Reflections 2021

Time flies

Usually I post one of these on New Year's Eve. Unfortunately, I was busy this year watching Michigan playPlay might be too strong a term for what happened on the field that night... Alabama in the Orange Bowl, so here we are, a few days later.

Table of Contents

This Year in Numbers

585 Github contributions (a new high score!)

33 more college credits

1 Bachelor's degree (!!)

11 PhD applications

...and a lot of things on my mind.


In January, I began my penultimate semester of college (although I didn't know it at the time). I also began my term as one of the managing online editors at The Michigan Daily (more on this later). I also got super into the NYT spelling bee, and I implemented Naive Bayes for homework for the third and fourth time.

In February, The Daily published a couple of projects and stories that I had a hand in: the Statement Love Edition, which I helped coordinate, and a data-driven piece on Covid cases. This would mark the beginning of a lot more rich online content from The Daily. I also got Sunday donuts from Loomi Cafe for the first time. This became a weekly tradition that was unfortunately short-lived, as Loomi closed this December.

March flew by with a lot of Daily work: a bunch more data stories from The Daily, including a multi-part piece on feeder schools that would go on to win an award and get a ton of readers. We also published a special project, reflecting on one year of online classes. Finally, we launched a brand new website, opening up a lot more flexibility in the projects we'd be able to tackle in the future.

In April, I got vaccinated.

In May, it felt like the world once again existed outside the confines of my own room, and I was eager to take advantage. In roughly chronological order, I: helped my family move back to Troy, Michigan (after having moved from Troy just a couple years ago), learned to skateboard, read Pachinko and Abolish Silicon Valley, attended my friend's graduation at UVA and climbed Old Rag in Shenandoah. I also (virtually) began my summer internship at the University of Washington.

I departed for Seattle in June, opting to take the Amtrak Empire Builder from Chicago. This was a two-and-a-half day trip, and I loved every minute of it (give or take). You can read some of my thoughts about it here. Aside from the train trip, I explored lots of Seattle (especially U District), went on a few runs, climbed a couple of mountains, and endured a really killer heat wave.

July contained more Seattle adventures, including more hiking, some kayaking, a trip to Portland, and I got my Seattle Public Library card.

I wrapped up my time in Seattle in August. My parents came to see Mt. Rainier and Olympic National Park with me before we flew back home to Michigan. I also began my last ever semester as an undergrad at the University of Michigan.

In September, I house-sat a cat and it was the best week of my life.

October was a Michigan fall, and I did all of the classic Michigan fall thingsā„¢. This included a trip to a cider mill with the Blablablab, making my own cider (also with the Blablablab), a couple of backyard bonfires, and (of course) a Michigan football game. I also submitted my NSF GRF application.

I turned 22 in November. Oh yeah, and Michigan beat OSU for the first time in close to a decade. That was a good day.

That brings us to December. If some of these months seem sparse in detail, it's because this past year really flew by -- especially this past month. There were a lot of good-byes, a lot of lasts, and not a lot of time to process all of it...


Which I suppose leads us to this section. Some time to process everything that happened this past year and, really, these past three and a half years of college.

It's hard to know where to begin, so maybe I'll contextualize by starting with my last graduation. When I graduated from high school, I felt a sense of completion and a really strong optimism for the future. This is what I wrote in my 2018 reflection:

I can only hope that the next five years will be as fulfilling and interesting and fun as the past five. I hope that, just as I found a home in Virginia, I'll find a home in Michigan, and wherever life might take me next.

What I hadn't anticipated was the tumult. The best way to describe the past couple of years would be careening down the interstate with the windows down, and a stray newspaper just flew into my face. Thrilling, sure, but also terrifying.

I'm ending my years at Michigan a semester early (I achieved this through a convoluted series of events, which is fit for a whole other post...) It feels like I've slammed on the brakes, flown out of the vehicle, and extended this analogy past its breaking point. What I'm trying to say is, I don't feel the same sense of closure that I felt four years ago after high school.

I'm sure this is in no small part due to the crazy circumstances of the past couple of years. Aside from a global pandemic that resulted in my coursework being online for half of the time I was at Michigan, my family has also moved four times in three years, meaning somehow I've accumulated five or six different Michigan zip codes. When I said I hoped to find a home in Michigan, I should have clarified: I'd be content with just one, and not six.

But premature departures, pandemics and Zhou family migration patterns are trivial in the bigger picture of my experience at (in, and around) Michigan. They may have made this ending come sooner or seem quicker in its approach, but I doubt I'd be any more prepared with any amount of lead time. I have put a lot of myself into the people and organizations and life in Ann Arbor, and it's hard to imagine waving goodbye to all of that.

I'm proud to have helped build up two stellar student organizations from close to nothing: the Michigan Data Science Team and the web team at The Michigan Daily. They are in excellent hands now, but it's still hard to say goodbye. But even greater than that, I'm proud to have built so many lasting relationships with people here -- people I can laugh with, confide in, rant to, seek support from. Those are the hardest goodbyes.

Fulfilling, interesting and fun? Definitely.

That brings us to now: I've applied to PhD programs which I'm waiting to hear back from, which means I'm temporarily stuck looking ahead into a bright cloud of complete uncertainty.

Usually, at the end of these reflections, I like to take a look forward into the next year. This time, though, I don't think that's feasible. I don't know where I will physically be this time next year, much less what I'll be doing or what I'll have to look forward to. Just... something interesting, probably.

So I'll bide my time for now, sitting with my feet dangling off a precipice overlooking the entire rest of my life. I think I'll spend the next couple of months savoring the end of the beginning.