July 24, 2020

Reflect: Summer Week 7 and 8

Reflect: Summer Week 7 and 8

Hey there! Welcome to another reflection piece, which is part of a series of short articles I write to keep myself accountable in Summer 2020. Every one to two weeks, I share about the stuff I’ve done, several interesting ideas I’ve come across, and a personal reflection on what I’d like to do better in the coming weeks.

What did I accomplish?

I spent these two weeks primarily on three things:

  • research on the biological mechanisms of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) emergence and transmission
  • research on two key AMR threats: methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Candida auris
  • writing and illustrating a short comic on the above

When it came to illustrating, I made two mistakes. First, I wasted too much time on disparate sites searching for illustration tips. I should have browsed the most popular subreddits for recommended learning resources for beginners. True enough, the same reputed sites came up. Oftentimes, these sites were the go-to places containing everything an absolute beginner like myself would need. The two sites I eventually turned to were Ctrl+Paint and Drawabox. Ten minutes of browsing would have potentially saved me hours of learning from websites that were less established.

My second mistake was drawing sketches that were too rough to digitalise. I’m talking about sketches with poorly defined shapes and lines. I thought I could magically perfect them during the digitalisation process. Bad move. It turns out that having sketches as I imagined them as the end-product helped speed up the digitalisation process tremendously. I did not have to continuously use google images for references, but simply draw over my completed sketches. Doing so allowed me to focus more attention on lines and colour.

In week 7, I attended my first team meeting and got to meet all 8 members of Prof Helena’s team! I’m not able to divulge much, but they were working on a diverse range of projects that included COVID-19, non-communicable diseases, mental health as well as AMR and infectious diseases. It was also unsurprising that many of them have also put their previous projects on hold to focus on more urgent COVID-19 studies. While the team’s enthusiasm and dedication to research was definitely inspiring, I left the meeting feeling a little conflicted. This was because everyone I met seemed to be working on several heavy projects simultaneously. I found myself questioning the necessity of such a heavy workload. To what extent is the quality of their work compromised by the immense workload they are juggling? How then do we ensure that the thousands of hours they’ve spent on knowledge creation then become translated into positive, social impact?

What did I learn?

The Pareto Principle. I keep reading about this principle everywhere else, so I finally decided to give the book a shot.

I don’t like it. It is strong on description but weak on prescription. I’d say Deep Work by Cal Newport is more prescriptive and hence, more helpful in teaching any reader how to put 80/20 ideas into practice. It could also be that I’m reading The 80/20 Principle at the wrong point in my life.

Still, the Pareto Principle is an important concept to learn. What it essentially means is that 80% of any type of output is usually caused by 20% of all inputs.

To illustrate:

  • 80% of your achievements were attained using only 20% of your time.
  • This also means that the majority of all your time (80%) had been spent producing only 20% of your achievements.
  • Look at this another way: 80% of our happiest moments are concentrated during 20% of our lives. This means that the remaining 80% of our time contributes to only 20% of our happiest moments.

What Newport calls “shallow work” is probably what we end up spending 80% of our time on that ultimately produce only 20% of all our  valuable output.

Essentially, most of our time is spent on low-value work (could be productive work or leisure). There are however, specific pockets of our time that are much more valuable than the rest. The trick then is to focus more of our energy on this very powerful 20% of our inputs that’s driving 80% of our outputs.

Building an effective contact tracing force. This formidable task doesn’t just mobilise any organised mass of people. An effective contact tracing army in the war against our current pandemic demands from its troops two important things: an inexplicable ability to empathise, as well as an understanding of institutional and structural racism. Such a fascinating read!

Elections in Singapore.

It’s exciting to be participating in the elections this year as a first-time voter. It’s become imperative for me to educate myself about the country’s politics since I’ve got literal skin in the game this time. I’ve also experienced first-hand the tension of navigating differing political views among family members. Anyway, here were some recommended reads (from informed friends and members of the public) that helped contextualise this year’s elections:

  • Living With Myths in Singapore
  • This Is What Inequality Looks Like
  • Voting in Change
  • Air-Conditioned Nation Revisited
  • Singapore, Incomplete

Singapore’s dengue outbreaks. The number of dengue cases in Singapore is projected to exceed the peak number of 22,170 cases recorded back in 2013. As of 3 July 2020, more than 14,000 cases have been reported. The current death toll is also at 16, which is twice that of 2013.

The surge in dengue cases this year has been attributed to a few key reasons:

  • Experts in Singapore: return of an old dengue virus strain absent in the last 3 decades. DENV-3 is the strain that started to become more common as of 2019. Singaporeans expect to have built immunity to more prevalent DENV-1 and DENV-2 strains, but not DENV-3.
  • Circuit breaker from 7 April to 1 June saw more people staying at home, increasing opportunities for the mosquito, which is a daytime feeder, to feed.
  • Hotter, wetter weather due to climate change provides ideal setting for female mosquitoes, which prefer dark, damp areas with stagnant water, to lay their eggs.

Given the above reasons, I expect our dengue cases to surpass COVID-19 cases soon. Although circuit breaker measures have since been relaxed, I still think there is an overall preference for everyone to stay at home.

Other reflections

It’s been a slow fortnight. I’ve also been in a bit of a limbo because IRB approval for my research project hasn’t been granted yet. This means that all my interviews have been put on hold at the moment. Adding on to that, deep work has been more difficult because keeping up with the elections on the news and social media apparently takes up quite a lot of brain space.

Regardless, the coming weeks present a chance to do better! I’m pretty hyped for the next two weeks because I’ll be attending Prof Henry’s Network Analysis course at IPSA-NUS School for Social Science Research Methods!

What can I do better next week?

  • Ask lots of questions in class! What an honour to learn from Prof Henry 🙂
  • Come out of class ready to prepare an R cheat sheet for Networks Analysis that the team can effectively and conveniently use as reference for our own projects.

Thank you so much for reading 🙂

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