Tag Archives: choices

WTF Is My Area/Field/Forest of Interest?

It’s been rather slow these past few days, so I’ve been thinking a lot. Mostly about the prospect of starting my PhD studies. I’m working towards a Master’s degree right now; I’m graduating next summer. It seems quite a long time, but it’s not too early to start thinking about it, right?

There are, obviously, a load of factors to consider, and quite a few of those will probably ultimately boil down to be determined by “whichever place accepts me”, but I decided that I should at least determine what sort of topic / area / field / whatever I’m most passionate about and would like to devote 3 or 4 years of my life for.

Because, the thing is, I had never made an entirely conscious decision to choosing a research project. Let me explain. I first started looking for research opportunities when I was a freshman at university because I was bored out of my mind and because doing research was what I wanted to do, but being freshman I didn’t really know what I could do and how to find a lab and stuff. So, I simply went to my study programme’s supervisor and was, like: “Um, I want to do research, can you help me?” He asked me what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know, so we determined that using a simple process of elimination, and I ended up deciding that I’d like to work with small things (like cell cultures and stuff), and he helped me set up a few meetings. After a couple of misses and some more help from other people, I ended up at a cancer research lab which was fascinated with Nanoscience applications in cancer detection and treatment. I worked there for a couple of years and a series of baffling and unreproducible results (but I had an excellent supervisor and learnt loads). Then I found out about a summer science internship program which came with a stipend. I applied for a number of bio/chem/phys field internships that sounded interesting (a lot of them sounded interesting). Funnily enough, the only internship I ended up accepted for was one I almost didn’t apply for because the description sounded rather intimidating. And here I am, two years later, continuing and expanding on the project for my Master’s thesis, making stuff with laser light. It would seem that this slightly random process has been rather lucky for me. But I don’t know if I want to trust that same process with my PhD; I think that I should have at least some sort of sense of direction.

Thus, I come to my problem – I find the whole frigging world fascinating. Nice problem to have, when you come to think of it, isn’t it? Well, at this point I probably won’t head into Geology or Astrophysics. But the part of Nature that replicates is still rather wide open. Though I can narrow that a bit further because I don’t fancy field work much, I prefer the controlled environment of the lab bench or even laminar-flow hood for cell cultures (which, after 6 weeks of internship I hardly ever find annoying anymore). But where to go from there? Do I try to decide what problem I find most pressing in the world? That would be climate change, I guess, but that’s largely a political problem too and I just get frustrated by that sort of thing very easily. I don’t know if I’d like it to be my job. And at this point it occurs to me that perhaps the advice to not do a PhD until you’ve figured out what you’re most passionate about is not so bad (even though I actually decided that I didn’t want to wait, though I reserved the right to change my mind). At the very least, it gives you time to explore (maybe I’d find that environmental science or solar panel development is actually something I’d like to do). But what if several years from now I still won’t have found THE area? Because I know one thing right now – I know that I love doing research, I love learning, I love exploring how Nature works, be it in the form of a bundle of cells growing in a flask, or tiny balls of atoms glowing in the dark. And, ultimately, I want to share it with other students, and I pretty much need a PhD for that (or at least be in the process of getting one), so why wait? Perhaps THE area isn’t so important because I’m fascinated by so many things? I also must consider the fact that if I narrow in too much*, I won’t have much choice and the chances of not finding a position increase. And it’s not like I’ll be stuck with whatever I do my PhD in for the rest of my life, right? Perhaps I should just trust that the slightly random process that led me here, will continue bringing me to cool places? Are there any options I haven’t considered?

Lost in thought,


P.S. Yes, I realise that I started the post with the decision that I should determine an area of interest, but ended up thinking that it’s not so important after all. That’s how my thought process works sometimes – I’ve just been turning this around in my head for a while now and wanted to get it out there (and hopefully get some feedback), so I can move on.

*And I don’t want to narrow in too much at all – I chose to major in Biophysics (partly) because it covered the widest range of subjects in the first place.

Choices, Anyone? (Couple of Thoughts on ‘My Sister’s Keeper’)

So that’s midterm time for you. I haven’t had time for anything but studying or staring at a fixed point in front of me, my brain fried from the excessive information intake, for three weeks or so… Actually, that’s not entirely true. I found time to read a book. Actually, I couldn’t help it. It sort of happened – I love when people say that something “sort of happened” or something like that – I always find it kind of funny, how can something just happen, but then it happens to me and I totally understand. So, here’s what happened.

I was really distraught after one particularly nasty midterm and decided to do some shopping therapy. So I went into a book shop. I know, not exactly your usual choice for shopping therapy, but that’s what I felt like doing at the time. I had my eye on a few books for some time, but it was something unexpected that caught my eye. Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper. Paperback, original English version (I don’t read original versions much, except for Harry Potter and Jane Austen, but I somehow didn’t felt like reading a translation of this one). Of course, I’d heard about the book (and the movie), I knew that it was about a girl who has cancer or something. I opened it and read the first page… And anyone who doesn’t want to be spoiled should stop reading here (yeah, a Harry Potter fan habit). Proceed at your own risk.

So, I read the Prologue. There this girl is telling how she once tried to kill her sister, but their dad came in and stopped her (by the way, anyone who’s read this book – which sister’s memory do you think the Prologue is? ‘Cause I’m rather confused). That got me. I don’t exactly why. Or maybe I know. It was the dad. I like when there’s a nice / interesting dad / father figure in a story. I bought it. And that’s how it happened. I took it out on the bus home and had to tear myself from it every time I needed to do something like work, eat or study. I finished it about 36 hours after I bought it, at 2 a.m. The feverish haste I was reading it, drinking in every word, reminded me of how I used to read Harry Potter books as they were just coming out. My Sister’s Keeper is pretty much nothing like Harry Potter, of course, but they seem to have had the same sucking-in effect on me.

Actually, now I come to think about it, there’s also a theme both stories explore – the theme of choices. They are so different about the way they deal with it, and I love it in both stories. In Harry Potter, everything depends on Harry’s mother choosing to die for him and later Harry chooses to die and by doing so saves everyone. In My Sister’s Keeper, Anna is fighting for the right of choosing to stop saving her sister (though everything turns out to be rather more complicated than that), but in the end she doesn’t get that choice anyway – fate (or whatever) takes it away from her, and her organs are used to save her sister. When I finished the book, I was really frustrated about that. My mum always says that you do what your heart tells you (or what you can or whatever) and in the end everything works out just as it should, and I guess I agree (from my limited life experience), but it just sucks when that “should” is not in your favour, or in this case, not in Anna’s favour.

Part of the reason why I was so annoyed with the ending, I think, was that all throughout the book I didn’t like Kate (the sick sister) very much. And then it occurred to me that up until the Epilogue we don’t actually get to hear Kate’s point of view. Even though the book sort of focuses on her illness, all of it (apart from the aforementioned Epilogue) is told from other people’s point of view. I think that’s kind of brilliant decision made by the author, actually – that everyone seems so focused on this girl, but they don’t really pay attention to what her needs are, just what her illness needs, so to speak.

It’s been a while since any book has gripped me so much that I actually want to talk about it in detail, only for that I need to reread it again.

Missing high-school lit class,