Monday, August 29, 2005

Vivek writes an article...

Writing my thesis was easy... because I exactly knew how I wanted it to be. I had my thesis written in my mind before I typed my first page.

Writing my Langmuir paper was also easy... as I knew what my advisor wants from me. I had my thesis as a guideline, and a very strict advisor to edit my work.

Writing my PhD SOP was a bit difficult... because there were so many things to be written and main task was to fit everything in a page and half.

But writing a 2-page article from a thin- one line idea was something I never imagined I could do. I know my worth when it comes to doing something like that. I surprised myself when I agreed to write an article for the bi-annual newsletter of LRI-GSEC (Lerner Research Institute- Graduate Students' Education Committee). In one of the meetings, someone suggested that I should compile an article related to the experiences of a first year student at LRI. And believe it or not, I did it.

Here's what I wrote. Read on:

My Entry to the Crystal Maze

1: First day at LRI:

I enter Lerner Research Institute for a departmental tour, and one of the graduate students walks us around the LRI building. That girl seems to be the happiest person in the world, and when asked about her experience at LRI, she sounds like there is nothing else in this world that can be more pleasurable than LRI. I trust her for that.

My first thoughts: "Wow.... this place looks cool!!" I mean, coming from an academic research environment, LRI is like coming from a filthy bachelor efficiency room to Buckingham palace. "Ummm... this place seems to have a lot of money; the infrastructure is indeed excellent... And I will get free coffee as well, and free stationary... and free parking, TGIFs, picnics, parties, tickets to cedar point…Yup baby! This is the place to spend my next 5 years".

2: Honeymoon time:

First few days at LRI are really cool. The departmental staff seems to be very cordial, and gets most of the paperwork done in first 30 minutes. But still, I wait at the main entrance every day for first week or so for someone else to come, look suspiciously at me, and then let me in. The reason: It takes about a week to get my badge activated.

After a few days, my boss goes for a 2-week conference in Europe.... Since I am a newbie and am yet to begin my experiments, my daily schedule is somewhat like this: come to lab in the morning, pretend to read books and understand new concepts, read papers and ask a few questions to seniors, go to library and print papers, go to food courts. And have food, then go to library to take a nap, come back to my lab at 4.30, say bye to everyone, go home, play tennis. I never have had such a good 2-week holiday in my life.

3: First bombshell:

For first few days, my daily attire is jeans and a t-shirt. After all, I am still a student. One day, I come across a gentleman. I don’t know who he is (I later on discover, happens to be the administrative-in-charge). I say customary hello and exchange pleasantries etc. He doesn’t seem to be too pleased with me. I wonder what’s wrong... is it my face, or am I having too much of coffee. I am totally confused. AND then first bombshell comes my way. He says “Denim is not allowed in LRI campus. You should be in formals from tomorrow".... Oh boy... What will happen to all my torn-jeans and all those favorite t- shirts?... NO.... Someone is taking away my student-hood from me.... what should I do...

That evening, I go in my panic mode, and to JC Penny to get some khakis and shirts...

4: Trouble starts:

Well, soon, the honeymoon gets over and the "real" thing starts. After the first meeting with my advisor, I get 38 papers to read, and my desk is full of papers, books, research notebooks, and what not! And I have no idea of what they talk about. Everyone in my lab talks as if I am born with the knowledge of the research concept, my advisor talks to me in a language that is Greek to me, and I am supposed to come to that level by reading all papers!!!.... Problem starts...

Now I attend 4 meetings a week, spend most of my time under the hood and fill up 2 pages of lab notebook every day. It’s been a while since I have played Tennis.

5: Life comes back to normal:

Soon things get nasty... workload increases 10-fold... I want my boss to go for a 2-week conference in Japan... but this time around, all conferences are in nearby cities... He comes back in two days.

Nowadays, its just me, my work, my coffee, and my lab notebook... terms like chilling out, having a break, being tired, taking a day off, working out in a gym are out of my vocabulary. :(... I begin to realize that that’s what life really means... Nowadays I read journal articles in my free times, I read philosophy as a past time, my friends consider me as a junky waste... and my parents have given up hopes on me.

These are a few typical initial reactions of a first year graduate student at LRI. Jokes apart, the research activity and combined output at LRI is of so much of high quality that a new student typically gets overwhelmed seeing everyone so hard working, so knowledgeable and so thorough in their work... To start with, he/she has no clue about the cutting edge technology, has no experience of applying text-book knowledge to a practical use. Typically, what a new student needs is a mentor, who could guide him/ her in his initial research and answer a few basic questions, a few new friends with whom he/ she can have some fun while at work, a group of people with whom he/she can have daily lunch, and a boss who understands that people have life beyond research. It takes a while to get used to everything here, but once he finds his own small space in this horizon... things get easier and better.

So far, the first few months at LRI have been really satisfying and I look forward to making the next few years special ones in my career.

Vivek Raut


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