Dear Physics Community,
Here we are in early March 2022, about two years after I started writing these messages to the community. As the pandemic broke, my intent was mainly to let everyone know what was happening as well as I could. I also added some physics news and other things as a reminder that despite the rising pandemic, some good things were happening with the larger world. In writing these messages, I struggled not to say, “Don’t worry, everything will be fine.”, because I had no idea if that were true or not. The war in Ukraine could further divide us and, what I can say, is that MIT has been steadfast that all our students remain part of our community, no matter what. Rafael had a message about this last week here and Dean of Student Life Suzy Nelson sent a message to students and faculty late last week here.
Two years on, writing this message remains a struggle, as the pandemic eases, at least for the moment, other things have arisen that seems to replace the uncertainty the pandemic brought: a war in Ukraine, changes in MIT’s senior leadership, graduate student unionization, a ship carrying 4,000 cars catching fire and sinking in the Atlantic, just to name a few. Some are more important than others, some could be good, but all are confusing. What should I make of it?
I believe the pandemic jolted me, and perhaps others, to the awareness of the messy, complicated things that I ignored in the press of MIT busyness. Before the pandemic, we had: the two endless wars, the growing realization our tech companies were spying on us, serious worries about MIT’s gifts and foreign engagements, and the last invasion of Ukraine in 2014. Back in the pre-pandemic then, I could just focus on the business of the Department. I think the pandemic gave me some space to really respond to George Floyd’s murder, Jan. 6, and other things. Now I have trouble turning away.
I am responding by focusing on the reporting rather than the analysis. Reporting is “Who, what, where, how, when?” but not “Why?” “Why” will come later for me, maybe. I am focusing on doing my job well and helping those around me. Particularly importantly, managing myself to have the energy for all the aspects of my life, not just work. As we return in person, I’m working on curating who I interact with more carefully: fewer meetings (especially over zoom), fewer and shorter emails, more planning, and prioritizing in-person. Changing gears in the evening and weekends to stop work from spilling over to then. Daily attention to the news without wallowing in it. I work at stopping and thinking before drawing a conclusion about a local or world event. I ask, “Do I know enough to reach this conclusion? Do I need to conclude something about this right now?”
I’m also taking pains to make sure big things don’t crowd out little things: exercising, paying attention to Cambridge Day, The Tech, and the Globe. Even with all these mitigations, I’m still tired at the end of the day and not sleeping very well. I expect my health will improve with time and the coming of Spring.
“In Bed,” Joan Didion’s account of migraine headaches ends with the line, “I count my blessings.” We’ve had a collective migraine, and, in the end, maybe, we can say the Department and MIT are in good shape, classes and research are mainly going okay. We can look forward to no-masks before too long. Each week, more people come to MIT, and some travel and events have been planned. Commencement will be in-person and follow a newer, less protracted format. Much lies ahead, much of it good. I’m hoping to have the wherewithal to embrace it all, good and bad.
Above the Fold
- Class of 2024 Brass Rat here. I’m always amazed at how much they onto the class rings.
- Nominate a CAST Visiting Artist here
- Opportunities at Thor Labs here
- Program Manager position at the Office of High Energy Physics, DOE here
- Cottrell Scholar Program – Pre-submission Webinar here
- Final results on neutrinoless double beta decay from Lindley Winslow’s group
- New upper limit on neutrino mass from Joe Formaggion’s group. APS story here, paper here
- First results from the Hydrogen Epic of Reionization Array (HERA) from Jackie Hewitt’s group
- Qubits made from voibrating fermions from Martin Z and his group.
- More new qubit progress from Pablo Jarillo-Herrero, Will Oliver and their groups, paper here