- Do not try to teach people manners on the subway. You will probably end up getting hurt.
- Be discrete when snacking on chocolates from your purse.
- Try your very best not to scold your adviser in public.
- When you meet people, limit stories wherein the central figure is your cat to five minutes or less.
- Be discrete if you need to nap. Rest your head on your hand so you don't do "the wake up jerk"
- Beware of mixing alcohol and socializing with potential collaborators!
- Try not to roll your eyes, no matter how bad the speaker is
- Don't giggle if a speaker uses a piece of jargon that she herself made up. This may be difficult, especially if the jargon is vaguely dirty, such as "tree hole"
- Control your urge to stare openly at attractive members of the opposite sex. Sexy scientists DO exisit.
- If you are giving a presentation, remember one word: PICTURES. Please. We want something to look at besides your laser pointer randomly darting across the screen.
- Don't laugh when a speaker used the word feces.
- The third day of the conference shall be the worst. You'll be grumpy from getting up early and skimping on food. However, it's key for your career to resist the urge to just give up and arrive at the conference center at 10 am in your pajamas.
- Don't judge people by their haircut or how they dress at a conference. You'll develop an artificially inflated sense of superiority that won't be applicable in the real world.
- Its acceptable to leave a talk early if it will get you ahead in the lunch line.
- Don't laugh when the speaker says the word testes. (You may, however, laugh if they use the word balls.)
- Don't go to every talk. If you do then you will end up in a haze of general life-hatred, including hatred for your colleagues, your subject area, and the chairs in the lecture hall.
Don't you wish your girlfriend was smart like me?
Don't you wish your girlfriend was getting a PhD like me?
Don't cha, don't cha?
Don't you wish your girlfriend was learned like me?
Don't you wish your girlfriend was proff like me?
That's right, I'm a professional scientist. Can't you see it in my eyes?
When I ran cross country in high school, the coach would tell the team that distance running is a mental sport. "Everyone can finish a race if they've been going to practices," she stated. It was more or less true. The key to reaching the top of Heartbreak Hill on a rival's course was to ignore the pain in your knees and know that it would be over in a matter of minutes.
Being in a PhD program is also a mental game. Just as in cross country, finishing is not only reserved for those whose talents exceed the normal human being's. And as in cross country, having such talent does not guarantee success, unless you also possess the capacity to absorb and ignore your personal discomfort, so to speak.
The tricky part of this is that in both circumstances there is the danger of going too far. This was pointedly illustrated to me during one of my last races. Being at the end of the season, it was an important race, and all if the schools in the state participated. A girl on my team, a junior with a lot if promise, came in minutes later than she should have. When I saw her, tears were streaming down her face. You could tell that every step was agony as she unsteadily pulled herself across the finish line. The next week she was confined to the bench for two weeks, having pulled all of the muscles in her back.
The physical risks are less dramatic in the world of higher education, but, I would argue, just as dramatic. It's easy to become engrossed in a project and try to comply with every wish of your advisor. This is almost the logical path, as you tell yourself that your thesis will be used to judge your intelligence and that will in part determine your future.
I think this attitude contributes in part to so many students hating their adviser by the time they graduate.
I don't hate my adviser, and its not because he's a wonderful human being (lol he is, but plenty of wonderful human beings are hated regardless). I don't hate my adviser because I don't do everything he tells me to. Sometimes I do more; sometimes, I do less. This has helped me take ownership of my work and actions, lending greater satisfaction and an attitude that is more practical than hopeless in time of failure. I work extremely hard but I don't feel like a cog in the system, which makes all of the difference. Then, when I know that I'm tired and need a break, or that revising something one more time is not going to matter to the end product, I stop. This keeps me from pulling my back muscles, so to speak. I'm able to preserve my sanity and allow myself to avoid hitting the lowest low, thus allowing me to bounce back more easily.
This has been a major issue that I discuss with my therapist; dealing with stress and keeping the levels as low as possible so that I less often come to a point where I'm mentally or emotionally paralyzed and the stress just creates more stress. A great way to do this is to keep things in respective by allowing oneself to laugh at even negative experiences. (As a side note, Laughter societies/groups are a wonderful way to do this, and have been popular in India and Europe for a long time and are becoming popular in the US as well.) Sometimes breathing helps to release stress, and I've been practicing blowing out air when km especially frustrated and start thinking in circles. Exercise can also help to shed anxieties by releasing endorphins, and I think that listening to music that you enjoy does the same.
The key is to recognize that as an adult, you are in control of yourself and are responsible for listening to your mind and body. This is difficult at first and you learn the same way that kids learn not to wet the bed- by making the mistakes first and then recognizing what it felt like just before the disaster occurred. Then, when you can identify when you're at your limit, you can work on implementing ways to keep yourself from over exerting so that in the end, you're more often at your peak performance.
-Ran all the way to the pond and back
-Made delicious quinoa and almond salad
-Managed to solve a problem with my internet provider without anyone getting yelled at
-Went to the grocery store and managed to pay (in cash), thereby obtaining some of THE most delicious granola I've ever eaten (only rivaled by that of the notorious fish geneticist and granola maker M.Tippy)
-Lowered the seat of my bike and realized it was probably the reason I kept falling off
-Had a lovely conversation with a British postal delivery man who spoke ENGLISH (I almost married him then and there. Not just because of the English. He was also cute.)
Practically the only BAD thing that happened today was opening a jar of mushrooms while making lunch. NOTE TO READERS: DO NOT BUY JARRED MUSHROOMS ABROAD. The container was closed extremely tightly and I had to make several attempts before I got the top off.
When I did, it was similar to one of those sci-fi/horror movie/Fern Gully where space scientists/teenagers/loggers go through a lot of trouble to open a heavily sealed vault only to accidentally liberate some sort of ancient terror. In this case the previously imprisoned fiend was a wholly offensive smell that soon filled the kitchen. It reminded me, viscerally, of disecting frogs in intro bio- without doubt my least favorite lab ever. (When teaching, this is the lab where I spend the highest proportion of time at my desk and the least time with students.) Tragically, I actually lost my appetite, a notable occurrence since normally it's much too large to misplace. However I appeased my ill stomach by munching on chocolate wafers some time later and recovered in time for a mid-afternoon snack.
I used to say that the worst thing in the world was getting some kind of baked good that appeared to contain chocolate chips but then finding, after biting into it, that the dark specks in the treat were actually raisins. I like raisins, but they are nothing- NOTHING- compared to chocolate. Especially in baked goods, when the raisins generally lose all of their sweet plumpness and turn into shriveled sheaths of their former selves, hiding in the hollows that their previously robust forms carved out in the pastry.
The main point is that when you have great expectations for a snack and reality falls short, it can be far worse than never having had the snack at all! And today I had an experience even WORSE than the one described above (which, for the record, is also unfortunately drawn from personal experience).
Today I went to the grocery store, list in hand, prepared to stock my fridge and shelves for the week's meals. It was my first time going to the store alone in Germany. I patiently walked through all of the aisles, sometimes twice or three times if I didn't find what I needed. I planned to make a tasty looking quinoa salad similar to one I had at an honorary lunch earlier this summer, and managed to remember a number of things that weren't on my list, such as laundry detergent and tissues. I made sure that I scrutinized everything that was boxed or bottled to make sure I knew what I was buying (I learned it's pretty difficult to determine if a bottle of soap is laundry detergent or dish soap, and then I realized that I wasn't sure if I was sure that this was detergent and not fabric softener!). I was excited that I was able to find some things that were more tricky to purchase in the US, such as licorice tea (it's SO good but stores don't stock it because no one thinks so but me). I even grabbed an extra large basket to help me with my little bike problem (I HATE RIDING A BIKE TO WORK) and was feeling pretty proud of myself, not to mention tired and hungry, when I reached the cashier.
Who then informed me that Kaufland won't take Visa.
Really? REALLY, Kaufland? What do you take, friggin seashells?
I didn't have any cash, and as I expected the ringer looked at my checkbook like it was some kind of poisonous-looking mushroom. I sadly recalled the 30 minute section on taking cashiers check during my training at Filenes and my disdain for anyone lame enough not to have a working credit card. Oh, woe was me.
This story has a bittersweet ending. I'm cooking thick-sliced bacon and hashbrowns for the third night in a row, which at any other time would be a treat. But oh, I did so want that quinoa salad.
The things that can comfort you sometimes are so strange. I've felt utterly out of place since I arrived in Germany, due to language barriers and not being able to pick up on social cues. Every day is like playing one of those stupid games that we played as children that had a million rules and only some of us could figure out. I never had the patience.
Today I forced myself to go out to take a walk instead of sitting in my room for the evening. All of the shops in the plaza near the place I'm staying were closed except for a pizzaria/ice cream shop, Pizzaria Valentino's. I took the name to be too cliche to be authentic- but I was pleasantly surprised. While having trouble ordering mozzarella cheese on my pizza instead of a cheese I couldn't translate from German, I realized that the owner and his wife were discussing in Italian. Ah, va bene! A light shined down on the little pizza shop from the heavens. I took Italian in school and while I'm rusty, at least I understand it better than German. I apologized in Italian, and ordered my large, fungi pizza con mozzarella. It was just what I needed to feel competent.