Cambridge and surrounds

Today was another big day. I had breakfast at Fitzbillies again with my roomie, then we parted ways—she headed off to a meeting and I wandered about doing some shopping.

At noon I met with Dr Anna Alexandrova from the Cambridge History and Philosophy of Science program. She invited me to attend a seminar on ethical use and disclosure regarding algorithms that may be discriminatory (a very similar vibe to the Algorithms of Oppression talk at Harvard but much more philosophically technical). It was great to sit in and listen but I think I’d be exaggerating if I said I understood even half of it!

Then it was back to my room for a little rest before our big London reception this evening. And while I was resting… I received my thesis results! Not too shabby for someone who didn’t do creative writing undergrad, I’ve gotta say. And the feedback I got on the fiction component was absolutely lovely. It was a very surreal feeling, sitting in a room in St Catharine’s College Cambridge, reading my Honours results. A very “what even is my life” moment.

So of course now I’m completely reconsidering everything about this tour and my future study direction. Now that The Academy has confirmed that I can indeed write fiction, there are some mighty fine MFA courses that are calling to me…

Late this afternoon we took the train to London. We stopped in at a sushi train on our way to our event, and spent ten minutes stuffing our faces before continuing on. We had a fancy pants reception at Australia House (Gringots Bank from the first Harry Potter film for those Harry Potter nerds following along at home). It was a stunning building, but unfortunately for security reasons we weren’t allowed to take any photos.

After the reception we had dinner at a nice burger joint and then hopped on the train back home. Overall, a full and satisfying day.

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St Catharine’s is gorgeous.

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.

Fatigue strikes again

I had a lazy day today. I had hoped to go across to Brooklyn and look around, but my fatigue was bad so I mostly just rested.

I had breakfast with one of the other Scholars at a restaurant down the road. They had little pumpkins as table centrepieces for Halloween, which I still find kind of odd. So many pumpkins, so little eating of pumpkins.

After breakfast I picked up my washing from the laundromat and came back to the accommodation to rest. I went out again briefly for lunch and to investigate the Columbia book shop (it was disappointing), then came back and napped again.

I spent most of the afternoon working on a short story for the Neilma Sidney short story prize on the theme of travel. I’m nearly done with the first draft and will hopefully have it ready well before the November 19th deadline!

Tomorrow I have my last NYU and Columbia meetings, and hopefully my fatigue will be a bit more manageable so I can stop by Central Park before we have to move on to the next city. It’s a shame that I haven’t been able to do many touristy things or see much of the city, but I guess that just means I’ll have to come back! Next time I think I will spend longer here to allow for fatigue days and tourist days.

Also, I ate half a tub of Haagen Dazs ice cream. It was great.

Perhaps it’s not so bad?

New York is growing on me, surprisingly. I’m still not a huge fan, and I still don’t think I could live here, but I will begrudgingly admit that it’s not awful.

My favourite part of this city is the subway. I love the feeling of being down beneath the surface surrounded by warm-white tiles and still air. The place we’re staying is right next to an elevated line, so I can hear the trains going by at all hours, which I find very comforting. I love the noises of the city, the windows rattling as buses idle in the street outside.

There still aren’t enough trees, though.

Today I met with a current (Australian!) student in the writing program at Columbia, and had a good chat about the program and what it’s like living and studying in New York. The course sounds amazing, honestly. So I’m going to go have a mosey around Brooklyn tomorrow to see if there’s anywhere in this vast place that could feel remotely like a home for a little while. I’m not holding my breath.

The one thing I absolutely have to do before we move on to Boston is to go to Central Park. All the other touristy things can wait until my next visit (…yes, there will probably be a next visit) but I have to see Central Park. I’m hoping Thursday will be as sunny and nice as it was today, because I have the whole day free to wander around and soak in the vibes of the urban oasis.

I also need to get to the post office some time this week and send some stuff home (I may have accidentally bought a few too many books).

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Look! some trees!

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!

Stanford Day 2

It was another long day today. I caught the bus to campus at 8.05 for a 9am group breakfast and info session. We learnt all about applying for graduate programs at Stanford and what we would need to include in our applications.

Following breakfast I met with a student services officer for the PhD program in Modern Thought and Literature. She had a dog in her office who was the sweetest little dude! We talked about my research interests and she suggested some other academics who might be a good fit for supervision, and she told me that MTL is where all the weirdos end up—sounds like my kind of place!

Then it was off to lunch at the Native American Cultural Centre, which was such a warm and welcoming space. We met more current students and learnt that Stanford offers courses in four Native American languages! MTL has a language requirement that you learn two other languages during your course, so if I were to come here I’d definitely consider one of the Native languages.

I got terribly lost on my way to my next meeting and arrived fifteen minutes late, but thankfully the academic I was meeting didn’t seem to mind all that much. She spoke with me about the Stegner Fellowship, which is Stanford’s non-degree writing program. It sounds absolutely amazing but I’m not sure if I’m in the right place with my writing yet to tackle something like that. I will definitely keep it in mind though.

I wrapped up the day with a meeting with another current MTL student, and we got along like a house on fire. I think I’ve made a friend! Maybe one day she’ll visit Perth and I can show her all my favourite cheap eats.

Tomorrow we’re bussing it across to Berkeley, but it’s pretty much a free day. I’m planning to do boring things like wash my clothes and track my expenses (woopsie! I haven’t done it yet…), and maybe find a nice spot outside to do some reading in the afternoon. I also have a bunch of emails to reply to and an article to write…

It’s just go, go, go over here at the moment!

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The view from my lunch spot on Sunday. There are so many cool cars here!

Stanford Day 1

So today we went to Stanford!

First impressions: the campus is beautiful, the book shop is well stocked, there is A LOT of merch, and the PhD in Modern Thought and Literature sounds amazing.

We started the day with a bus ride in to campus and killed time in the book shop for an hour until the start of our tour. Our guide showed us landmarks such as the library and the church and the edible blackberries. We also learnt about fountain hopping, a favourite pastime in the warmer months.

We had lunch with some current Aussie students, then split up for academic meetings. I spoke with a student studying in that amazing PhD program I mentioned and left feeling energized and excited. PhDs are between five and seven years here though, so I’m not super keen on the length.

We had another get-together in the afternoon at the Bechtel International Center and chatted with more students, and ate more food. Then it was back on the bus and home briefly before heading off to an NBA game. I was surprised by the atmosphere—it’s exactly like it is in the movies, larger than life and somewhat surreal. It was a good experience but I think once is enough for me!

Tomorrow is another early one, with a day full of information sessions and meetings. I’m learning about the Stegner Fellowship (a creative writing program) in the afternoon which should be super cool!

Also, I picked up a (signed) copy of Markus Zusak’s new book today, and had a nice chat with the guy in the bookshop about Australian authors. And maybe ranted about sf to a few people, as per usual…

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Golden State Warriors vs Phoenix Suns

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!

Day Two

I had a wonderful conversation with one of the other Scholars today about science fiction (surprise surprise), and I’ve been thinking about stories ever since.

Last year for my Genre Fiction class I wrote a short story called Free to Good Home. After a few rounds of edits, I sent it off to two science fiction magazines and got rejected from both of them. I was disappointed but excited, because rejection is just part of the process. Stephen King, as a young writer, nailed his rejection letters to his bedroom wall to push himself to keep improving.

I wish I had Mr King’s resilience, I tell ya.

Anyway, after our chat today, I started thinking about Free to Good Home again. I can understand now that it was lacking, not quite ready, but heading in the right direction. I’m thinking that a rewrite is in order (and there’s no time like the present!).

In between sf ramblings, we had some guests come and speak to us about scholarships for studying overseas. They all sound super amazing and competitive and way out of my league, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t apply, right?

Even if I don’t get in this time, it doesn’t mean I won’t ever get in. Maybe it’s just not the right time, maybe I’ll be not quite ready, but heading in the right direction.

Off to a fancy reception and dinner tonight. I’m pulling out the big guns (my sweet new hounds-tooth blazer and the nice jeans).

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My second ever rejection letter, nailed to my virtual wall.