Deadlines, deadlines

Brain on a stickThis blog has been quiet for a while. I can’t say I really had a lot of time to post about interesting things lately, or experienced interesting things to post about, for that matter. Life has been busy lately. I had a paper deadline last week, which I barely made, but no time to rest now, since my next two deadlines are already in sight…

As Dr. Paperboy wrote a while ago: this is basically the beginning of the end. And unfortunately, I’m starting to believe him…

Releasing Tension

This weekend, I met one of my best friends to see a Greek tragedy called Medea in the theater. Where I live, high school pupils are obliged to experience culture. After the show with great performances and of course a tragic ending, we went to the wardrobe where one high school pupil asked his friend to join him in the MacDonald’s. So much for ‘higher’ culture!

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Afterwards, we went to a bar and we talked about life as usual. My friend has been working on his master thesis for 3 years and for a couple of months now he has this great girlfriend. She is a warm empathic person and really connects with my friend. As you can imagine, working on your master thesis for 3 years without any significant results creates a very negative attitude towards your thesis. Other than disappointing supervisors and possibly your family, you’re mostly disappointed in yourself. This creates an enormous tension. For the last two years, every once in a while I have tried to help him with his thesis, but somehow he was totally stuck. Nothing helped. He did not want to give up since he was so close and he would have to pay back a lot of lent money. His new girlfriend was not so much interested in his rationale about the situation, but how he felt about it. And he felt like shit. At a certain point, she asked him why he simply didn’t give up. That thought never really crossed his mind, but once he allowed himself to really consider it, a calm relaxed feeling entered his mind. This feeling released all the tension built up over the years and a huge load fell off his shoulders. Last week, my friend decided to not finish his master thesis.

I really admire his choice, even though I still think he could have finished. Sometimes there are these choices you’d rather not make, and his choice was one of those. To make such a choice requires guts and is never easy. But when you do, you can finally go on with your life.

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Today, I have been trying to apply this ‘tension-theory’ on myself, which by the way was inspired by the awesome tv series Dexter. My research question of today: where do I have tension, and how can I release it? One area immediately came to mind: relationships. Somehow, I have this idea that I should be in a good relationship and that has been creating tension since it is not working out. Solution: drop the idea. Fuck relationships. The next area was also easy since I woke up worrying about the whole mess with my supervisors. Here however, the solution is not clear. The release of tension I envision is getting angry with my supervisors and telling them to clear up their mess. However, I’m afraid this only creates more tension afterwards. So, how can I release the tension in a positive way? Someday in the future, I will find a way…

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On Being Annoyed

I don’t usually do new year’s resolutions. But after spending four days of Christmas with relatives – yes, that’s right, FOUR days – and, naturally, getting annoyed with them, and then getting annoyed with myself for getting annoyed with them, etcetera etcetera… I realized I’m always annoyed with something. And I decided that something had to change.

So I resolved to be less annoyed at things and less annoyed with people, myself included, or maybe even especially myself.

But it’s not easy. Being annoyed makes me tense, being tense makes me more annoyed, and breaking out of this vicious cycle is turning out to be harder than I expected. After trying for about a week, I still find it very hard to keep myself from getting annoyed with everything: slow people in the supermarket, slow people in front of the traffic light, with my bike for being old and half-broken, with myself for not fixing my bike or buying a new one, with losing part of my earring, with someone for not helping me find it… And then of course every time, I get extra annoyed with myself for being annoyed at something stupid and minor that I really shouldn’t be annoyed at.

And now of course I’m annoyed with myself for bitching and whining about this stuff! Gaaah.

Guys, how do I get out of this vicious cycle? Any advice?

Am I secretly a capitalist?

After just handing in a probably futile attempt at a project proposal, I am wondering about the following: am I secretly a capitalist? Recently, the workers have taken over one of our labs. Well informed readers will know what labs I mean. Suddenly the staff room became a meeting room for the building maintainers. The staff room used to  be my refuge. A calm nice place, where I could boil some water, hide my expensive items from students, sit, chat, read in quiet, etc. But now it’s a meeting room. And it’s high tech! And it looks nice, still. But my access card doesn’t give me access. And I haven’t seen it being used. Ever. Ever ever.

I moved to another private room on the 4th floor. It was always open, but alright, it was large and spacious, and I did not have to mingle with students. Yeah! Or not… The private room was taken by the building maintainers, to work out of. A real private office and a meeting room. What luxury. For someone with half my salary. I’ve been sending complaints to our complaints department and they tell me to f*ck off (not in so many words).

Now I sit in a drafty hallway. I carry my laptop everywhere, I can’t even hang my coat somewhere. Is my salary still the only thing that separates me from the plain folk? The hallway happens to be near one of the private offices. Here they come. I look into the guy’s eyes. His cheap workclothes, his dumb one long eyebrow stare startles me. Even he realises. Something went horribly wrong here.

The Volatility of Conference Friendships

Whenever I'm drunk, you're my best friend.

It’s amazing how many interesting people there are in the scientific community. The number of conferences, summer schools, courses and other multi-day scientific events I’ve attended where I haven’t made friends, is close to zero. Almost every time, there are some great people that I enjoy spending time with. Especially when you don’t have any colleagues with you at a conference, it’s nice to make a few buddies to hang out with during the coffee breaks, and of course for dinner and going out in the evenings.

Most researchers are geeks who like to go back to their hotel rooms after dinner to work on a paper, but there are always a few young people who do enjoy a few beers instead. And those people make the best conference friends. They’re the life of the party, the people who aren’t afraid to get on the dance floor, not to mention insightful conversations (coincidentally, mostly not about research), interesting party games (truth or dare, anyone?) and weird adventures or accidents (for some reason, usually after consuming a number of alcoholic beverages).

You know you’re having a good conference when you attend the 9am talks with a hangover and after four hours of sleep.

As the conference proceeds, it only gets better. Of course your sleep deprivation accumulates, you have more and more insightful conversations, you’re stuck in the same place together. I’m pretty sure that that’s also part of why it’s so cool (a while ago, my conference friends and I invented the term “sleep deprivation induced euphoria” for that). And after only a few days, you get the feeling that you’ve known eachother forever.

But at the end of the day, these friendships rarely last. Everyone goes home to their own busy lives, and everyone has their own friends back home, who don’t live hundreds or thousands of miles away. Sure, maybe you become LinkedIn or Facebook contacts, and during the first few days or weeks after the conference you send a few emails back and forth, maybe exchanging some useful information about the conference or some chit-chat about the journey back home, but it just never lasts.

Right now, after almost three years of conferences, there’s only one person I’ve been able to really keep in touch with for longer than a month after getting back home. And that’s not a problem, it’s just that it took me a few conferences to realize this. Of course, every time it’s still a little sad to see all those interesting people leave at the end of a conference and realize that your friendship is over (except maybe when you meet them at the next conference). But in the end, it’s all fine, because at the next conference you’ll make new conference friends again…

Donna’s new years resolutions

Just to remind myself (and others that feel the same):

1) Keep chatting to nice colleagues in the hallway or the digital highway. Social contacts are important for necessary inspiration and distraction.
2) Make clear that you are not a clone of your supervisor, neither in your research, educational nor organizational skills
3) Ignore negative dickheads and political hokey poky.
4) Make the lives of those who do not regard Ph.D’s as real employees as miserable as you can.

That’s about it for now… did I forget any?

Courage and hopefulness

There’s a new PhD student in our group. He’s still so naive and innocent and optimistic! It made me think of this PhD comic.

Though, come to think of it, I think our cynicism might be so strong that he’ll get to the “absorb cynicism of lab mates” stage early! (It’s like our super power. Except it’s not that super.)