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Well, then. How do I sum up this year? …Long.

Please don’t over-interpret when I say “it was long”. I don’t mean that it was a bad year (aspects of it are far from it). But I know people always say “this year flew by!” “Can’t believe 2017 is over already” and I honestly don’t feel that way this year.

This year was long in the sense that a lot has happened – a lot more than I want to write in this one post. Aspects of it are extremely tiring. I bet many of you in the US share this feeling too. Recounting that Trump’s presidential inauguration was January 20th of THIS YEAR blows my mind. The thought tires me out, shocks me, and scares me simultaneously. I mean, has it really only been ONE year? and three more years till one presidential term is over? I’m not sure how much more turbulence I can handle. It’s not only the bills and orders from the government, but also natural disasters – hurricanes in Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico, natural fires that burn on seemingly forever, many pictures of dying polar bears from warming weather, and other depressing and demotivating events – mass shootings, terrorist attacks, opioid crisis, etc.

At the end of the year (and almost every day throughout the year), I’m tired of seeing our entire society riding on an emotional roller coaster. A roller coast with Donald Trump as the driver and the news media as the operators. I’m tired seeing our society getting thrown into whirlwinds of emotions whenever there is a press release from the White House or wake up to a tweet from Trump. Knowing a fair amount of psychology from my studies and work, I’m tired of seeing the ways in which he uses techniques to pull and trigger people’s psychologies. Part of me feels helpless that I cannot do anything about it. Reactions to emotional words and actions are so immediate. It sets off a chain of reactions that are hard to be aware of, hard to stop, and hard to fight back. But the helplessness is overpowered by the endless continuity of it. After a few weeks of feeling helpless, I started to dread the continuous drag of it – just months after months of this roller coaster without any rest.

Perhaps to minimize the helplessness, I felt the need to do something about it. I set out to work on a project with the goal of improving the wide chasm between people. The 2016 election seemed to reveal that the US is more divided than we thought. Those within my social circle are surprised that we’ve left so many people behind – so many voices unheard. While this might be true, I also think that we are more similar than we think. We create, in our heads, a chasm that separate ourselves with others. But beneath it all, I believe we all share similar feelings and things can improve with better communication. In the coming months, I created events called Feeling the Polarization. The premise is to discuss emotions toward political topics. It’s not to talk about thoughts or arguments about a particular investigation or a policy proposal, but about feelings towards them and other political events. For example, “How does it make you feel knowing that the election was one year ago?” or “What were your main emotions when political topics come up among your families or friends?”

Admittedly, I haven’t moved forward with these events as much as I could have. Other things in life got in the way – moving cities, health issues, and a fast-moving relationship. More than anything, though, I think was a self-imposing barrier to push forward with this. I’m not sure why, but I am a little scared thinking about fully pushing these events, promoting them, or whatever. I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but maybe it’s my introverted nature (semi-introverted), maybe it’s my upbringing as a female – whatever the reason might be, I am not at my 100% potential when I try to work on this event. Especially when it comes down to things that people have not done before, I get a little nervous, maybe a little lost. I get very affected by people’s comments on what I’m doing. When its good feedback (especially when people are surprised by how they feel or what they learned after attending the events), its great. But when people tell me it wouldn’t work? No, I don’t particularly feel like “oh, I’m on to something” as I hear many times founders feel when they hit on something that’s special. I know this is special. I know I have a better shot at helping this society than many other people out there. I know this will work. Psychology always does. But my voice is tiny right now. I can only muster enough courage to run events at several locations, with groups I’m familiar with. I hope in 2018, I can do better. To find out what is stopping myself and to “unleash my own potential”, to be cliché.

Speaking of being cliché, (yeah, if you’re my friend you’ve been waiting for this section), I’m ENGAGED!! On Christmas Eve (cliché), to the most perfect man for me (also cliché) after dating for less than a year (not cliché and maybe a little uneasy). I mean wow this is not what I expected to happen when we first started dating earlier this year! I still remember our phone call last December 31st/January 1st (he was in US, I was in HK). We were already so familiar with each other. We felt like we knew each other so well; that he was my best friend. Oh gosh – I’m gonna cry. I can’t pinpoint the moment when I knew I wanted to grow old with him…some time way early on (he says he knew in September…rationalizing that boys are dumber and realize these things slower than girls :P) but I did not expect it to happen so soon. We kind of discussed the idea of marriage – as a social construct and a life “to-do” that we don’t feel like we need to make a ceremony out of if we just want to be together, to love and to support each other. I guess he changed his mind, and I changed mine (after a bit of freak out). I’m a little out of whack right now since all I can think about these few days is how much I love him and how happy I am. (I’m glad I’m happy since I wasn’t sure how I would feel after saying yes haha). I guess the actual proposal story can be written somewhere else, but lets just say it was quite the emotional ride for him.

Things happened quickly with us. After our first meeting in mid-2016, we started “officially dating” a few days after 2017 started. We were in a long distance relationship for a large part of the year, making the effort to see each other in our respective coasts. We met each other’s friends, then family members, then parents. We traveled together and learned a lot about each other during long drives. We have incredible chemistry and extremely fun conversations. You’d be the third wheel who says “aww”, rolls your eyes, and want to punch us (sorry friends who have endured us this year…). We’ve been there for each other through back pains, neck pains, more back pains, to several doctor appointments and sleepless nights. (I’m not dying yet…I don’t want to scare my mom and dad lol). While this year might not have been all happy and jolly, I would not change any of it for the world. I certainly could not think of a better person to have spent this year with. In good times and bad; in sickness and health; and yaaadeee yadddee yadaaa stuff that I can actually understand when the priest announces.

So, yes, better stop here before I get all sappy and continue about my love life and feelings for another 10 pages. 2017 was great (it ended well, and according to my favorite peak-end theory, this predicts that I will remember 2017 as a good year). It was long and tiring, when I think of it in terms of news and politics and the world, but exciting and fulfilling, when I think of it in terms of my life – love and work-wise. I look forward to seeing what 2018 might bring!


It’s a Fresh Start

A friend of mine from Penn, HengChen Dai, have been writing and publishing papers about this phenomenon called the “Fresh Start Effect”, which I find particularly relevant as I board my flight to San Francisco. Her and her collaborators found that people are more likely to make aspirational changes such as exercising more or quitting smoking whenever there’s a new start. Remember two weeks ago when everyone was crafting their New Year Resolutions? That’s because of the fresh start effect too. When the calendar turned to a new year, you feel a little detached from the 2016 “I-spent-too-much-time-on-the-couch” self and more connected to the 2017 “I-am-determined-to-exercise” self. At these fresh start moments, you’re more empowered that you’ll be able to accomplish these goals.

These researchers looked at Google searches and found that searches for keywords towards aspirational goals such as “diet” increased by 82.1% on Jan 1st compared to the searches of an average day! This effect is not limited to New Years, but also applies to a new month, a new semester at school, a new city, a new job, etc. I’m excited to be starting a new role as a research associate and also moving to a new city – so, double up the fresh start effect! It’s definitely a time for me to set goals, both professional and personal ones, and use this fresh start as an opportunity to make positive changes or at least experiment with different things.

For those nudgers out there, you might want to take advantage of the fresh start effect when you’re thinking of a good time for behavioral interventions. Phrasing and implementing the intervention as a fresh start will give the effect an extra boost!


Source: Dai, Hengchen, Katherine L. Milkman, and Jason Riis. “The fresh start effect: Temporal landmarks motivate aspirational behavior.” Management Science 60.10 (2014): 2563-2582.

Could you watch my laptop?

“Would you mind keeping an eye on my computer?” I asked, wanting to get a refill for my coffee.

“Yeah, sure” responds the stranger sitting next to me.

This conversation might sound familiar to those of you who frequent coffee shops and cafés alone and stay there for hours on end. At some point, you’ll need to go to the bathroom, want another cup of coffee, or maybe a chocolate croissant as well.

When I came back to my computer, said stranger asks, “Why would you trust me with your computer?”

Caught off guard, I pause for a second and said, “I don’t have a reason to, but Psychology research suggests….”

Yes, yes, I quoted research to a complete stranger at a coffee shop (don’t judge). In all seriousness, here is what research said about asking strangers to watch your stuff for you –

Beach Blanket Study

In the summer of 1972, Psychologist Tom Moriarty set up 56 fake thefts to happen at Jones Beach in New York. They were interested in seeing whether people witnessing the theft would intervene and stop the crime from happening.

Here is how the experiment went – a “confederate” (probably was a research assistant like myself) would lay a beach blanket somewhere close to where an individual, a couple, or a family might have set up their beach blanket and basking in the sunshine. Then, for half the time, the confederate would listen to the portable radio for 2 minutes, and then say to the people in the next blanket, “excuse me, I’m going out for a swim, would you watch my things?” For the other half of the time, the confederate would listen to the radio for 2 minutes, then engage in some unrelated conversation and leave for his or her swim.

While the beach blanket and the portable radio were unattended, another research assistant would come and pretend to steal the radio. The question is: would those people in the beach blanket next to them witnessing the crime stop the stealer?

In the condition where the strangers agreed to watch the portable radio, the strangers stopped the thief 95% of the time! Comparatively, those who engaged the stranger in some unrelated conversation, saw only 20% of thefts being interrupted. That’s a huge effect from just kindly asking your neighbor to watch out for your things. 1 short second to save your portable radio! (well, I think that would be equivalent to your macbook in 2015 terms right?)

Even though I ask my neighbor to watch my things every time I leave the table, I question this experiment for several reasons. This experiment set-up confounds another famous marketing experiment, where people are more likely to allow you to cut the line if you provide them with a reason (any reason) [Langer, Blank, & Chanowitz, 1978]. In the blanket study, in addition to asking the stranger to watch the radio and blanket, the confederate also provided a reason “I’m going out for a swim”, which might have exaggerated the percentage of people who would agree to watching things for you. (Do I have to explain that I’m going to the bathroom?) Which leads to another question, is it necessary that the person says yes to your request? Or would they still chase after the thief for you even if they said no?

Before I read about more studies that addresses my coffee shop habits and self-control issues at the dessert shelf (see previously: compromise effect at sbux, and choice overload problem) I would suggest you ask the person next to you to watch your things before leaving the table. It might just save your laptop and backpack while you wait for your latte.


S (back in asia in t-3 days!)


Moriarty, Thomas. “Crime, commitment, and the responsive bystander: Two field experiments.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 31.2 (1975): 370.

Langer, Ellen J., Arthur Blank, and Benzion Chanowitz. “The mindlessness of ostensibly thoughtful action: The role of” placebic” information in interpersonal interaction.” Journal of personality and social psychology 36.6 (1978): 635.


Last weekend, my friend Jenny came to visit me in Chicago and I wrote about the Coloring Book she got me. This past week flew by and it is the beginning of the week again! How did that happen?

Scrolling through my photos, I was faced with the issue of having too many choices (see Choice Overload). We did so much last weekend that I don’t know which activity to write about! In hindsight, it seems almost stressful that we packed so many activities one after another, but in the moment it was just a series of spontaneous decisions that all turned out to be amazing memories.

I’ll recap a few activities here even though it doesn’t do the weekend justice. Here are some ideas on what you can do in Chicago, whether you’re visiting town or a local –

  1. Goose Island Brewery Tour

Goose Island is a local beer company conveniently located in Goose Island, where it got its name from. It is the proud owner of the famous craft beer 312 Urban Wheat Ale where we see so often around Chicago (312 is the area code). I have to confess that I’m not a huge beer fan, though I’ve become more tolerant in recent months. Beer also goes well with spicy SzeChuan food, one of my favorite cuisines. But overall, I don’t know much about beer besides occasionally drinking it. So, Jenny and I decided to check out the craft beer brewery when she visited.

For $12, you can get a tour of the brewery located on 1800 W Fulton Street, West Loop. You put on safety goggles and rubber boots, and off you go! Get a beer on one hand and leave the other hand free for the many samples they give you along the tour. It’s a great way to learn about the beer-making process and the history of the company.

Chicago Brewery Tour


2) Fulton Market Kitchen

After the brewery tour and too many beer samples later, Jenny and I Yelped for restaurants nearby. It wasn’t until then that I realized we were close to the West Loop, a foodie area in Chicago. We made a reservation at Fulton Market Kitchen and started our 25-minute walk to it. Along the way were factories that have been refurbished into offices, usually with a restaurant on the ground level. I love these set-ups for their combination of the old and the new. It reminds us of the past as we continue to move forward into the future.


Fulton Market Kitchen is a restaurant located in one of these refurbished factories. The interior design is filled with art on the walls. In the center next to the cocktail bar, a featured artist is painting his/her piece, creating new art right in front of your eyes.

The food is served in tapas portion and presented decoratively on white marble plates. The dishes were a little too flavorful for me, but I still thoroughly enjoyed everything. Extra points for the real candle on the table. I definitely want to be back again!


3) Night at the Art Institute

Ending our Friday night with a more cultural twist, we went for a night out at The Art Institute of Chicago, rated the best museum in the world by TripAdvisor. There are a few other “night at the museum” events around the city, such as Adler After Dark at the planetarium (read my post here) and Jazzin at the Shedd at the aquarium. The Art Institute doesn’t hold night events usually but this was a private event. We walked around Charles Ray: Sculpture 1997-2014 exhibition, which is the special exhibition this month at the museum. There was also a cash bar and some really spicy popcorn which I avoided, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to stop after eating one (see my post on Stale Popcorn Experiment).


These were just our Friday afternoon/night activities! We explored even more places and did more activities on Saturday and Sunday, all of which were new experiences for me. Jenny will cover off on more next week.

Have a great week, Steph


Do summer weeks fly by quicker than other seasons? It seems like every time summer rolls around, my schedule becomes packed with activities after activities (and not complaining)! This past weekend, I was in New Orleans with my high school friends, Suetwa and Amy. They flew in from NYC and we met up in NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) Friday night.

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New Orleans is famous for Mardi Gras, a HUGE carnival celebration every year in February. It involves beads, green beads, red beads, gold beads, purple beads, masks, costumes, and king cakes. Mardi Gras was on my list of “things to do before 30”, but after this trip, I’m really glad I came during the off season so I got to experience NOLA as it normally is. Going to NOLA during Mardi Gras is like going to Munich during Oktoberfest or visiting Penn for Spring Fling, it just isn’t what it’s like all year round.

This trip was nothing short of unique:

  • We made a brief visit to Bourbon Street, located inside French Quarter, where all the touristy bars and crazy drunks are on Friday (and all other days of the week, we later found out). Bachelorettes wearing tutus and wobbly drunks throwing beads off bar balconies. We soon decided to head back to the hotel room.


  • The next morning, I went for a walk around the same street to see the morning scene. It was as different as day and night, literally. Minus the flowing of alcohol and people’s hurrahs, you can clearly see the French influence throughout New Orleans. When you look down the street, you see facades painted in pale colors and ornate balconies. Coupled with a glass of chilled white wine on an outdoor table, it brings me back to Europe.


  • Don’t feel dreamy for too long! We walk past stores on Decatur Street with “take-out cocktails” and “spiciest hot sauce in town”. Suetwa, Amy, and I all love spicy food, so we decided to sign a waiver to try the 10+++ spicy sauce.

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  • NOLA features Cajun cuisine. I didn’t know much about Cajun food, aside from it being the inspiration for Boiling Crab and Angry Crab, which aren’t actually what Cajun is. To be honest, I still don’t really know what Cajun cuisine entails, but this weekend we had a lot of seafood. Shrimp & Grits, Barbeque Shrimp, Shrimp Gumbo, Corn Bread, Chicken and Dumplings, Jambalaya, Fried Chicken, etc…


  • We also went to the WWII Museum, the No.1 place to visit on Trip Advisor. Sometimes TripAdvisor rankings intrigue me. For example, the #1 thing to do in Hong Kong is hiking (while many of us from Hong Kong haven’t even hiked there). But Trip Advisor also never fails to impress me – my first time hiking in HK was this past February and it was super fun! The WWII Museum in NOLA was extremely educational. It also reminds me of how grateful we should be for the world we have today and how much things have changed in only 70 years. It makes my problems and complaints so trivial and ignorant.

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  • Last but not least, there’s the coffee shop that I visited 4 times during 3 day trip. Appropriately named, the café is called Addiction. It’s a cute and quiet coffee shop right across from my hotel. The tables are made from reclaimed wood and the shop is connected to their own barber shop, which was an interesting set-up.


Overall, it was a great and memorable trip. To quote our uber driver, “[NOLA] is a place where there’s no judgment, that’s why it’s called The Big Easy. If people want to wake up to a glass (or two) of mimosas and face their Sunday’s drunk, then so be it.”

New Orleans has its own charm and character that is unlike any other city I’ve seen. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to explore a city that’s not the traditional go-to’s.


Love, Steph

GROWING UP (Guest Post)

by Sara Curtiss

What do you want to be when you grow up?  I bet when you were a kid, you had a solid answer to that.  Are you doing that job now?  What changed?  What path has life taken you on?

For the past seven years, I have been a high school science teacher, but now the joy was gone.  I discovered that I no longer wanted to be a classroom teacher.  With this realization came the inevitable question, “what do I want to be when I grow up?”

It is a hard question to answer.  When we are kids, it was simple: fireman, doctor, school bus driver.  Jobs are fun when we were kids.  They were grown up and exciting.  There wasn’t the reality of health benefits, career ladders, salaries, or coworkers.  There wasn’t any stigma of job position or wealth.  My sister wanted to be a garbage man because she thought that riding on the back of the garbage truck would be a blast.  Being a fireman is fun because you get to slide down the pole and be a hero.  I wanted to be a marine biologist so that I could swim with the dolphins.

When you start to grow up, you realize how complicated those job dreams can be.  You can’t walk in on the first day and get your dream job.  There is training and learning that you need to do to get there.  You really do have to climb that ladder and know someone on the inside.

You also realize how many jobs there are out there.  Oh you want to go into IT?  There are a gazillion jobs that are in the IT field so which area do you want to specialize in?  Computers, security, insurance, research, etc?  The questions get more and more specific, and for me, more and more confusing.  Add to this the fact that you have to be good at what you do to the successful and the question becomes harder than organic chemistry class.  Somewhere in all of this, you lose sight of that childhood job fantasy.

Job searching is like online dating but your resume needs to be perfect and your profile picture can’t have you enjoying the latest party.  There are numerous websites devoted to job hunting and you have to be on all of them to have a chance.  Applying to other jobs was like having a second job.  It took up hours out of each day and added heaps of stress to my life.  Each time I would get a response from a potential employer, I poured my heart and soul into trying to land that job.  When that didn’t work, I applied in bulk to anything and everything that sounded remotely interesting or that I would be good at.

My saving grace came in the form of my father who helped me get an introduction at a pharmaceutical company who had open positions in regulatory affairs.  It was a job I knew nothing about but I could apply my science background and organizational skills to.  Three fabulous interviews later and I got offered a job.  The only caveat: I had to relocate to Nashville, Tennessee.

So now there are two adventures in one; a city change and a career change.  I love Chicago and all of the time that I have spent there.  I found a life-long friend, found a great cocktail bar, ate way too much delicious food and ogled over beautiful city and lake views.  I did not want to leave, but sometimes, life takes us on a journey that we were not told about in advance.

I don’t know where this adventure will lead me, but hopefully one step closer to answering that inevitable question “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

Goodbye Sara! I still remember the day we met at a “Girls New to Chicago” meet-up event, you ordered fish tacos I’m pretty sure (which has since became a defining trademark of our friendship), followed by endless reminders of what your “gluten free” restriction includes. Thank you for all the nights at Berkshire, spontaneous adventures, and especially for being the better (calmer) half when I almost missed my flight back to Hong Kong. 

All the best with your move to Nashville and can’t wait to visit! You better know all the good spots by the time I visit 😉

With love, Steph

@ none other than our Berkshire Room
@ none other than our Berkshire Room