Harvard vs. the Asians

After FOB, the other topic du jour around the pearl tea cooler has been the federal complaint that some Asian-Americans are bringing against Harvard for discrimination in its admissions. Except it’s not really discussed, so much as mentioned and then everyone looks away in embarrassment. Which is perhaps equally telling about the bamboo ceiling.

As someone who has never been involved in the Harvard admissions process, here are my two cents with the eminent qualifications of a) (mumble mumble) I went to Harvard b) I did med school admissions for several years.

Does Harvard discriminate against Asians in its admissions? Probably. Whether or not the discrimination is systematic is another story. My guess would be that admissions officers at Harvard are too smart to document it. A cumulative series of small actions can also explain a large part of it that is not easy to prove.  Claiming that Asians have higher average scores and therefore there is evidence of discrimination is not sufficient because the numbers just set the floor- after that, the judgment is about everything else BUT scores and grades.

In my own experiences of screening applications of exceptionally successful young people, one of the biggest challenges is boredom. All these people are so bright, so amazing and so…similar. When you have read 25 applications in a row, I assume there is implicit bias that leads reviewers to feel that all Asians Look the Same. East and South Asian applicants to elite institutions are disproportionately from middle/upper class backgrounds, and their life experiences end up with a high degree of similarity to each other (and whites). When you are looking for student diversity, it can be overly easy to feel that Asians are not fitting that bill. To this day, I can remember the essays of applicants who were homeless, or who grew up in war zones- not that these applicants were “better”—all I am saying is that these applicants were highly memorable. Highly memorable takes you a long way, particularly when you understand that 95% of the decisions are made in minutes or seconds.

Do you kind of look like a bitter douche bag for filing a case against Harvard? Yes. This is the hard part. Even if it’s likely that Harvard is discriminating against Asians, the optics are bad. In a period when black people are being shot by the police, black churches are burned down, Latinos are being rounded up and jailed on trumped up immigration charges, you’re complaining about not getting in to Harvard. Asians are experiencing discrimination and racism all the time- but I’m not sure this is the most effective way to counter back.

But I suppose this is easy to say- I got in. Since both DP and I went to Harvard, our kids will be awarded “double-legacy” points. And this is what bugs me the most. People pick hammer race in admissions because it’s easy to identify. There’s no outcry over legacy admissions, athlete admissions, or personal connections admissions. More than anything, rather than eliminate considerations of race, we should be asking for greater transparency.


Fresh Off the Boat!


Probably the only thing that’s nearly as remarkable as an Asian-American network TV show is that now we have required TV!!

Both DP and my niece have been concerned that FOB will just perpetuate Asian-Am stereotypes and I see their point. But can I tell you, it is so much fun to be able to watch something on TV and say, “I get that!” To have my mom roll off the couch laughing because she too (although not in a crazy dragon-lady way) also once went to the principal’s office to complain that school was too easy.

And perhaps, the sad part too re: the stereotypes is that the characters, i.e. the parents, have totally been softened down.  There are plenty of Chinese moms who were far harsher than Jessica, and lacked that “hidden” TV-sitcom relatable side.

FOB is funny sometimes, done poorly at others, and I have no idea if it is actually funny to anyone who didn’t grow up Asian-American in the 80s-90s. But I can’t say it matters. Off to do my TV homework!

hot stove vs. oven


IMG_2057.JPGThis post started out about Thanksgiving dinner (So right- Merry Christmas).  As per tradition, there was way too much food. So much food that during the cooking marathon PJ took it upon herself to draw an epic battle of food items.* Partly because we need multiple versions of very dish to appease the various parties (vegetarian, turkey, non-turkey, all-white foods, non-white foods) And in past years, we could rightfully chalk it up to my sister-in-law’s need to please everyone perfectly.  As this year’s hosts, a good deal of responsibility for excess lies with yours truly. Fortunately, umpteen hours of therapy have beaten down much of my own need-to-please and perfectionism. But I haven’t worked on saying no- to myself. And myself likes everything in a Cookie Monster kind of way.

Continue reading




MJ has hit that stage where she wants to bring everything in the house into bed with her, including boxes and plastic bags of trains. Most nights we ask her to choose about 75-90%  to come out. The first ten go easily. Then voting down the last few items of junk off the island gets hard.

Here is a short list of job options I have considered for my next move:

Research faculty at University- Incompatible with human life

Research, Non-faculty, at University- Can I do it part-time? Will I ever get back on track? Will I just be doing the same job as a faculty member without the title or money?

Research, Staff, at University-Will anyone ever respect me again? Do I care?

Research, Think tank/Foundation- How is this different from being a soft-money professor? Without actually being called a professor?

Research, local/state government- They have no money

Quality Improvement, Healthcare Organization- All these degrees qualify me to tell you that no one has a good handle on this.

Research, Healthcare Industry- I swear, it’s not selling your soul.

Consultant, Healthcare Industry-I have no shortage of unsubstantiated opinions, which makes me highly qualified for this job.

Consultant, Healthcare-related technology- In which I get to explain healthcare to 20-somethings who don’t actually use healthcare.

Writer, Data journalist- I have to learn Python so I can do rudimentary stats with overinterpretation of causality?

Writer, Blogger- Past experience indicates a low probability of success

Writer, Non-fiction book(s)- Now maybe 20 people will read my dissertation instead of 6!

Tweeter- See Writer, Blogger

Real Housewife of Suburbia- Sounds pretty damn awesome,if I get to keep my Downtown Abbey coterie of domestic staff

Stay-at-Home Parent- Past and present experience indicates high potential for suffering by all parties

Manufacturer, Low-End Children’s Novelty Items- Too much success on Etsy and I might actually have to work!

Research, Sleep-Deprived, Overfed, Underpaid, Specializing in Saying Yes, and Ceaseless Producer of Unnecessarily Complicated egg breakfasts, kale smoothies, statistical models, kindergarten potluck dishes, and holiday plans to accommodate toddlers, teenagers and grandparents- Been there, done that.

magic power super why


Hey everyone, I’d say happy Veterans Day week except I’m pretty sure that’s not one of those holidays in which you greet everyone with a cheery salutation. But I hope you’re having a good one, nonetheless.  So- WTF, MFM, you just took us to that chest CT and then dropped off the cliff?

Here’s the update: negative negative negative.  I have no idea what that nuclear medicine read on the schmutz in the chest was.  The take on my whole non-saga is that I likely have microscopic disease floating around somewhere, pumping out teeny bits of thyroglobulin, and ideally, they stay quiescent. Forever. We’ll keep on monitoring and that’s it. It is, after all, just papillary thyroid cancer. It’s probably fair to say that all of this could have been answered in about two weeks rather than the entire summer.  The entire experience was an unsurprisingly poor foray into our lovely healthcare system, and perhaps would have been less frustrating had I not had prior experiences in which everything happened in a quick, efficient manner, with no problems from insurance and with physicians who actually took the time to communicate their interpretations and plans.

However.  Poor system aside, life is great and in fact, I would say I spent much of the last two months Living Life. Work and career plans kind of faltering, but can’t talk now, I’m busy Living Life! We went to the beach, a lot. I made superhero capes. We have been running and jumping around practicing our fighting moves. We went full force Halloween this year, including making a giant jack-o-lantern face on our garage door (we have a bright orange house! it was way overdue!) MJ continues, relentlessly, to sing the songs from Frozen, whether or not she knows the lyrics.  She sings For the First Time in Forever, “For the first time in forever….magic powers Super Why”

As always, I am not sure where my luck comes from but it sure is good.

Magic powers indeed.

p.s. For those of you blessed in silence from Frozen, the words are, “For the first time in forever, there’ll be music, there’ll be light…” Or something like that.

No news is…no news.

Have you noticed this blog is a serial catalog of plans that are made and abandoned, made and abandoned? I had a simple short-term goal of firing off the last few job search posts, and then out of a sense of professional self-preservation, the blog shut-down. I put the career bits on hold while I was revisiting the whole thyroid cancer business, and figured I’d get back a week later. Life, as usual, has no apparent regard for my plans.

So what up. It’s been over a month since my whole Thyrogen-stimulation testing and tomorrow I am getting a chest CT because my thyroglobulin is up, my neck ultrasounds are negative, and my I-123 scan was equivocal for something in the chest. In short, trying to figure out if I have distant mets (e.g. lung or bone) and then we’ll go from there.

Take home points for the last month-plus:

  • God damn, no one ever taught me in med school that as highly treatable as papillary thyroid carcinoma is, you may have to treat it four times. (or more??)
  • It’s a great luxury being a free agent researcher, so that if need be, I knock off time every day for going to appointments, scheduling appointments, calling up utilization review managers, talking to health insurance customer service representatives, hand-delivering paper orders that somehow disappeared electronically….plus well-child visits, pharyngitis-rule-out-strep visits, etc etc
  • Life marches on, no matter what your dumb thyroid cancer is doing oh so indolently.  We started kindergarten and preschool over here in the last couple weeks. Changing up schedules, clothes, backpacks, haircuts, the works.  The only way I can keep up is to pare back…and did I mention again the luxury of being an autonomous, work-from-anywhere researcher?
  • There are riots in Ferguson. I have so much in my head about this but it may have to come out of real me, rather than blog me. So I will only say now that it is a reminder that life, in its very troubled forms, also marches on.

Next post will hopefully be news. and i swear, will document this list and process of all the ways i have been thinking to maintain the job luxury.

coping mechanisms


It’s been an emotionally uneven time in the past two weeks (read: some days I am barely—barely–holding my sh*t together) and I’ve figured out a couple things, like:

  • Usually I deal with stress by eating. Which made the whole diet thing kind of suck.
  • However, dark chocolate that’s just cocoa mass and sugar, sans milk, is fair game!
  • It is really quite hard to clean a work bag and badge once an entire chocolate bar has melted into them.
  • Retail therapy can be an acceptable substitute to food therapy. Unfortunately, the cost of lots of retail therapy >> the cost of one scrumptious ice cream cone.
  • Retail therapy in the name of your kids can gloss your purchases with a faint sheen of justification. Even if they cost a lot more than that new pair of sandals that you really needed.
  • Add exercise + retail + kids and it’s like, why did I ever think of even saving this $$? It’s a ton of fun to take your kid out for a ride with the super expensive kids’ trailer bike that you just bought.  Your kid also would have had a ton of fun if you had just let her paint her toenails with the $1.29 blue nail polish from Target.
  • It’s also surprisingly fun to spend a large amount of money to make stuff that’s lower quality than what you could have bought at Target (in addition to the nail polish), aka after 24 years, I bought a new sewing machine.  Showing the older one how to make her own heart pillow might rank up there as one of the best parenting times so far. Getting repeatedly clubbed at the knees by the younger one to also make her a heart pillow comes in slightly behind.
  • Running around the house squeezing heart pillows is not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

(In case you were wondering, hunkering down in a room by yourself, only “mildly” radioactive, feeling toxic and lonely, is not so great.  Neither is waiting, waiting, and more waiting, under a cloud of indeterminate results. Sigh.)




Doesn’t it bug you when parents of older (more charming, cleaner, less feral) children try to be smugly reassuring and say, “Don’t worry, it gets easier”?

And yet, isn’t it fantastic how it stealthily creeps up on you and then you suddenly realize- hey! it IS easier! One morning last week I woke up at the very late hour of 7:47 am, of my own accord! The moment of mini-panic – what happened to the creatures who cry/bounce in demanding breakfast/clamber into bed at 6?– was immediately followed by the moment of discovery: they were sprawled out side by side on the couch, reading. By themselves. Quietly. Without fighting. I quickly shut my eyes and pretended to see nothing. (If I can’t see them, they can’t see me!)

In other markers of the passage of time:

  • Nearly 10 years now since the first time I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer- tells you how benign this malignancy is.
  • My niece (yes, the Fault in Our Stars one) pointed out that since DP and I met nearly 20 years ago, we have now known each other more than half of our lives. Which is also mind-blowing in its own way, that I’ve been fortunate to have someone by my side through all this: growing up out of our 20s, getting married, surgeries, radiation, popping out new human beings, and so on. Someone who knows me/us well enough to sneak out of bed to shower without: a) waking me up, or b) being detected by those small human beings, who would then wake me up. We’ve come a long way, baby.


poor choices

(1) Reading The Fault in Our Stars just before I have to go back in for a scan….(my teenage niece’s recommendation-because the movie is out).  Upside is that it reminds me that although I have experience with a) cancer and b) adolescence, I have had the great good fortune not to have suffer through both at the same time. Plus, I’ve got easy cancer. In the words of Hazel Grace, I’m not going to bite it any time soon.

(2) Asking relatives (parents of above-mentioned niece) if I can stay with them pre-scan. Although it’s a very very small dose of radiation (enough that I’m apparently allowed to roam free and irradiate the public at will) they naturally freaked out and said no. I get it, but am troubled because I think staying at a hotel, while happier for them and myself, is ethically more questionable. What can you do.

p.s. Random aside- Jill Lepore has a polemic against the way people are throwing around Disruptive Innovation as the answer for everything. It always bugs me when I hear people say they want to “disrupt healthcare” because a) usually their ideas are decades old, from public health, social welfare, economics, etc.,  and b) it just sounds completely devoid of human compassion. You want to know what’s disruptive? Upending my life to be 2000% sure I don’t have cancer for the 4th time. That’s f*ing disruptive.

p.p.s. See how I posted about my kids yesterday? That’s so you know that I’m not angry all the time, just in this post 😉


my kids, in a nutshell

(5 p.m., while I’m cooking dinner)

PJ marches into the kitchen and demands: Why don’t I have homework?

MFM: You’ll have homework soon enough, when you start kindergarten in August.

PJ: But I want homework now! Can you make me some homework? Pleeeeeease?

During the one minute of this exchange, MJ has managed to drag a stool over to the kitchen counter and proceeded to systematically open and taste a host of bottles on the spice rack.

MJ: Look, Mommy! I’m having spicies!!