Monthly Archives: November 2012

Knowing What I Know Now: What I’ve Picked Up As An Undegrad

There’s a new undegrad student working at the lab (incidentally, their major is the same as mine was – Biophysics). It makes me feel a bit strange – not being of the youngest ‘generation’ at the lab anymore. It feels a bit weird being asked questions about this protocol or other and classes and stuff. Weird, but kind of good. I feel like I can actually help in some cases. On a rather nice coincidence, Jeremy Yoder is holding a carnival over at molecularecologist.com: Knowing What I Know Now – giving advice to yourself in the previous stage of scientific education/career. It’s very inspiring and full of excellent thoughts – I’m taking notes from all the contributions. And since I guess I’m now old enough – here goes a few things I’m glad I did as an undegrad and a few things I wish I had done better/differently:

Start Working/Doing Research (and actually show up)

I guess I’m mostly glad that I started working at a lab pretty early – at the start of my second year. It wasn’t paid or anything , I just started working towards what should be my Bachelor’s degree. I only wish I had started in my first year; maybe then that first year wouldn’t have been so depressing with only the often boring introductory classes to occupy me, but I just couldn’t make myself do anything about it.

To be fair, I don’t think I did too well at that first lab. For one thing, at least at first, I rather failed at the showing-up part because I used to be so hung up on the actual studying. Looking back, I needn’t have studied so hard. I know, it’s a bit weird, but I was so afraid of failing classes that I studied too much (my friends certainly thought so). I could’ve balanced classes and lab work better. Oh well. Showing up is key.

Try out different labs

The second thing I’m very glad about is that, after sticking with the first lab for roughly two years, I finally braced myself to leave (for some reason I was rather scared to do it). So I applied to a number of summer internships at quite a few labs (there’s this cool centralised science summer internship programme in my country, but I’m sure there are all sorts of different opportunities everywhere). And it turned out really well. So well that I’m still at the same lab more than two years later.

Also, It might be common knowledge but I didn’t know it and, in the transition process, I also realised that the work atmosphere and stuff like that is just as important as the research project. Or something. I pay a lot of attention to that now.

Take challenging classes

I’m also glad that I braved some challenging elective classes. Those turned out to be my favourite courses, even though I had to work more than I would have otherwise.

Going abroad to study for a semester is another idea I’m glad I had. I was told I should save it for later when I’ve studied more, but I’m glad I did it in my third year, even if I didn’t use all the opportunities that the trip presented. I managed to get reasonably good grades in a couple of rather tough physics classes, so it worked wonders for my confidence. Quite frankly, that alone would be enough for me to be completely satisfied about the whole thing.

I only kind of wish I had done more suggested (not required) background reading during those 4 years of Bachelor’s studies; all those books professors suggested at the beginning of each course – I checked out hardly any of them. Darn House, Doctor Who et al.

Feeling so grown-up, I think, I’ll go play with my Legos now to forget it,

Noodle.

P.S. I’m really not sure if I actually know anything. I just feel that instead of blindly stumbling in the dark, I have a candle now, but I still can hardly see. Maybe by the time I finish a Post-doc I’ll have a flash-light, or something.

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Anxiety, Maths, Quests and Stuff

First, I guess I have to say that I love Maths. Admittedly, not enough as to actually major in it, but I love the neatness of numbers and the way we can describe so many things in nature in the condensed form of equations. It’s reason, it’s logic, unencumbered by unnecessary weight of too many words. Now, don’t get me wrong, Maths doesn’t always come easy for me. Its tasks are daunting at times but so are many other tasks as well. I persevere and resulting light-bulb moments of understanding make the frustration (and sometimes tears) totally worth it. It’s like a quest for my brain.

Over the last several months I’ve been reading a lot about the fear of Maths. Folks want to give up on teaching Algebra for kids. People have done some research on the fear of Maths. They found that Maths anxiety actually causes people to feel physical pain, or something like that. It makes sense that anxiety causes physical unpleasantness, I know it only too well myself. What I don’t understand, I guess, is why Maths is singled out of all possible school subjects which may cause anxiety. Yes, after reading and writing, Maths is probably the next most important subject in our daily lives – numbers are everywhere, and all. I wonder, why reading doesn’t seem to cause much anxiety in people. Maybe it’s the actual thinking that’s always involved in Maths (reading becomes sort of automatic after you get it). I wonder if researchers asked their subjects to perform a logical thinking task that’s formed in words instead of numbers, would the outcome be different?

Also, I wonder why I don’t hear about these things in my home country. Maybe we’re still feeling the remnants of the Soviet Union repression when, it seems, it was forbidden to talk about pretty much anything of consequence. And yet, the kids go to school, study Maths and other stuff, some are better at it than others, but no one seems to make a big deal out of it when someone finds it difficult and needs to put in a lot of work to learn the Math.

I wonder why so many people succumb to the Maths anxiety so badly. Maybe it’s an actual disorder like social anxiety or something, when one can’t possibly fight it. I’m glad I don’t have it.

I’m off to battle things that make me scared and anxious because I don’t like giving up, fear cuts deeper than swords*,

Noodle.

*I’ve been working my way through Game of Thrones, I can feel a new obsession coming on.

It’s a Love/Frustration Sort of Thing

Disclaimer: the following paragraphs are the product of a brain which spent entire Sunday trying to catch up with studying. Please, just go along with it, it made sense in my head, but might have got scrambled somewhere down the neural pathways, or something. Thank you for your cooperation.

Lately, I feel I’ve been hearing a lot about this thing called ‘alternative careers’ (in science) because apparently loads of folks holding PhD degrees can’t find a job in academia. Before, I actually hadn’t even considered that I could work somewhere else.

However, the last couple of weeks have been absolutely crazy at the lab because a task I hoped to have a few months to finish suddenly got a much closer and more strictly enforced deadline (meaning, I actually can’t let it swoosh past). And naturally, when one is in a hurry all sorts of things start to go wrong: stuff that is always cumbersome is even more cumbersome, things that shouldn’t take much time suddenly requiring a lot of tweaking, and even things that you take for granted fail. The latter is particularly annoying because it takes so long to determine what actually went wrong. Which means working way past reasonable time every day. And the situation is not helped by the fact that I still have to go to those pesky classes, because, hey, mid-term and assignment-presenting season is approaching.

So, the concept of a 9-to-5 job (and no classes) is sounding pretty good right about now. But. Even though I’m dead tired and frustrated every day, I still can’t help but sort of love it. Especially when I’m the first to arrive at the lab in the morning or when I’m the only one left at night, working. I don’t know how to describe that feeling exactly but it feels cool. However, at the same time I just kinda hope it doesn’t last too long,

Noodle.