A look back on 2021

2021 was definitely a very eventful year in my life, full of highs and lows unlike almost any other. I haven’t really blogged much recently, but I felt like it would be useful for me to look back on the year and ponder the future. I hope this reflection will be useful for others as well.


Undoubtedly I had a good year in terms of scientific publications. I was on five publications this year, including two as first author. I also have several others that are currently under review.

The year started off with the publication of a database of Last Interglacial sea level proxies in southeastern South America. I wrote about this here. This was my first contribution to the wider paleo sea level community, and it will not be the last.

The second paper was on a reconstruction of global paleo topography and ice sheets for the past 80,000 years. I made a post discussing this on the EGU Climate Division blog. This was basically the culmination of the past 10 years of my research (or maybe 15 years if you count my masters work). This was the first time I have published a paper in a “high ranking” journal, and I am proud that I could make it there (of course with plenty of help with my collaborators). This was a long time in the making, and I am glad that I was given the opportunity to finish it. I hope to continue working on this in the future.

Another paper I was involved in was a study on Miocene fire activity in the Tibetan Plateau, which was led by Zhengchuang Hui. The main finding was that there was an increase in fire activity towards the end of a Miocene, likely in response to increasing aridity and changes in vegetation. This collaboration is pretty unique, because it started after I had reviewed one of Zhengchuang’s previous papers, and he asked for help on his next one. Needless to say, the subject matter of this paper is quite a bit outside of my normal research, so I learned a lot! The moral of this story is that if you are reviewing a paper, it pays to be constructive, and also kind.

For the other two publications I was involved in, I served more as a consulting role. Lu Niu published the last paper from her PHD thesis, investigating ice sheet configuration during Marine Isotope Stage 13 using a coupled ice sheet and climate model. My former office mate, Shizhu Wang, published a paper on the conditions of the upper Pacific Ocean during the Last Glacial Maximum.

Moving to Japan

Since 2016, I have been working at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany. This is a great institute, and it was a great privilege to be a part of it. My contract there was originally supposed to expire in 2020, and I feel very fortunate that I was allowed to extend it until the end of June this year. This extra time allowed me to finish all of the projects that I was working on while was there. I am thankful for the colleagues that I worked with there, and hope to continue working with them in the future.

Early in the year, I was able to get a postdoctoral fellowship grant with the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, on the very last opportunity that I had to apply. After being shut out of Japan due to border closures, I was finally able to apply for a visa in April, which allowed me to get to Japan and take up this fellowship.

Although I remain skeptical that I will be able to continue in an academic career after this position is over, this has allowed me to stay in for a little longer while I get established in Japan. In the six months since I got here, I have finally got to the point in my Japanese skills to be able to have basic conversations. This makes things far more comfortable than in my previous stays in Japan.


Of course, the pandemic has been looming over us this year. The first five months in Germany were largely under lockdown. I managed to keep myself mentally well by creating a list of tasks and marking them off when they were completed. This definitely kept me productive and prevented a deep fall into depression, but ultimately this was not going to be a sustainable. The conditions in Germany finally improved just before I had to leave, and I was able to have a reasonably good sendoff.

I felt very lucky that the plans I had to make it to Japan came through and I was not going to have to make alternative plans. In July, I finally made it into Japan. Spending two weeks in quarantine in a small business hotel was definitely not fun, but it was worth it to finally be with my wife.

When I arrived in Japan, it was not long until another “lockdown” commenced. This, of course, did impact my ability to integrate into the new department. It was incredibly stressful, and eventually it made working difficult. It wasn’t until December that I snapped out of it.

Looking to 2022

If there is one thing I have learned in the past year is how important being with other people is to maintaining my well being. My profession and choice of hobbies tends to attract introverts, and I am definitely not an introvert. This has made the past couple of years very hard, and I fell into deep pits of depression. I now I realize the necessity for me to foster friendships and build networks in order to maintain my health.

Having spent the past 16 years of my life hopping from place to place all over the world, I have made many great friendships and colleagues. However, as I reach the age of 40 in 2022, I desire some more stability in life. I want to better establish myself in the community here in my new home. By the end of the year, I hope to be in a position where I know the future of my career after the completion of my postdoctoral fellowship. My goal is to not have to move too far to do that.