The view outside Cosener's house, Abingdon.

Looking back on 2022

A little post-PhD reflection.

Singer-songwriter Katherine Priddy wrote earlier this month on how the New Year brings a mixture of hope, expectations, and bleakness. Naturally, she has a beautiful and poetic take on the gravity and pressures of January which I can’t pretend to imitate, but in amongst her thoughts is her drive to “turn back and appreciate what [she] did in 2022”.

This stuck with me in a way I couldn’t immediately put my finger on. Mulling on it, I realised that a lot of parts of my life had came to a close all at once at the tail of last year, leaving me in a weird, transitional place. Meanwhile I entered 2023 rather disoriented; bleary-eyed and a little burnt out trying to neatly tie up my postdoc, the passage of the Bells never quite registered for me. I’ve had more time to myself since starting my new post, and thought it’d help me to reflect on some of the things I’ve completed – to turn back and appreciate 2022.

The thesis weighs me down no longer. I submitted, defended, and finalised it over the Summer–Autumn period – which marks a year since I earnestly started writing the damned thing in the unsteady, love-hate, syncopated bursts it deserved. A tad more concerningly, it marks 5 years since my first steps on the path of research: which is an uncomfortably huge chunk of my life. In retrospect, it was worth it. I’ve had some of the best times of my life, opportunities I’ll always remember, and made dear friends throughout. Equally, I’ve suffered long gulfs of hopelessness endemic to the process, to say nothing of the support networks and social bonds that were cut off over 2020–2021.

Netlab goes to Cosener's!

What’s balanced it out and helped ground me is how fortunate I’ve been to catch up on some of the travel associated with a mid-to-late stage PhD in the last year. Seeing the slow, measured shift in the world from pandemic anxieties back to something resembling normal has always been a little unsettling. Yet being able to go to conferences (near and far) with friends, share ideas again, and meet new peers at last restored some of that initial hope. Connecting with the other postgrads at SIGCOMM rekindled why I care about the work we all do.

The SIGCOMM 2022 students.

There’s a deep bittersweetness to it, still. Polishing off the TruSDEd postdoc marks the close of 10 years at the University, which has been my home. It feels like I’ve silently drifted off – an awful anticlimax, hollow and draining, but inevitable given so many friends seemed to do the same. Part of the pre-2020 culture vanished too, such that the School never did feel the same: “places don’t remember us”, I suppose. I think I’m excited for a change at last.

Running has brought me a lot of joy this year – a sense of freedom, and so much more time in nature. I’ve been taking the chance to work in new locations, like the Cathkin Braes in the summer, and Rouken Glen on a frosty Winter’s day. Parkrun has been a huge part of my routine, and in getting past the 50 runs milestone I feel like I’ve found a great community. With some effort, I’ve even managed to push a lot of my times down: 19:52 5K (unofficial), 1:31:07 HM, 3:32:36 M. I’m bouncing back from an injury, but can’t wait to get around all of Glasgow’s parks as the days get longer once again.

Waterfall at Rouken Glen (on a long run).

Our garden, midway through landscaping.

One ‘completion’ that I’m immensely proud of is our home garden. After 3 years of toil, my partner and I have finally converted a lifeless, monoblocked hellscape into a green space that can finally support life. Our plum harvest even turned out well for the first time this year! Harsh as the current winter has been at times, it’s brought so many beautiful birds to our garden feeders. We have a regular contingent of blue tits, robins, dunnocks, a singularly clumsy wood pigeon, and a beautiful grey wagtail. We’ll have our work cut out as spring arrives, but the hardest work is past.

Completed at last!

Finally taking stock, it’s been a good year. The shift in the moods and anxieties of the world has also given us the chance to see good friends married at last, and maybe this will be the year we catch up on travel. My partner and I even climbed our first Munros! Apart from that, I finally merged a huge rewrite of the backend for an open source project I help to maintain; I promised myself I’d step away before now, but I’ll make it happen this year.

The summit of Beinn Dubh.