. About other drivers, as I’ve mentioned before, about crossing the street, about the people around me in public places, about whether my metro train is going to suddenly crash or blow up… Ever since I was exposed to the reality that is human error by being in a car accident, my mind does not relax.
  • Just for fun, I’ll add chocolate to this list. 🙂

I’m sure this list could go on and on if I kept thinking about this, but these are the first things that come to mind! What are your greatest weaknesses?

-AK

My tips for productivity

One of the most significant non-academic things I learned during my first year as a PhD student was how to be productive even in moments when I really didn’t feel like it. In fact, I had a pretty good handle on this throughout college as well. I think as a society we tend to over-glorify productivity, and I have definitely done this myself in the past. While it feels great to accomplish many things, it is also important to take time to rest. However, for the times when you have no choice but to be very productive, here are some of my best tips.

  • Have a pre-work ritual. For me, this usually involves cleaning off my desk and lighting a candle; there is just something about candles that puts me in the zone to do work. But your ritual could be using some essential oils, washing your face, making a cup of coffee, changing into a certain type of clothing, etc.; just something to remind your brain that it is work time.
  • Be clear on what you need to accomplish. Seems obvious, but many people plunge right into the work they know they need to do immediately without considering what their next steps will be. This often leads to mis-allocating time and completing things at the last minute. Take 10-15 minutes even to review your to-do list, and decide what needs to be done this month, this week, today, and even this hour. Give yourself a reasonable amount of time to do it. That way, you won’t make excuses like “well I’m not going to get this done by 5 pm anyway so I might as well just wait to start it.”
  • Similarly: calendar blocking. This may seem unnatural, but so are our expectations of productivity at times. I learned this tip from Amy Landino. It’s nothing extremely novel, but I do think this is a superior approach to time management than a simple to-do list. When I make such a list, I still end up with various incomplete tasks at the end of the day. When I use calendar blocking, I literally force myself to get things done within a certain amount  of time. Then, if I don’t finish a task, I am forced to move to the next task and/or re-allocate the rest of the time for the day. I actually wouldn’t recommend living every day like this, but on busy days I definitely do this.
  • On that note, I recommend using Google calendar in general. I will talk more about this in my post on useful apps for students, but my life changed when I began to use Google calendar creatively in addition to (and eventually instead of) a paper planner.
  • Wake up early. Or stay up late! Or go to a coffee shop without your phone for a few hours in the middle of the day. Whatever works for you, but the point here is to find a solid chunk of uninterrupted time in an environment where nobody will be bothering you. Usually early in the morning works because it is before most people are awake so you are less tempted to check email, respond to text messages, etc., and the same is true late at night. Some friends recommended going to a coffee shop without a phone — I  haven’t tried it yet, but I think it sounds like a great idea!
  • Use one of those social media blocking extensions on your internet application. I never believed this would work until I tried it. I actually didn’t think I checked social media that much until I added an extension that gave me a 20 minute limit per day (on my computer), which was helpful because instead of being derailed for half an hour to check twitter, I kept getting the “shouldn’t you be working?” page.
  • Say no! I never feel guilty saying no to something that will hinder me from achieving what I need to for myself. Whether it is a social activity, a work opportunity, a request for help (obviously exercise discretion on what is actually more important), little interruptions can really hinder your productivity. Again, not a general rule but something to be strict with yourself when you really need to be productive.
  • Coffee, because obviously.
  • Exercise! When you are tired from a great workout, it suddenly becomes 10x easier to sit still for hours doing your work at the computer (if that’s the kind of work you do). It’s good for the brain, it will help you think more clearly, and just generally improves your productivity.
  • Last and most important tip, which I’ve alluded to already: minimize interruptions. A two second interruption from a quick text or someone knocking on your door can actually turn into a 20+ minute interruption because of the way it disrupts your focus. We as humans actually can’t multitask, no matter how tempting it can be to believe that we can. Focus on one task exclusively before moving on to the next, and you will develop a momentum that allows you to actually finish projects and move on. Resist the temptation to do everything at once.

Do you have additional tips for productivity? Or even tips you have tried and that didn’t work for you?

-AK

Pros and cons of the academic world

This is a topic that deserves more than one post, and given that I still consider myself a beginner in the “academic world” having only completed one year of grad school, I am sure I will have much more to say in the future. So I’m sure I’ll revisit this list one day with a more mature perspective, but I thought it would be interesting if I shared my observations, at this point, on the pros and cons of the academic world. (Another caveat: as I’ve shared before, I am a political science student. This could and probably does vary among fields.) With that being said, here is what sticks out to me.

Pros:

  • Smart people. You are surrounded by them! It is inspiring. You have professors and mentors and even people who share no interests with you but whose intelligence and passion for their subject is so evident that it motivates you with your own work.
  • Learning. This should go without saying, but many people, particularly those who actually aren’t in the academic community, forget about its most straightforward goal, which is learning. It’s not just about writing the current paper or finishing a project or getting through the semester, it’s about taking in each learning opportunity like a sponge and continuously building on your own knowledge and expertise.
  • Learning for money. Yes it’s about learning, but if it is your job, it is also about money. And my experience, at least, is that I am receiving financial support to receive an education that I will later use to continue enjoying all the “pros” on this list. Isn’t that cool? (Note: I’m not saying this to brag. However, I actually think too many people complain about the low salary of graduate students. While it is nothing to write home about, you are literally being paid to receive an education while many others with similar credentials are taking out loans to attend Masters programs or law school. So it seems like a good hand of cards to be dealt.)
  • Intellectual stimulation. Some might argue that this is the same thing as learning, but I actually don’t think that is true. There are aspects of research that require creativity, problem solving, analytical thinking, brainstorming, and sometimes it can generally feel like a giant puzzle. Even in the moments when not a lot of material learning is being done, other kinds of stimulation are likely going on.
  • Some level of autonomy. While most people in the academic world work within a college or university, there is still a degree of freedom (although it varies depending on one’s field, institution, level of seniority, etc.) when it comes to one’s teaching and research endeavors. That sounds a lot more appealing, to me at least, than being told explicitly what to do by a superior.

Cons:

  • Smart people… You are surrounded by them. Yes, this is beneficial, but it can also be a negative thing. Smart people can be great, or not so great. They can be kind and helpful, or rude and condescending. You don’t know which it’ll be, you just know that they are intelligent (at least enough to ~make it to where they are in life~).
  • Self doubt. It’s not a coincidence that most grad students and professors are familiar with the term “impostor syndrome.” This is sort of a result of the social environment of academia, but it is also just something that naturally happens when you are inundated with tons of high level material and attempting to stay above water with it all.
  • Work-life balance. I’m struggling to decide whether this is a pro or a con when it comes to academia, but at this moment I am going to place it on the “cons” list. Here comes a mini rant if you are interested in why:
    This entire blog is about my endeavor to find a balance between work and life that feels effortless. I recognize that it will never feel completely effortless, but I do strive to live my life in a way where work and “play” complement, rather than compete with, each other. There are definitely some positive aspects of the work-life balance of an academic as compared with some other professional routes. One’s time is somewhat flexible, and we can often choose, aside from a few pre-scheduled commitments, when we want to do our work. This doesn’t decrease the workload, but it allows scholars to exercise discretion in how they’d like to complete the work. On the other hand, there is a certain culture of overworking ourselves and signing up for various projects and constantly engaging in self-improvement exercises (like learning more and better methods, writing more and better papers, networking, etc.) and just generally always being “on,” that it can feel wrong or even guilt-invoking to take some time off. That’s why, at this moment, even though it is the middle of summer and I have the most freedom with my time that I have had in actual years, I’m currently seeing the work-life balance element as a “con.” However, I will say that every single day I work to foster a mindset that resists that norm, and that I hope to be vocal in opposition to the idea that we need to overwork ourselves to an unhealthy extent in order to be successful academics.
  • On the flip side of having a certain level of autonomy, it can also be problematic to work within a field so reliant on “the institution” as academia is. You’ve heard of “the ivory tower.” And if you know anything about working in higher education, you are also likely aware that it has many bureaucratic elements to it. You can sometimes feel like just one cog in a larger machine, one that you have little to no control over. The extent to which this is a problem basically depends on your outlook, although it does impact some practical realities of life as well (such as when one experiences problems with their pay, health insurance, or some other aspect of life that there is a lot less bargaining power over than there might be working for a private firm of some sort).
  • The job market. I researched the benefits and downsides of attaining a PhD extensively before I seriously considered it. The only reason I was comfortable entering this process was because I knew from the start that I was very open minded about the kind of job I would pursue in the future; if I thought I would only be willing to use a PhD to become a professor one day, I would certainly have tried to dream another dream. According to Google, the prospects aren’t getting better soon. 
  • It’s never ending. Now if you enjoy the lifestyle of an academic, then this is not really a problem. But what I mean by this is that, as one of the advisors at my institution shared in one of the first meetings we had as new students, your first day of graduate school is your first day on the job. Sure, you are still in the formal schooling portion of your journey, but when you receive your degree and go on the job market, there is no magic switch that will be flipped and turn you into a full-fledged professor. I am very keen on the power of manifestation so I try to act like I already am where I want to be in all aspects of my life, so this is actually something I love about the process. But if you feel overwhelmed as a graduate student, you can see the road ahead, and you are just perpetually waiting for that step in the process that you think will bring you fulfillment… Well, then the outlook seems bleak, my friend. It is unrealistic to think that you will enjoy the process later if you do not enjoy it now.

Those are my observations so far, and please don’t take this list as an indication that there are more “cons” than “pros.” If I had to sum up all I’ve learned about this journey so far in one sentence, I would be sure to make the point that almost ever positive aspect has a negative side to it, and vice-versa. This could be discouraging, or it could be a great thing depending on one’s ability to selectively focus on the “good.”

Do you consider yourself to be a part of the “academic world”? Have you shared some of these experiences, or are there other elements I missed? Comment below!

-AK

What am I studying? My research interests

2nd post of the day because I am behind again 🙂

As you likely know if you’ve read any of my previous posts, I’m a graduate student studying political science. But, a “PhD in political science” can mean various things, so I thought I would discuss in greater detail what my research interests are. (Please note that I do not have, nor am I (yet) anywhere near having a PhD.)

I always kind of knew that I would study politics in college. I’ve mentioned this before, but I spent 4/5 of my life “knowing” that I was going to attend law school, so that combined with my interest in politics made it the natural choice for a major in college. Luckily, I developed great relationships with a few of my college professors, and it is probably no coincidence that I adopted some of their research interests as a result. As of now, my research interests are still somewhat broad and subject to change– I’m only entering my second year of grad school, but I hope to narrow that down a bit this year.

During college, I was a research assistant for one of my professors who was doing a project on media coverage of the Affordable Care Act. My work consisted mainly of coding news statements in accordance with several predominant frames that mainstream media were using in discussions of the ACA. Although the work itself was somewhat tedious, I found the overall topic and approach to be extremely interesting. It was crazy to me how distinct the primary frames used seemed to be (i.e., certain news networks adopted visibly more conservative/ liberal approaches to discussing the issue, and this was evident not through overt statements but through the use of certain, essentially “coded,” language). Having taken a media and politics course with the same professor, this experience cemented my interest in the media and political communication. In short, I find it really interesting to study the institution that is primarily responsible for informing citizens, because the opinions that they form are a consequence of the information that they take in.

Another topic I am interested in is gender & politics– less because of the issue of the gender disparity in politics (although that is a real issue!) but more because I find it particularly important to look at how our institutions work in terms of representing groups that have been historically disenfranchised. I also have taken various classes at this point relating to women and politics, have written several papers about it, and my current research assistantship involves that topic as well, so I’ve kind of naturally begun to focus on that area. There are, of course, other minority groups and groups that have been disenfranchised from the political politics, so it is likely that in the long term my interests will extend to studying more than just women and politics.

Those are the particular topics I am interested in, but in terms of the approach I’d like to take to better understanding them, I am leaning more toward an individual behavior/ psychological approach rather than an institutional approach. The way I see it, our political outcomes are the consequence of vote choice, and vote choice is the consequence of individual opinions, which are the consequence of various things– socialization, personal experience, the information one consumes (hence my interest in the news/ media), etc. So I am interested in finding some unexplored areas in the literature to examine further when it comes to why people believe the things that they do, particularly when individuals are under false impressions about reality, or hold political preferences that are counter to their own advancement, and so on. I am interested in making sense of the opinions people hold that don’t make sense. When it comes time to decide on a dissertation topic, I’ll probably try to combine these interests in some way that also involves applicable current events.

I tend to think of politics as a problem waiting to be solved. If individual behavior and institutional outcomes made perfect sense, there would probably be no political scientists to study them. But there are, because puzzles and problems exist, and we want to make sense of them. I am an Americanist (I probably should have mentioned this earlier), and in our system– in case it isn’t obvious– there are lots of problems. People aren’t always represented, outcomes aren’t always beneficial to the majority, people don’t always hold opinions that make sense. I think resolving this last issue would have a positive impact on outcomes, as preferences would be more aligned with actual individual needs and desires. I’m not naive enough to believe that my research alone could actually resolve this problem, but I do believe that political scientists studying individual behavior play an important role in demonstrating empirically that these problems do exist, and there is a need to take action to solve them.

-AK

My experience with music

Some of you probably know that music is very important to me, so I thought it would be fun to discuss the role it has played as a hobby, passion, and creative release for basically my entire life.

The first musical memory I have is attending my sister’s (orchestra?) concert when she was in high school. I vividly remember (my mom can confirm this) waving my arms around as if I were the conductor while they were playing. I was probably about three at this time.

Then, I remember elementary school music class and chorus, where I had an amazing music teacher who always kept me feeling inspired. He is honestly one of the most musically talented people I have met (he wrote and directed multiple entire productions on his own). We sang simple songs, played the recorder, and did other typical elementary level musical activities. I remember a lot of my classmates did not take music class seriously, and I got very irritated at their lack of appreciation.

In third or fourth grade, I began taking both piano and voice lessons with my music teacher, which I would continue until middle school. During this time, I also had roles in my class play and the elementary school musicals, and attended summer theater camps.

In middle school, I was involved in the production Annie. After this, for some reason, I stopped participating in performing arts at my school (other than briefly to be a part of the production of Footloose). I think it was because I wanted to be more active in cheerleading, and I only had so many hours in the day, but I sometimes wonder how my experience might have been different if I’d continued.

Despite that I stopped participating in performing arts, I was still musically active. I would spend a ton of my time online, discovering new music, and particularly on YouTube, watching covers of popular songs. I also began to play guitar some time in high school, so that required a lot of my time, as I was teaching myself. I even began to collaborate with my friends and post videos of our covers of songs (yes, these are still online… it doesn’t even feel like me when I watch those videos, since I have changed so much since then. I’m no longer active on this channel, but I keep the old videos up so I can look back and see how much I progress in terms of guitar, etc).

During college, I had a bit of a musical hiatus. I always had my guitar on campus, but there wasn’t much privacy. While I have no problem performing in front of an audience when I know a song, I *hate* being around others when I am learning a song (or trying to be creative and write my own). It really interrupts my focus and bothers me a lot. So, I spent a lot of time wishing I could be playing guitar but feeling unable to.

Once I graduated college, I started to get back into it. I have hit a bit of a plateau with my guitar playing, and now I’m spending a lot more of my time trying to improve. Now, I actually have recording equipment and music software that allows me to document this journey, which is something I’m trying to invest some time into. I must admit that it feels a bit self-indulgent to spend time recording music when I have all of these other priorities in my life, but I also believe that you have to do what feeds your soul. And writing my own songs is something that I’m also working toward. My hope is that I could one day provide people with the same kind of joy that others’ music has given me, so I will continue to share some of my music on my YouTube channel 🙂

How has music helped, inspired, or taught you (or not) in life?

-AK

Weekend snapshot: family beach trip

For my mom’s birthday, my brother and I decided to be nostalgic and take her on a weekend trip to the beach we have visited ever since we were kids (Rehoboth!). There is just something about that beach that brings back good memories, and we were all happy to be there. Although we didn’t fulfill all of our traditions (chocolate covered strawberries… which my brother claims not to remember, how sad), and our Saturday was interrupted by a rain storm, we had a great time while it lasted. I don’t have a lot to say, other than how glad I am that I got to spend time with my family, but I do have pictures to share!

We love the beach!

-AK

P.S. my posts have been a little jumbled lately; for example, I accidentally skipped one (about being yourself in the face of criticism) and intentionally skipped one (about podcasts, because there are still only one or two that I like…); just wanted to say that I will be revisiting those topics in the future. This blogging challenge (my 7/5 post) is really just to keep myself accountable, so I wanted to do that as well as apologize to the one or two people who might actually notice that I missed those topics. Anyway, thanks for reading!