Year Review of Li Chen
Captured on 2021-04-25 13:17:15
GPS location: 19.816564, -155.467506
Camera: Arashi Vision Insta360 ONE X2
Description: Road to Mauna Kea is so rough that only a rough all weel drive like Jeep Wrangler can handle. With a short ride, we are above the cloud.
Captured on 2021-05-08 07:45:00
GPS location: 21.273268, -157.694828
Camera: GoPro HERO9 Black Focal:3.00 ISO:109 Shutter:10.00
Description: Hard to get a reservation. Good to see coral reefs are growing back after a year of lockdown during COVID. Photo credit: Mingwei
Captured on 2021-05-16 12:06:49
GPS location: 48.514336, -120.661765
Camera: Apple iPhone XR Focal:4.25 ISO:25 Shutter:13.22
Description: A popular back country tour for beginners to enjoy birthdays. A nice day with great view. Photo credit: Shabby
Captured on 2021-05-30 08:43:07
GPS location: 60.104760, -149.433136
Camera: Xiaomi MIX 2S Focal:4.22 ISO:100 Shutter:10.89
Description: Wander in the waterfront park before the Kenai Fjords Tours. Everything was so peaceful in this Alaska seashore town. Seaweed on rails, a humpback whale in the sea and snow mountains.
Captured on 2021-07-04 14:47:10
GPS location: 63.565621, -149.642161
Camera: Arashi Vision Insta360 ONE X2
Description: Longest mountain biking trip. The most flexible and healthy way to enjoy the picturous view in Denali. Early July is defintely the best time to go, as you would never worry about the return before dark. Photo credit: Mingwei
Everyone was hoping vaccine can arrive soon in the new year with the newly elected president (finally the head of the country knew what he was doing). Things became clear when school of medicine sent out instructions for medical workers to get vaccine. Researching in a medical lab, I was luckily among the wave 2 (but still much earlier than the general public) to get vaccinated. When the confirmation was received, I thought that should be the end of the pandemic (at least for me) and things should return to normal soon. Also in January, my roommate Ang and his girlfriend were planning to return to China soon. As a farewell trip, we (rarely four of us went together) went to three national parks (Zion, Antelope, Bryce Canyon) during Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. It was mostly a road trip and protection measurements were fully applied, but we were still worried during our first flight after COVID to Las Vegas. Trips with Shabby were destined to be full of fun and unexpectedness. The most drastic one was we fell to the 4 ℃ lake from a kayak and miraculously survived within 1 minute.
Time was running up for my PhD (although graduation date can be flexible, giving me more room for job hunting), but ever since I declined the last offer, I did not have new progress. The choice is indeed very limited if I am looking for a job which is closely related with my current research interest. So the plan B is to find another internship soon and expect a return offer. That is how Genentech, a pharmaceutical company suddenly interested in AI came into my eye. And luckily I came out from 120+ candidates and secured the position. In addition to job hunting, MICCAI submission was also approaching. As the last submission as a UW student or on a vascular topic, the final artery tracing work was the most challenging one. In addition to the hard work, on weekends, I skied a lot. And ever since I skied the powder snow in South Back at Crystal Mountain (this year was really great), my requirement for snow quality has gone up heavily, which led to more side/back country trips.
My desire for powder also led to flights to somewhere freshly snowed, including (being trapped in) the once-in-a-hundred-year storm in Denver (unexpectedness with Shabby again). After months of waiting, my roommate finally bought a flight ticket home (China) with a reasonable price (although enough for a business class ticket in normal days). Also in early March, just after the day I submitted the MICCAI paper, I got the second dose of Pfizer vaccine. As expected, I had a fever and lay in bed for a day. But after that, I never felt more relaxed. Fully vaccinated, last paper in PhD submitted and intern offer accepted (let’s worry about the full time offer later). On top of those, surprisingly, Delta offered many Hawaii flights with merely 10k points (like a steal). March 2021 was really a turning point in recent years. Life ahead has never become so promising.
Spring came in April with blossoms bloomed again, marking the end of in-bound ski. Another topic came to mind was buying a car along with my graduation. When I talked to a salesman from Subaru, he told me chips shortages were coming, which I completely thought that was a tactic to persuade me to make the purchase quickly. But when I finally made up my mind in early May, good offers were gone (that was no joke, a $2500 raise). It also marked the remarkable price raise in 2021 for everything basically. Trip to Hawaii (big) island in April also marked the first of my exciting graduation trip series. Never thought a weekend trip can be so plentiful: snorkeling with fish and turtles in the beautiful sea, enjoying the freshly made poke/Japanese cuisine/local dishes, exploring the volcanic terrains and watching snow in Hawaii’s peak mountain (Mauna Kea, 4,207m). None of these were imaginable during COVID, and finally reimbursed.
Two weeks later, another weekend trip to Hawaii’s Oahu Island and a trip to Anchorage in Memorial Day holiday were equally memorable. Because of the departure from Seattle and delta award tickets, trips to these beautiful places can be so easy. Plus the extended hotel free night certificates since COVID lock down (7 certificates for Marriott alone) kept these trips within a low budget. My internship started in mid-May. The topic was also COVID related. The less-intensive workload (compared to my last internship) gave me more time to seek job opportunities. With more and more people getting vaccinated, the restrictions were removed gradually and the economy was clearly better than the last year. As a result, there were more job postings and then I noticed the Philips’s posting on AI research scientist from LinkedIn.
The job interview for Philips went smoothly. My colleagues were nice and friendly, so I did not feel pressured until I got the offer, perhaps it was also because of my many interview experiences in the previous half year. When I got the offer, I was told to respond within 3 days, but meanwhile I was waiting for an offer from a Seattle startup working on vascular analysis. That was a tough choice to make, staying in Seattle vs moving to Boston, continue working on vasculature or exploring the new area of ultrasound, a promising startup going public soon vs a well-established international giant for medical device. I never thought Seattle has formed such a deep emotional bond with me in the past 5 years so that this became an important factor for my job decision. I can’t tell where my love for this city came from, because of its climate, friends, restaurants, trails or ski resorts? Or simply because I am too old to get outside of my comfort zone (which is scary). It is hard to believe the trouble came from the same person who first came to Seattle with just two luggage cases five years ago, barely knowing anyone here. Anyway, the moment I signed for Philips, I burst into tears.
Ever since that, each day in Seattle became more precious, and every activity with friends in Seattle might became the last one. Also when I noticed the decrease of life quality due to population surge or climate change, I began to feel lucky that I no longer need to live here, for example, the more than doubled housing price in Kirkland and the once in a thousand year heat wave. The Independence Day holiday trip to Fairbanks/Denali was the truly relaxing one after all pending items have been settled. Graduation date finalized, OPT application submitted, the few things left were project transfer (not controlled by me), dissertation (combining my dozens of published papers into one book) and preparing the defense (a modified version of job interview). I spent quite some time preparing this trip so it became one of the best, especially highlighting the Nenana river drifting and Denali mountain biking.
My defense went virtually (a pity) and easily as expected. I think with the newly published (early accept) MICCAI paper summing up to 24 peer-reviewed full-length papers (13 first-author) during my PhD, it was a good ending for this journey on exploration of human vasculature. Also it was the same time for the ending of my internship, which means the remaining time before my OPT approval (usually takes 3 months) I am by law not authorized to work paid or unpaid by previous or future employers -- a true worry-free summer vacation, which never happened to me. Until this year, I realized Seattle open water in August is actually swimmable, so I bought a paddle board and much of my August time was spent on water. In addition, I was so excited to plan 4 additional trips in the coming months, each of those carefully researched and scheduled. I suddenly realized the main difficulty now was not my availability but who to travel with during normal working days. Near the end of the month, it was finally my turn to be in the spotlight of the farewell party by lab members, I received the certificate and gifts like other previous fellows, a step forward towards my true departure.
I was nearly out of town for the whole September. First trip: Point Reyes (a northern backyard for the Bay area with fantastic coastal views), Napa valley (famous for wine), and Muir Woods (famous for huge red woods). Second trip: Puerto Rico, an interesting Caribbean island still within the US border (I can’t go abroad during OPT application) but many people can’t speak English. It is a great pity the bioluminescent sea can’t be captured by phone (my phone was dead anyway after the water leakage). But I have to say snorkeling in the 90F° bioluminescent sea in a starry night was the best experience during all the trips this year. Third trip: Red Wood and Crater Lake National Park with a lot of driving.
In October, I check my status for OPT every day, but became more and more hopeless as many people submitted after me got their approval. Realizing the approval can be as long as forever, I felt quite nervous. On the other side, the additional waiting time was the additional vacation time. To get distracted, I added the last trip to San Diego (actually just the week before my OPT approval) and visited the amazing USS Midway Museum. The unlucky thing in this trip: my rental car was rear ended by an aggressive and uninsured LA driver. First time involved in a car accident, and I realized how troublesome it was to deal with the police, the insurance company and the car rental company.
When I started working remotely for Philips after getting my OPT, I also started the tiring reallocation process, including ordering a new car, finding a new apartment, packaging personal belongings and selling old stuffs. With the COVID cases going down, offices were reopened and many of my colleagues were working in a hybrid mode (two days at office per week). I thought this might be the end of the pandemic, and a good time to come to Boston (actually I was wrong about COVID again). Car market now became the craziest in the entire career of multiple salesmen, after being misguided/coaxed/ill-treated by many dealers around Boston, I finally ordered a new Forester with invoice price (big thanks to the membership of international mountain bike association, despite the fact I only mountain biked in Denali once). Apartment/roommate finding was another headache because it was not a good time for starting new lease and the availability/price changes everyday so I have to monitor several candidates. Benefits/Problems for each property also need to be found out. Originally I thought there won’t be too many personal belongings for my move. But actually 9 large boxes to my surprise. And due to the national shortage of truck drivers, the delivery took three weeks.
The holiday season came, and this was my last Thanks giving dinner in advisor’s house and last time in Seattle Premium Outlets (I nearly came every year) although not much to buy. Finally, I locked down the apartment and settled down a date for the flight to Boston. After a farewell party with friends and furniture sale/donation, I came to Boston in a cold morning. The feeling was back similar to five years ago. The excitement of exploring new neighborhood, visiting new grocery stores, cooking with limited food/appliances, buying everything from scratch, etc. The good part was I felt very familiar when entering chain stores even in a new city thanks to this business model in US. The bad part was its climate. Cold and dry like northern China. In the end of the year, COVID with new omicron variant was rampant again, so I had to take the booster shot. No surprise, bad side effect again. Hope that was the last shot and we can survive this wave again. But there seems no end to the pandemic with more powerful variants.
The year of 2021 is sure to be one of the most important years in my life.
It’s a transition year for me from a student to a full-time employee after 5+4+3+4+5=21 years of education. PhD degree was finally received and I got the job offer after year-long job hunting. It also marked the starting of my Residence Alliance status in US (five years passed so quickly), more social security tax, sadly. However, the good thing is when I lost money on stock market, they can be used as tax credit. Suddenly, without the PhD degree as the long-term goal, it feels strange. But I am slowly adjusting to this new life style and finding the next-stage career goal.
It’s also a relaxing year like 2016 with plenty of leisure trips. 24 flights and 34k miles with domestic flights alone. I traveled to the four corners of US: Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and finally moved to Boston. Such relaxing time might be hard to find in the future.
COVID remains the number one hot topic in news. Things turned out that pandemic control was not easy in US with the help of just vaccination or changing a president. With the longer stay in US, I realize you cannot count on the government on anything. The virus became the perfect chance to illustrate how the mechanism of government made an impact on social security, economy, commerce and people’s life. When the virus was first detected in US last year, who anticipated it has caused such a chaos globally, and who knows where the virus will lead the world to next year?
With the COVID restrictions going down, exercise became much easier this year. UW gym reopened with required reservations for personal control, so I was still able to use this benefit in the last two quarters. Now the challenge is how to exercise in the long cold winter without feeling bored running on treadmill, which might need some explorations.
Although it is just two weeks, I can also feel Boston is a nice city when spring comes. Hope at that time, COVID cases can be low again for safe exploration in this city and make some new friends.
No more wishes other than keeping safe and healthy. Take care everyone!