Monthly Archives: September 2012

Thoughts From Stockholm Modern Art Museum. Part 1

Last Sunday, I took a rather whimsical trip. I got on a train and travelled for two hours to Stockholm with only one destination in mind – the Modern Art Museum, which is hosting a Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp exhibition, He Was Wrong (what a delightfully ambiguous title, isn’t it?).

Now, you may not know this about me, but I love modern art. I don’t know exactly why, I just like staring at it. But this exhibition unexpectedly provided me with a bit of an insight into that, actually.

I must confess that I was slightly disappointed at first, seeing the proportions of the exhibition, which was comprised of two rather small chambers – one for Picasso and one for Duchamp. The reason for the smallness of the Duchamp section became clear to me when I read his quote on a wall: “I only made thirteen of them [readymades] during my life, so it’s not much of an occupation”. And I actually ended up spending two hours in those two small rooms, circling back to my favourite pieces multiple times, staring at them for ten minutes at a time, glad that I came alone, because I wouldn’t have felt well knowing that my companion was getting bored. So, there you go.

A cause of another slight rush of disappointment came when I noted that most (if not all) works of art in Duchamp’s room were labeled “replica”. However, the guide explained how most of Duchamp’s works had been either lost or destroyed, as apparently sometimes even the author himself didn’t consider them art. Also, Duchamp himself actually didn’t mind replicas of his works exhibited around the world.

Then I spent ten minutes staring at the replica of the very first readymade he ever constructed – an upside-down bicycle wheel mounted on a stool. It was fun – I had to keep restraining myself from turning the wheel (a small sign read “Please do not touch the artwork”) and it kept occurring to me that I wasn’t looking at a wheel or a stool – both of those things had lost their original functions.

At some point, I realised why I like it so much – because it’s almost like science. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s the other way around, and I like science so much because it’s almost like art. I doubt I’ll ever know. Anyway. A scientist analyses a little part of the world and then s/he can either record it or s/he can go a little further and try and find if s/he can use something already in existance to make something new. For instance, we can make tiny boxes out of DNA to put drugs into them and deliver to the parts of the body that are sick. DNA exists to help pass information about organism structure to new generations, but people take it and make it serve a new purpose. Similarly, an artist takes a wheel and a stool and by attaching the first onto the second he makes something new.

There will be people who will just walk by or even scorn that they had to pay to see something they could’ve made themselves. But the point is that they didn’t. The idea occurred to Duchamp. It doesn’t even matter that it’s only a replica. It’s still his idea. The execution isn’t that important to Duchamp (according to the guide). So, when we look at a weird bottle rack, we aren’t looking at a bottle rack (it’s not used to put bottles on it), we aren’t even looking at something Duchamp made (again, it was only a replica), we’re looking at an idea that occurred to Duchamp. I love it even more, now that I realise this.

I’ll spare your time and stop here. I’ll continue my thoughts from the Modern Art Museum next week, when I’ll already have left Sweden and will probably be swamped by mundane to-do lists as I try to catch up with the life I left at home three months ago,


Searching For a PhD Position, For Real

Wow, it’s been a while since I had so many things going on.

The most interesting things to happen obviously are the PhD-related ones. Earlier this week I went to talk to a PhD student who works at one of the labs I’m interested in. That was very enlightening. She told me a lot not only about the research she’s doing, but how it’s actually like to be doing it. For instance, spending 9 months doing nothing but trying to perfect a protocol, falling asleep sitting at your machinery, or spending most of your time reading papers just trying to keep up with all the new stuff coming out each day.

Yesterday I had what I suppose was an actual interview for a PhD position. It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t really think of it that way, because I couldn’t have kept my resolution of not freaking out. As it was, I just got to about a medium-low level of nervousness only when it was about 20 minutes left until the meeting. However, while I felt reasonably good about my answers to the questions, naturally, after I left, things I could’ve put better flooded my mind. So this is a note to self for next time, even though next meeting might be so different that it will be of no use at all. Still, it’s all I can do to prepare, unless you have other suggestions, please?

  • Think about my current project beforehand, so I can explain not only what I do, but why it’s useful/interesting/exciting – I know all these things, obviously, but in stressful situations they often want to escape my mind.
  • Refresh my memory on the relevant classes I’ve taken. I actually don’t know if that’s what Professors taking on PhD students look for, but I guess, for instance, they wouldn’t want a student who doesn’t know how an action potential is generated doing a PhD in neuroscience, investigating turtle nervous system.
  • Also, I’m not sure, but I feel like it’d be good to relate my current research somehow to the project I would be doing. For instance, if there is a suggestion to make/create some sort of set-up or system to quicken up things in an experiment, I like it because I like making things, which I discovered doing my current project which is basically making chip-like thingies. I know that because I can compare that to my previous project which was testing commercially available stuff and that wasn’t so fun (even though, admittedly, that project had a number of other issues as well).
  • Explain clearly why you like one project better than another. You know, giving actual reasons. Often, the only thing that keeps running through my head as I try to explain is something like ‘Oh, this will make so many pretty pictures!’ and I can’t well say that, can I? Maybe it’s better to repeat the reasons the Professor states on why he’s interested in that particular project – I mean, I don’t like to appear as though I’m just parroting someone, but if their reasons are my reasons as well, what can I do, right?

Still unable to fully comprehend that this PhD position search is actually happening – someone pinch me, or, on second thought, don’t – if I believe that I can awaken at any moment, I won’t be so scared,


Science Is Real

I had a realisation last weekend.

A collaborator from abroad came to visit this lab and I had the chance to sit in / participate in all of it. And it was very cool and pretty educational. I realised, for instance, that I need to learn how to properly introduce myself and the work I do. However, that was not the big realisation.

At some point among all the talks about different trials and experiments, it suddenly hit me:

This science shit is real.

(Pardon my foul language but I need that to express the greatness of the realisation.) It’s happening. It’s making changes. And stuff, you know. It’s difficult to explain. I mean, I sure better know it’s real, after all, I’ve been working at it, too, for over 3 years now. Folks from different countries visit the lab back home, my co-workers and supervisors are coming and going all the time, to the extent that some of them seem to be out of the country more often than not. And I keep toiling away at my projects, which feels more like playing at times. I love it, of course, but it’s very easy to forget the bigger picture and start to wonder about the point of it all. Thankfully, my thesis supervisor often (whether consciously or not, I don’t know) reminds me of it. But this is the first time I feel like I actually belong to the picture. Well, at least sort of.

I don’t know if I made any sort of sense here, but there you go,


New Year’s Resolutions. Yes, That’s Right.

New school year started on Monday back home (it started here last week, apparently). It feels weird to be missing the first classes of the new semester, especially because it’s probably the last real start of a school year I’ll ever get to experience. I don’t suppose starting my PhD will be the same, I don’t even know when that will be.

The first of September has always felt more like new year than the actual New Year feels to me, if you know what I mean. I’m not sure exactly why. I guess it’s partly that it’s the start of a new school year, so, it’s a clear marker, and New Year celebrations usually fall just before/in middle of finals at my home university, so I don’t always get to even think about celebrations or resolutions or anything besides studying, really. I remember one particularly memorable New Year’s Eve a few years ago, I was still studying for my Biochemistry exam at 8 or 9 PM, before I finally gave in to my best friend’s nagging and agreed to come to a party (have I ever thanked you for that?). But I digress. I always make some resolutions at the start of school year. Makes more sense than making them on New Year’s anyway, since most of them are study/work related. And I suck at keeping them just as badly as New Year’s resolutions, but it’s still good fun.

When I started writing this post I was intending to make a bunch of very moderately serious resolutions and put them out there, so you know, I don’t just “forget” them. But then, some work/study-related things that started rather casually turned, well, serious (not bad-serious, just serious-serious). And, for some reason, I wasn’t ready for that. Suddenly, I had to take some actions I had intended to take a little later and in a different manner. I started overthinking things and, well, freaked out. It turned out, of course, that I didn’t need to worry and that I actually had support where I thought people would just get angry. So, now, after my nerves have finished their roller-coaster ride, I just have one resolution for the year that I (hopefully) finish my Master’s degree, look for and find a PhD position –

Do not freak out: don’t worry about things that might or might not happen, don’t stress over people’s possible or actual reactions, don’t freak out over tasks that seem too complicated/difficult/scary at first glance.

Very very determined this time, though I’m not sure how to actually keep/fulfil this resolution, any advice?


P.S. It would also be cool if I finally managed to kick that procrastinating habit and found a ‘real’ hobby, you know, something other than reading, cooking or watching films.