December 16, 2018

Twenty Eighteen – Year in Review

2018 has been an incredible year. I’ve completed my PhD, I’ve traveled to new places, attended conferences, taught new courses, played new songs, read new books, and written new blog posts 🙂 I couldn’t think of a better way to end the year than recapping some of my favorite moments thus far.


Table of Contents

“Oh, The Places You Will Go”

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself 
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

Excerpt from Dr. Suess’ Oh, The Places You Will Go

Few things excite me like packing a duffel and heading somewhere new. Vermont is the sixth state that I’ve resided in for more than three months. This year, I added a 34th state to my list of traveled states (Louisiana), while also visiting Maine, New Hampshire, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, and Indiana.

States I’ve visited are in blue.

My glovebox is the proud owner of a bumper sticker that reads, “This car climbed Mount Washington.” The vistas were breathtaking. The winds were chilling. The sun was radiant. I could not have imagined a more perfect day. The following day, my four-legged traveling companion and I continued on to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park to find some of the clearest (and coldest) water I’ve seen in the country. The 360 degree view from the top of Cadillac Mountain was astonishing. 

Over the course of a 30 day period, I couldn’t sit still, traveling to California twice, Baltimore, and New Orleans. A month later, I slipped away to Orlando for the ACM Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference. Nevertheless, some of my favorite photographs this year were taken right here in Vermont.

Venturing to Montreal for the International Jazz Festival marked the first time I left the country in nearly a decade, though I peered across the Canadian border in January while visiting Niagara Falls, NY.  The creativity of Shaun Martin’s solo in “Thing of Gold” still makes my heart smile.

Some of my favorites photographs from my travels this year.

Professional Development

Sitting high at the top of my list this year is the completion of my PhD from the University of Notre Dame. I won’t say much more on that subject in this space, but I would encourage you to check out this post, “Holding Fast to a Dying Dream.

This year, the National Society of Blacks in Computing (NSBC) co-located its annual conference with the Black Data Processing Associates National Convention. As a speaker for the conference, I shared with early-stage graduate students methods for “Identifying Your Research Topic and Writing Your Dissertation Proposal.” Later in the conference, I spoke to late-staged graduate students about strategies for “Writing that Dissertation.”

In additional to attending NSBC, I attended the ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing, largely in part to a travel fellowship provided by the Institute for African Americans in Computer Science. The rate of growth this conference has experienced in the past ten years is astonishing, most evident by the career fair and exhibit hall overflowing with corporate sponsors and eager students. As a judge for the undergraduate and graduate student poster competition, I saw a wide gamut of research projects from medical imagining to flood predictions. To no one’s surprise, machine learning posters were the “flavor of the day.”

Speaking of machine learning, I attended the IEEE International Conference on Multimedia and Expo (ICME) in San Diego, CA for the first time. My instincts lead me to believe I’ll stick to Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition (CVPR) for 2019. While in San Diego for ICME, I traveled north to Claremont, CA to give a research talk to an energetic set of students at Harvey Mudd College.

Physical and Mental Exercise

In late September, I ran my second consecutive 10K sponsored by Vermont Sun. I am not one to consider myself a runner, but do enjoy the preparation of training for a race. Admittedly, it helps that I walk about 50 miles per week. The scenic trails of the Vermont landscape provided ample training grounds for off-road runs, and Winter (my pup) enjoyed every minute of it. After chopping 55 seconds off my pace from last year, I am determined to break an 8-minute pace by next year!

What one gains in physical strength, one should equally gain mentally. If last year was my “Year of Podcast,” this has been the year of audiobooks. My desire to read for pleasure is often at odds with my pressing need to prepare lecture material, engage in academic reading, walk my dog, practice the piano, and keep pace with life chores. In conjunction with Middlebury’s Clifford Symposium, several members of the campus, including the entire incoming class, were asked to read Toni Morrison’s The Origin of Others. This marked the first time I read a physical book unrelated to research all year.

Though my available free time did not increase, my desire for literature did. I began listening to audiobooks, augmenting my time spent exercising and practicing the piano with Toni Morrison’s juxtaposition of a Black girl’s desire for The Bluest Eye, Rebecca Skloot’s chronology of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, David McCullough’s narration of The Wright Brothers first attempt in flight, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ letter to his son in Between the World and Me, and Ron Stallworth’s undercover operation as a Black Klansman. Through all my success this year, increasing my reading production ranks among the top. 

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Returning to the Piano

My journey on the piano has been an uncommon one. I began taking piano lessons as a young child, as do many kids. By the age of seven or eight, I had lost interest and/or the discipline to play; however, I didn’t lose an interest in music. Throughout my primary education, I participated in several bands playing the baritone horn, valve trombone, and percussion. It was in high school where I again picked up the piano, falling succumb to Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.”

For years, I played and practiced (somewhat) diligently. It was a love affair and we were making up for lost time. Shortly after moving to South Bend, IN for graduate school, I began to play sparsely for the Praise Fellowship SDA church. By my third year of grad school, I was playing full time for a second church, New Life Fellowship, and bi-monthly at Praise Fellowship. Between September 2013 and July 2017, you could find me at church, either in service or at rehearsal, four out of seven nights of the week. 

Suddenly, it all stopped.

After moving to Vermont, I lost my motivation to practice. I became so overwhelmed with work and finishing my degree, and — having no accountability — I simply stopped… until I started teaching my first-year seminar.

You may have read this post I wrote several months ago about how my first-year seminar was pushing me out of my comfort zone, but in several ways it also put me back in a place of comfort. Immersed in so many of my favorite gospel tunes, hymns, and Negro spirituals, I wanted nothing more than to revive the moments that were so near and dear to my heart. 

Thus, I recommitted to practicing regularly. Here are some of my favorite recordings from this year

Odds and Ends

In 2018, I made it a point of emphasis to be up-to-date on current events. My Monday through Friday started with the voices of Anne-Marie Green and Vlad Duthiers of CBS News. It’s because of this I was able to talk to my students at 8AM on Thursday, November 8 about the mass shootings that had occurred in Thousand Oaks the night before, warning them to be safe, to be vigilant, to take notice of escape routes when they go out to the bars and clubs. Unfortunately, if we’ve learned anything from massive shootings this year, it’s that no place on earth is safe.

Speaking of news, the UMBC Men’s basketball program had a story for the ages, defeating top ranked Virginia in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Just a week earlier, I witnessed Jarius Lyles spot up from the top of the arch and connect on a three-point shot that clinched their America East championship and sent the Retrievers into the tournament. #GoDawgs

Jarius Lyles game winning shot against Vermont in the America East Championship Game.

Yet no shot was bigger than those taken by Arike Ogunbowale, junior guard for the Notre Dame women’s basketball team, against Connecticut in the NCAA Final Four and again against Mississippi State in the championship game. What a time to be a basketball fan and alumnus of Notre Dame and UMBC.

What’s Next in 2019?

You didn’t come this far only to come this far.

With so much accomplished in 2018, the bar is set high for 2019. Certainly, no degrees are in my immediate future, but opportunities for personal and professional growth are abundant. I’m working on a list of goals for the new year, and you’ll certainly hear about them soon.

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Jason Grant

Jason Grant is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Middlebury College. His research areas include computer vision and biometrics. Outside of the office you can find him at the gym, on a mountain or in the woods with his dog, or playing the piano.

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