The standard Grad-school Q &A

Scene 1: A long and narrow corridor sporting labs on the right and offices with wooden doors on the left, plastered with comics, a white board with “Piso Mojado” written and aroma of coffee in the air. Its 8 pm at night, all offices are full of headphoned zombies peering into multiple monitors surrounded by cabinets of books, a huge heap of loose papers, whirring printers and a minimum of two bicycles inside the office acting like a see-through wall. A student leaves the office to refill water for his kettle and bumps into another exiting a lab, forced into eye-contact and he is completely unaware that he has been sharing the same office and printer for over a year now.

Student 1: Hey man, wassup! Long time, how is it going?
Student 2: Not bad actually, its going okay. How is it going for you?
Student 1: Okay for me too.
Student 2: See-ya man.
Student 1 waves and walks away
Interpretation (the real story)
Student 1: How is your research going man? Gotten any results lately? Cos I havent :-/
Student2: Pretty screwed man, Im just spending time in the lab so that I dont forget how to use the equipment. Also, it makes me look busy.
Student1: Hmm, I know what you mean. I got scolded last time for no work as well.
Student2: You’ll be stuck here with me all the time while the world enjoys itself shopping, skiing, skateboarding, eating more than cookies and cold sandwiches and watching movies in a real theatre.

Scene 2: Not very different from scene 1 though only now, its friday night.

Student 1: (only just noticing the other student since he dropped a huge stack of papers on the floor) Hey man! Wassup? Planned anything fun for the weekend?
Student 2: Nah man, I’m probably gonna sleep. You?
Student 1: Same, though I’ve these results to compile so I guess I’ll be in office tomorrow.
Student 2: Yeah, that reminds me, I need to make a poster for the conference. I’ll be here too.

Interpretation: Nothing really actually. They are pretty much screwed as is.

Scene 3: Now, its thanksgiving weekend.

Student1: (Standing up and stretching) Ahh! Thanksgiving is here at last. Four days break. What plans man?
Student 2: Nothing much, I’ve a test, four assignments and two projects due on monday after. What about you?
Student1: I actually have some free time since I compiled the results yesterday. Maybe I’ll catch up on sleep.
Student 2: Ah, Im jealous man. I guess Christmas break should be the time for me.

The next day..
5:30 am. Student 1 is back in office. Student 2 all groggy eyed and smelling of coffee and sweat looks up surprised
Student2: What are you doing so early? I thought you were catching up on sleep.
Student 1: My advisor mailed me at 4:30 am.
Student2: Oh. Not good.
Student1: @@#%@#%$!!

This is the standard Q & A in grad school. “How is it going?” and “Any plans for weekend/Thanksgiving/Christmas?” and “What courses are you taking this semester?” (not restricted to the beginning of the semester since no one ever really bothers to remember what they replied so they continue asking all year round) are the only questions that everyone asks everyone else in corridors, elevators, near the water faucets etc. That is what is perhaps defined as socializing in grad school.

(Written in amusement after answering the same questions over 50 times yesterday)

Toilet Paper Treatment

Call it the TP syndrome or the Chewing Gum analogy, but both essentially refer to the same phrase – Use and Throw.

I recently was at the receiving end of this sort of treatment, being disillusioned into friendship – going all out and helping said person, before being thrown out of the window without the slightest hesitation. I felt hurt and bad, thought of all things I shouldn’t have ever done had I paid heed to those who suffered the same previously at the hands of that person. But there is this nasty feeling called hope, where u mysteriously hope and falsely reassure yourself that said person wont do this to you and feel like absolute trash when it happens. I never understand people. I realize that perhaps a little self-centering is essential and being selfish is what allowed evolution to occur, but I tend to believe that there are always those really really close people, whom you are truthful to. Its okay to be formal and ask for mild help from people you don’t know, but faking friendship only to get your work done easily is heights of selfishness!

I have met so many people who have used me. Come to me and begged for help and not so much batted an eyelid afterwards, come in the middle of the night to ask help with exams and after its done pretend that I’m invisible or feign deafness when being called out to. I thought I had gotten used to it and gone beyond expecting things from people in return but when a supposed friend delivers that blow, it still shakes your faith in anyone at all. This is more rampant now that people are applying to universities and need help from those experienced. It is okay to inquire about the general state of affairs here, the system etc, but its NOT ok to randomly ask people to rewrite your SOP’s, bug them incessantly on chat for days till your admit comes and then leave them in the lurch completely. When you are friends with someone, it is okay to ask, but I realize some tactful people make friends for solely this purpose. So I’ve come up with the best way to keep my sanity intact. I’m NOT helping people anymore. I thought I would make an exception for people I call friends, but now I’m doubting that capability too.
Its not only me who has been through this. There are countless people who’ve suffered at the hands of such people and learnt their lesson. As I spoke to a friend for consolation, she assured me that this is normal and she had suffered from this multiple times. Also, that what such people lack is conscience, but then there is hardly anything we can do except excercise caution.
I’m not your fair-weather friend, though in my case,I should rather say I’m the bad-weather friend. People come to me when they are in doubt, in tension, worried and gladly omit me from their lives when they are happy, only to return when calamity strikes. I might not be the brightest person in predicting people’s behaviour but I’m definitely smart enough to adhere to “Once bitten, twice shy”.

So long people, call me names if you will but now its your turn to see my MEAN side. If you’ve already seen it, then so be it.

To the moon and BACK!

This post is long due. By long, I mean its more than a month late. Early last month, I took off on a fun weekend to Florida, my first visit to the Orange State. Apart from a super fun road trip that lasted 7 hours with a break at a mexican restaurant where I was so fraught with laughter, that I dont remember what I ate at all, I got a chance to explore my favorites – animals and space exploration. ( NASA was a dream once upon a time). Now, I hadn’t been to a beach in the east coast of US till now. I wont say Atlantic coast since I spent my summer of 2006 basking in the Bahamas beaches. I drove past Gainesville (where a lot of BITS-Pilani, Goa is) but didnt make a trip down there for lack of time. Only 2 days and so much ahead!

If the road trip wasnt fun enough, the night got even better as we got tickets to the IMAX screening of Endhiran. It was the day of the release and my! the movie brought the entire tamil community of south florida together!. Such a large crowd with no space to walk and all tamil words floating around prominent among those being “Thalai!” Now, call me a traitor if you will but im not exactly a Rajnikanth fan. Infact, Im not a fan of anyone in particular with the exception of Kajol and Johnny Depp but again that is because they deliver such consistent performances. I like performances, movies not the people. In short, in my opinion, the movie was an utter waste of time and money and when the super-awfulmax climax began, I was only squinting at my watch to calculate how much time remained. Shee! What choice man!

But I think the movie was the low point of the trip. After hardly sleeping for 3 hours, all groggy eyed but full of excitement we headed from Tampa to Orlando’s Sea World. It was my choice to go here instead of DisneyWorld because of obvious reasons. Once into the park, it was a delight of sorts. I saw all sea animals I had been wanting to watch. The first one and my favourites (I made the folks go around it twice) was the penguin enclosure. It was amazing. There were two huge enclosures – Puffins and Penguins. The penguins HAVE to be the cutest little birds out there. I saw all varieties and was trying hard to match images with Happy Feet (movie). It was fun to watch them do what they do. We went to the Clyde and Semour show which was performed by Sea Lions.I saw all the possible sea animals – Manatee, Sharks, jelly fishes, smaller fishes, fed dolphins and also caught a lot of shows that day, the best being the Dolphins, the Cats and Dogs and the obvious spectacle – The Shamu ShowThe Shamu of the Shamu Show performed by Killer Whales or Orcas. It was infact the same shamu that had killed the trainer a few months ago. It was amazing to see their size and marvel at nature. Really. Only when you are sitting feet away from a full grown Killer Whale which is the largest predator in the entire biosphere, do you realize how small we are. The interaction between the trainers and the orcas was significantly reduced because of the accident but it was spectacular nevertheless. And then my favorite exhibit – The Arctic circle animals. I thought this was wonderfully done with the lighting and temperature inside the dome mimicked to match the Polar regions. My favorite since childhood was the Polar Bear and I saw it! Beluga Whales, Polar Bear and the Walrus. Polar bears are HUGE. Period. They are really bigger than what you imagine them to be. The Walruses! WHOOOOOAAA..that is the reaction. They are SO HUGE. Almost everyone there is awestruck by its size! They are mammoth creatures, fat and one can only ogle and the zeros describing their weight. After a tiring day, we headed to cocoa beach which was our next destination. Space coast!

Cape Canaveral is the spot where NASA has its launching pad. It is the same place that shuttles land after their missions. Being a big space enthusiast we headed to the Space Coast , an hour and a half drive from Orlando. We dumped our belongings in the hotel, bought tickets to the Kennedy Space Center for the next day and headed to Cocoa beach where we ate Thai food like pigs. (Dont ask me why Thai, it was not my decision). The next halt was the Ron-Jon Surf Shop. It is the surfing mecca of the world being the biggest and most famous. It was a lot of fun to go around the store and invest in some nice beach towels! We also made it to Cocoa Beach Pier, which extends half a mile into the ocean and it was enchanting to sit at the very edge and listen to the waves. Without any energy left and sleep forcing our eyelids shut, we crashed at the hotel for a good night’s sleep knowing the next day was going to be longer with the whole return drive before us.

If Sea World was a humbling experience in terms of marveling at nature, Space Center makes you applaud and revel in the magnitude of human achievements. The most striking was the fact that we sent man to the moon using a slide rule! I saw the launching pads and the Discovery strapped on one of the pads( the launch was held on Nov 1st) and also saw the gigantic NASA crawler. Everything there is an engineering marvel. To watch the exact spots where the Apollo missions launched, to the marshy greenery filled with alligators, it was a wonderful experience. I saw the control room where people actually worked to control the missions and the reams of design papers and slide rules that designed the machines where there was zero tolerance of error. There was also one of the real Apollo mission rockets which had parts of it recovered and assembled kept as an exhibit. You wonder how they propel such humongous stuff into space! Moving it would be an achievement!One of the Apollo's. Apollo V. The real thing! More than anything, that place is inspirational. Infact, the motto that keeps them going forward is that Nothing is impossible. The last thing we did was enjoy a flight simulator which simulated the launching experience. In reality, you experience close to 15-g. They simulated only 3 g. It was not scary but the build up was! Overall an amazing amazing day!

The rest was all routine with dinner at Udipi, Tampa and a beautiful night drive back home. It was unusually cold at 5 degrees in Atlanta when we reached and that kept us awake for a while.
It was back to work on Monday but the memories of this trip are definitely here to stay for a long long time.