Home sweet home

Well, this post marks the official end of my edventure. It’s bittersweet—I’m so glad to be home, and I had such a fantastic time on the trip and met so many amazing people,but I am sad that it’s come to an end and that I won’t be seeing my Aurora fam every day anymore!

I’m looking forward to getting started on my outreach work with Aurora, though. I’m hoping to spend some time at my old high school, encouraging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to pursue a university education.

In the meantime, I have a busy first week at my new job this week! And some major thinking to do about my PhD plans and life in general post-tour.

Saturday 24th November

I arrived home around noon on Saturday, after something like 36 hours in transit. I was met at the airport by the friend who had been looking after my car, and he’d picked up my dog ahead of time so she was waiting for me in the back seat! (She was very grumpy with me for about the first half-hour, but has barely let me out of her sight since. I think I am forgiven for leaving her for five weeks).

The weather in Perth was surprisingly mild, rather than the awful summer heat that I had been expecting. The sky was that glass-clear blue that I’m learning you only really see in Aus, the sun was warm but not scalding, and there was a nice fresh breeze that smelled like home.

Mum and her partner brought over some Chinese food for dinner, and I spent a significant amount of time rambling on and on about how good it was to be eating good food again.

I loved being on the trip, but I am very glad to be home.

Sunday 25th November

Sunday was busy! I had hoped to spend the day resting, but I ended up running around allover the place catching up with people. In the morning my aunty and I went to our local Dome for breakfast, then dropped in to see my cousin before heading back home. I really needed a nap, but my body was not cooperating, so around lunchtime I drove to my dad’s house and spent a couple of hours chilling on his couch and cuddling both of our dogs.

In the evening Mum and I met up with Trudi and Rosa who I met in London, and I took them to one of my favourite burger joints for dinner and then over to Crow Books, my absolute favourite bookshop (even after all the stunning places I visited in the US and UK). I filled them in on my time in Oxford and my plans for the future, and gave them a couple of sight-seeing ideas for their last couple of days in Perth.

Monday 26th November

On Monday I started my new science communications job (No rest for the wicked, hey?). I spent the day helping run a workshop—most of which was actually just sitting around and listening to planetary scientists talk about their awesome research.Not bad at all!

Two friends brought dinner around in the evening and we chatted and chilled and it was lovely. I drank a lot of tea. Michael’s quiche was delicious.

Tuesday 27th November

Today is another busy one. I’m at the second day of the workshop (tomorrow is the last day),then this evening I’m going to drop in to the launch party for CoRE (the Centre of Resources Excellence). It’s a new high school science program developed by the fabulous Suzy Urbaniak, which I will fill you all in on very soon. If I have time after that I will drive to Murdoch for an event run by The Conversation:The State of our Planet. It should be interesting and make for good science fiction research!

Jet lag is catching up with me though, and I am looking forward to resting on the weekend.

It’s good to be home with my car and my dog.

Wanderings and musings

Today was slow and comfortable. After breakfast I went back to bed for a couple of hours,then I grabbed a coffee and a slice of cake from the café at the YHA around lunch time and settled down to read. I’m now about halfway through Caliban’s War, and things are happening. It’s intense. I’ll be heading straight to Crow Books when I get home and picking up Abaddon’s Gate.

Once I gathered a little more energy I decided to walk into the centre of town and look around. I ended up at Blackwell’s Bookshop where a couple of books on AI might have leapt into my bag of their own accord…

Blackwell’s is a treasure. It’s two or three levels, it’s hard to tell, with stacks upon stacks filled with all manner of interesting books. One of the mentors recommended the basement level so I went down to suss it out, and I was not disappointed. I thought Boffins back home was the best bookshop for nerdy stuff and specialty books, but I was wrong. Blackwell’s wins hands down. I wish I could bring it back to Perth with me.

After losing track of time in the bookshop I crossed the street to visit the Museum of the History of Science. Yet another favourite place among all my other favourite places on this trip. If you ever get a chance to go, you really, really should. I took a selfie with Einstein’s chalkboard, but as I am bad at selfies it turned out terribly. So I won’t be posting it. Sorry not sorry.

In the evening I walked to the Eagle and Child Pub in search of dinner, but it was packed and so warm inside that my glasses fogged up and I was effectively blind for a good ten minutes, so I ended up heading back to Jamie’s Italian to eat. The Eagle and Child was where Tolkien and CS Lewis set up their writing group, I am told.It felt a little too cozy and cramped for a writing group I’ve gotta say, but it was nice.

During my dinner at Jamie’s I made some notes about a couple of story ideas that are brewing in my brain. I finished the evening with a delicious chocolate brownie and a cup of English breakfast tea. I was tempted to take more photos of Thaikhun through the window because it’s just so damn pretty, but the restaurant was quite full and I was already getting funny looks for the number of snaps I’d taken of the chandelier.

It was agood day, all in all. If I have the energy tomorrow I’d like to go look at theOxford Castle. There’s a mound! It looks interesting.

Only five more days until my flight home!

A travelling medicine chest and other curiosities at the Museum.

Oxford adventures (sort of)

Today I proofread an archaeology thesis for one of the other Scholars.

Oh my gosh. She is amazing (I already knew she was amazing, but now she’s like, amazing-er). Her work is so insightful and respectful and original and it took me way longer to edit than it should have because I was so engrossed in just reading it. I’m so excited to hear her results and see where she goes from here, because jeez, that woman has a lot to offer this world.

We spent the afternoon working together at the George Street Social, a lovely two-storey café with powerpoints and wifi and good coffee. We both had a serving of pancakes with fresh fruit and maple syrup for afternoon tea, which was delicious, and fantasised about the high tea we will be attending on our last day in the UK.

Late in the afternoon we parted ways briefly—I went in search of Boots, a Priceline sort of deal which I’d heard about on the interwebs and was curious to check out. I found a perfume by one of my favourite YouTubers, replaced my empty mouthwash, and stocked up on some hair dye for when I get back home.

Then I metup with Ms Amazing Archaeologist and one of the mentors, and we had Thai foodat Thaikhun for dinner. It was delicious, and the atmosphere inside therestaurant was bustling and urban. For the hour or so that we were there Ialmost forgot we were in Oxford!

One of the other Scholars joined us for dessert, and my chocolate ice cream betrayed me by containing chilli. It was very off-putting, expecting my throat to be numbed by the cold and instead finding it warmed, very off-putting indeed.

I spent the rest of the evening reading Caliban’s War, the second book in The Expanse by James S. A. Corey. And now to bed!

The restaurant we visited for dinner. There’s a rickshaw in the window!

On travelling with chronic fatigue

Hi friends. Sorry for missing the last two days! My fatigue was super bad so I spent most of my time in bed or dragging my unwilling body to meetings.

But I am back! And feeling better. And I have good news and three days’ worth of stuff to catch you up on. Please excuse the weird format that follows, but I think it’ll be the best way to structure this one. Skip to today’s post (Friday 16th) if you wanna get to the happy bits, and ignore the last section if you’re bored or not keen on hearing me ramble on about chronic illness.

Tuesday 13th November

I woke up at 8am absolutely wrecked after the London reception the night before, so I went back to sleep until lunch time and then had a quick shower before heading off to my meeting. I spoke with Dr Steven Connor of CRASSH (Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities) at Cambridge. He was lovely, and we had a good chat about academia in general and the changing structure of the Humanities at Cambridge.

After my meeting I walked through a little park behind Queen’s College and around the corner to Clare Hall, where we had a group session on applying for Cambridge.

To be honest, it was not a good time. It is likely that that was due to my fatigue-induced bad mood. I left partway through because I was so tired I was sure I was going to either burst out crying or throw up all over the table.

I stopped by a café on the way home to grab a sandwich and some snacks for the evening, because I knew from the headache coming on that I wouldn’t be capable of going out to fetch dinner later on. I ate my ham and cheese toastie and skulled my coffee, then fell asleep for four hours. I woke up briefly to eat a muffin and finish the last little bit of Leviathan Wakes, then I went back to sleep until morning.

Wednesday 14th November

Wednesday was another tough day. I made it out for lunch with Gemma (my first meal of the day) and she very kindly relieved me of my washing so that I could go back to sleep.

I had a shower at some point, and drying my hair left me so exhausted that I had to sit on the ground in the bathroom for ten minutes before I could walk the short distance back to bed.

In the evening I took a taxi over to Anglia Ruskin University for their open night, and I’m so so glad I went. I met Dr Tiffani Angus and Dr Helen Marshall from Creative Writing, and they were both amazing. We talked on and on and I felt so at home in their company that I could have stayed there for hours.

Afterwards I stopped by the group dinner briefly to eat a little bit, then started feeling ill and fatigued again so took a taxi the short distance home. I slept for twelve hours overnight, on top of the however-many-hours I’d already spent napping.

Thursday 15th November

Today was better. I had a meeting with Dr Una McCormack from Anglia Ruskin this morning at Fitzbillies down the road, and it was so good. The meeting concluded with us agreeing that I would apply for the PhD program in Creative Writing with (probably) Tiffani as my main supervisor and either Una or Helen as a secondary supervisor.

Oh my gosh. I am so ridiculously excited.

All the other universities have been so amazing, and all the academics I’ve spoken to have been super welcoming and supportive, but I think this is the one.

Even at Stanford and Harvard, which I was so impressed with, I would have had to squish my research into their framework. But here, I can 100% do the work that I want to do. And these three ladies are fabulous, and accomplished, and a joy to chat to.

We ended up talking for over an hour, and finished up just in time for me to take a taxi to the bus stop. I met one of the mentors and two of the other Scholars there, and we hopped on the bus to Oxford!

I sat next to a lovely lady called Susie on the bus (the third Susie in my life, all of them lovely) and we chatted the whole way. We’ve swapped contact details and will be sending each other postcards once I’m back in Perth!

We’re now in Oxford, where I have no academic meetings. So this week I’m going to be a tourist, and rest as much as I need to. It will be a nice end to the trip, I think. In eight days I’ll be home!

Chronic fatigue ramblings

Okay, so here’s the thing. Chronic fatigue sucks. And experiencing a bout of fatigue while travelling on the other side of the world, so so far from home and my support systems, sucks big time.

I didn’t blog the past two days not so much because I was fatigued, but because being fatigued and unable to do things that I could do relatively easily just a few days before was so upsetting. I was in a foul mood both Tuesday and Wednesday, and anything I tried to write would probably have read something like Catcher in the Rye meets A Clockwork Orange. And not in a good way.

But hey. I’ve made it through another few days of fatigue and for the moment I have a little bit of energy, so that’s nice. I still met some amazing people and got to experience beautiful Cambridge (even if only from the window of a taxi). And I learnt that even here, on the other side of the world, I’ve got people looking out for me (thanks Aurora fam).

Unfortunately, my experience at the group meeting on Tuesday has turned me off Cambridge (the university, not the place). I left that room feeling like there was no space for someone like me at Cambridge—someone who struggles with chronic illness and needs extra time/support sometimes. I left that room feeling like there was no way I could possibly cope with the workload of a postgraduate degree at Cambridge, and that somehow that was a personal failing. Like I said, it was not a good time.

But we’re in Oxford now, I have some Anglia Ruskin stuff to work on, I have plenty of time to rest and no meetings I need to get up for in the mornings, and in a little over a week I will be at home with my puppy dog and my car and my friends and my family.

This trip has been amazing, but these last two days knocked me around a bit, and I’m ready for a hug and a cup of Milo.

(Thanks Robyn for sharing your Vegemite this morning—it was just what I needed).

Una said my jumper was very Tom Baker. I was pleased.

Cambridge, Massachusetts / Cambridge, England

We have arrived in the UK! In the space of about 12 hours we left one Cambridge and arrived in another. It is just as beautiful here as it was in Massachusetts, and I’ve already found a good local coffee shop.

I’m staying in St Catharine’s College with one of the other Scholars, as it’s closer to the campus and easier to manage with my fatigue. The others are not too far away, though, so even though we’re split across accommodation again it should still be fairly easy to meet up and do things together.

I don’t have anything particularly exciting to report about my travels across the ocean, but I do have an exciting discovery to share!

Anglia Ruskin University, which is also located in Cambridge, offers an MA in Science Fiction and Fantasy! And on the list of academics is none other than John Clute, co-founder of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and one of the big names in sf studies. AND they offer creative practice PhDs in Creative Writing! AND AND they have an open day on the 14th, my last day in Cambridge before heading across to Oxford, which also happens to be completely free of appointments! To say I am ridiculously excited is an understatement.

I’ll leave it there for tonight. I’m going to finish my cup of tea and make a few more notes on these amazing programs and then hit the hay. Hoping to go exploring tomorrow.

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The view from the coffee shop this afternoon. Note the pretty sundial on the wall.

Last night in the US

Today has been a big and beautiful day.

I had breakfast at the hotel at a table by the window where I could soak up the morning sunlight. I had avocado and poached eggs on toast with a black coffee. It was good.

Towards the end of breakfast I was joined by one of the mentors, and we had a good chat about life and study and the future. I feel like everyone on this trip has become part of my family (yes… I know it’s a cliché), and I am going to miss everybody so much when we inevitably have to say goodbye and fly back to our respective corners of Australia.

After breakfast I caught an Uber with the other mentor and one of the other Scholars to Harvard, and killed a bit of time in Urban Outfitters until it was time for my appointment (that shop will be the death of me I swear, so much good fashion).

I was lucky enough to be invited to attend a seminar by Dr Safiya Umoja Noble about her book Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. It was a fascinating talk, and the members of the audience had some very interesting questions which yielded very interesting answers.

In the afternoon I ducked across to MIT for a meeting with an academic administrator there, and found out a bit more about their HASTS program (History / Anthropology / Science, Technology and Society). Unfortunately she couldn’t answer all of my questions (like if I could squish science fiction in there somewhere under the anthropology or society banners), so I will have to email some of the professors from the department to find out.

By 4pm I was back at Harvard for a panel discussion that followed on from the seminar earlier in the day, entitled ‘Before Algorithms: A History of Bias and Oppression in Computing’. Again, fascinating, interesting.

Then it was back to the Science Center (where I spent most of my day yesterday) to attend a meeting of the Anthropology of Science working group which I had been invited to. One of the PhD students presented his research and received feedback from his peers (from other disciplines), a practice which is fairly common at Harvard, apparently. And if there’s no working group to suit your specific needs, you can just make one!

And then I finally caught up with the other Scholars for dinner. We went to the most delicious Mexican restaurant. It was the first time on the trip that I ate all of my food. It was fab (Border Café, if you ever end up in Cambridge, Massachusetts).

I finished up the day by packing my suitcase ready to fly out tomorrow, and am now lying in this super comfy hotel bed trying not to fall asleep while I type!

Harvard is working its way into my heart, I think. I really like the History of Science course, and think I could tailor it to my research interests fairly easily. I like Cambridge—there are so many trees and parks and the river is gorgeous and the sky is bright and clear. AND. AND. I FOUND GOOD COFFEE.

And the academics here are amazing, and so lovely and welcoming. I have really enjoyed my time here and am sad to be moving on.

I think, after a year or two, I may just have to apply to study here.

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The view from the fourth floor of the Wexner building at the Kennedy School, Harvard

Our Systems and Theirs

Today we attended a symposium entitled Our Systems and Theirs: Indigenous Knowledge, Racial Identity, and Higher Education hosted at Harvard. We were joined by some Native American and Canadian students to discuss our identities and how we can exist as indigenous peoples in traditionally Western/European higher education institutions.

It was a wonderful day, honestly. I loved hearing everybody’s stories and making some new friends. One particularly bookish member of the Canadian party has promised to visit Perth one day, and I think I will have to return the favour! Perhaps in the meantime we can send each other book recommendations every now and then.

After the symposium a couple of the other Scholars and I found the cutest little basement café, where we had some delicious tea and soup and killed some time before the group dinner in the evening. We also took a wander through the Harvard Book Store and I fell in love with the place. It’s massive, and has an amazing selection of both new and used books. Pictured below is one that I picked up which I have heard many good things about—and which won both Hugo and Nebula awards. I’m excited to read it!

Dinner was fab. We ate at the Harvard Faculty Club, and the food was so good. There were vegetables! Vegetables!!

Everyone had a great time chatting and getting to know each other better. The camaraderie continued back at the hotel, with some Scholars playing a game or two of pool, and others of us just sitting around and continuing our dinner conversations.

Tomorrow we have a group lunch, but I’m going to head into Harvard early with my roomie for some breakfast and a wander around campus since I will miss the tour on Thursday (I’m visiting MIT!). There are two other bookshops I’ve been told are worth checking out, one of which is called Raven Books (my fave bookshop back home is Crow Books, so obviously I have to drop in).

But now, heat pack and bed. Goodnight!

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Binti by Nnedi Okorafor has won both Hugo and Nebula awards, and it’s only 90 pages long!

Halloween and such

Today was a good, if exhausting, day. I met with Professor Kimon Keramidas at NYU and had a good chat about science fiction and the Masters in Experimental Humanities program, then I got to sit in on his class discussing urban spaces in science fiction. It was so good. All the students were so insightful and intelligent and I felt like the littlest fish in the biggest pond. It was great.

We had a group dinner at Mel’s Burgers just down the road in Harlem, then all hopped on the subway to wander around the city for Halloween. There was a parade on somewhere, but we couldn’t find it, so we just walked around looking at all the different costumes and chatting. It was a good evening.

I’m feeling very conflicted about this city. I’m swinging between not liking it at all, and thinking that maybe I could make it work if I found the right place to stay and a good support network. I found a bunch of dance schools today that do rhythm tap classes, which would be absolutely amazing. I might try to drop in to one of the studios tomorrow and try a class—hopefully they will let me borrow some shoes!

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Starbucks memes are real – just call me JR from now on

Berkeley Day 2

Today was supposed to be another busy one, but the fatigue hit hard. We had a tour of the campus this morning followed by a lunch hosted by the American Indian Graduate Program. Two presenters discussed their research into Native American culture and history—there were many parallels between their struggles and those of Indigenous Australians.

In the early afternoon I met with a graduate advisor from Berkeley’s English department, and had a nice chat about the program and campus life. Unfortunately I don’t think this one is a good fit for me, which is a shame as I absolutely love the campus. The focus of the course is a bit too narrow for my liking; I’d really love to explore the intersection of science and writing in my PhD, and I don’t want to be limited to only literature.

But there are plenty more universities to visit on this trip! And plenty more opportunities to learn about amazing courses.

I had a nap in the afternoon and woke up in time to go to a lecture by Professor Stuart Russell, who is a computer scientist who specialises in AI, and whose work I cited in my thesis. His talk was fantastic and I’m so glad I got to go. Like most AI researchers I’ve heard of, though, his view of the development of AI leans a little on the utopian side of things. I left the lecture with so many new sf and sci-comms ideas.

We had a group dinner at a restaurant 15 minutes’ walk from The Faculty Club, then grabbed an ice cream from down the road before hopping in an uber back to the Club for an early night.

Oh, and I just sent an email to MIT asking for a meeting while we’re in Boston… eep!

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Professor Stuart Russell’s AI jokes were solid

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This little guy delivers food around the campus!

Last Day in Aus

Tomorrow we’re leaving Australia at 10.45am and arriving in San Francisco at 9am. Real world time travel, guys!

It is a thirteen-hour flight though, which I am not looking forward to. But I have my trusty sf books to keep me company and my own imagination if reading gets too exhausting.

The reception last night was amazing. I was expecting to go back to the hotel early (thanks fatigue) but I ended up staying for the whole thing because everybody was just so fascinating to speak with. I particularly enjoyed speaking with past scholars, two of whom are inspirational Indigenous writers, and one WHO STUDIES AI AND ROBOTS!!

Today we did the last of our workshops and Aunty Doris came to share her story with us. What a phenomenal woman. (Give her a google, she’s worth reading about).

We also learned more about the outreach program and how to give back to our communities at the end of this trip. Teacher friends, hit me up if you’re interested in supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at your schools and I’ll connect you with Aurora.

This time tomorrow I’ll still be on a plane. Wish me luck!

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Group shot from the Sydney reception. These are all the 2018 Scholars!