Tag Archives: Sweden

Why am I doing this?

A short one to hopefully get back into action

Oops. I was determined to post every week, wasn’t I? But things happened, as they tend to do. And to be perfectly honest, my anxieties and seasonal affective disorder or something got the better of me this time. My thoughts were all a-jumble and just wouldn’t cooperate with being put down. Things are looking up, though, in more than one regard, so here I am.

During this time, I’ve been sort of rethinking doing this PhD thing. Maybe even entertaining a notion of moving back home. I mean, as much as I enjoy Sweden and this university, perhaps it’s not worth all the anxieties and stress – and I haven’t even started the actual PhD yet! Especially, since some place along the road I suddenly realised that an academic career might not be my ultimate dream any more. The more I learn about it, the more aspects of it reveal themselves that seem quite unappealing (or worse). Of course, it’s pretty much impossible to find a job which would be all rainbows and unicorns, but at some point the negative might outweigh the positive, and you start wondering why you dreamt about it in the first place.

But despite all this, I still want to do the PhD. I figure, there are other jobs/careers where you can do science-y things of different sorts and having a PhD comes in handy. Besides, I do love doing science and I want to help humanity’s progress, however small my contribution may be. So, I think, it’s reason enough to do it. I can figure the next step out later. And who knows, I might yet change my mind about sticking with academia, I mean, it is sort of nice here, after all.

But meanwhile, I also need to investigate what lies outside the ivory tower,

Noodle.

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An Update On Things Happening

I seem to recall a resolution I made not to abandon this again… and then things happened.

Namely, last semester of my Master’s studies. Fun times of:

Finishing up my research project – which included a 3-week trip to Sweden, which was nice, even though I spent pretty much all of that time at the lab.

Writing thesis – about half of which was done over the course of 3 weekends spent in a house in the countryside, with no indoor plumbing and being constantly attacked by mosquitoes, while two of my best friends brought me food – those were probably 6 most productive days of my entire life.

Being bugged by that one professor who thinks that the last few months of our degree studies is the perfect time to broaden our horizons by making pointless presentations and writing pointless papers, which would normally be totally my thing (because I love random science), had it been, you know, not the last semester of my Master’s studies.

And… sometime in that period a totally dream-come-true (or so it seemed at the time – more on that at a later date, probably) PhD gig opportunity landed on me and I just took it.

Then I spent the summer actually finishing up my research project – I was finally able to solve that last problem which had been eluding me for more than a year. It actually felt more fulfilling and exciting than getting my Master’s degree. I also studied some for an English test I had to take to prove that I know enough English to follow classes or whatever. And I took an actual vacation, most of which I spent watching movies and reading because it was too hot to go outside.

And here we are, or more accurately, here I am – back in Sweden, trying to make good use of this gap time, if you will, before I become an actual PhD student.

This has been an update post because I’m kind of rusty at this blogging thing, promising to get better, even if only for my own benefit,

Noodle.

Thoughts From Stockholm Modern Art Museum. Part 3

This is part three of my thoughts about Stockholm Modern Art Museum. This will actually pretty understandable without reading part 1 and part 2.

When I finally felt that I had taken in all the little details of my favourite Picasso sketches and stared enough at my soul or at the upside-down wheel, I went up to the permanent exhibition. It was mostly Swedish artists and after Picasso and Duchamp, I couldn’t care too much about them, but I enjoyed the works from the second half of the 20th century. And then, passing almost absent-mindedly into yet another hall, my eyes caught ‘Andy Warhol’ on a sign next to the door. Oh, yeah, I thought.

It turns out that Warhol visited the museum in 1968 and they had a hilarious poster with an excerpt from what looks like an interview with Andy Warhol:

Do you think pop art is…

No.

What?

No.

Do you think pop art is…

No… No I don’t.

So, apparently, Andy Warhol’s pieces are also one of those that don’t have any idea behind them. At least, he himself claimed to want be more like a machine, and thus, made his art very impersonal. And that became an idea in and of itself, if that makes sense. I mean, you might not like this sort of art, but there’s no denying that Andy Warhol is a very important artist, people see all sorts of meanings in his works, even though he himself claimed not to want to think about them.

The museum actually owns one of his earliest prints of Marilyn Monroe, a huge black-and-white piece with 25 Marilyn heads. Apparently, Warhol started making those prints after her death, and he himself was fascinated by death and catastrophes (or so the informaion piece next to his paintings said). It would appear that his work wasn’t as impersonal as he wanted after all. I don’t have much to say about it, except, add yet another Duchamp quote (which is probably my favourite):

I force myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste.

Wow, I didn’t expect to get so much out one museum, perhaps I shouldn’t be allowed to go see art on my own after all – I get to think about it too much, and we know how dangerous that is. Also, I seem to have a bit of a crush on Duchamp, erm, yeah,

Noodle.

Thoughts From Stockholm Modern Art Museum. Part 2

This is the second part of my thoughts from the Modern Art Museum in Stockholm. The first part is here. This part probably won’t make much sense unless you read the first one.

My Art Academy friends always tell me how it’s all about ‘the concept’ of the artwork these days (i.e. they don’t only have to make an artwork but also explain the concept, the idea behind it), but until visiting the Picasso/Duchamp exhibition I never fully understood what that means. I love ‘art of ideas’! Even more so, because, again, it seems a lot like science to me.

However, one might argue, how can we know what was an artist’s original idea? If we don’t know the idea, there’s no point in the art. Maybe s/he didn’t think anything of it, at all. For instance, I rather think that it was the case with the bicycle wheel, which apparently was constructed as a distraction when Duchamp was upset after he was snubbed by a Cubist exhibition. But that doesn’t really matter, in my opinion. We can still look for meaning – that’s what humans do, don’t we? We can still see something that we wouldn’t see if we were just looking at a stool or a bicycle wheel. Maybe we can even (gasp!) see something inside ourselves.

Picasso, who apparently hated Duchamp’s un-art-like art, said that “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” In my opinion, Duchamp takes that pretty much literally: he takes everyday objects and ‘washes the dust away’, he makes us look at a snow shovel hanging on a wall, for example, and not think of the annoying chore (the title “In advance of a broken arm” can give a few fun ideas). However, I think, the problem might be that he, and modern art in general, sometimes makes us work a little hard, so to speak. He doesn’t present us with anything like a beautiful romantic landscape. Looking at a urinal on a pile of bricks and calling it ‘Fountain’, it may seem that a clean soul isn’t very pretty at all. But that’s how it is, isn’t it? It’s not all pretty inside each of us, and modern art makes us look at it. Or not. No one makes us look at art, and even much less actually see anything in it.

That being said, Picasso’s works don’t really hold up to the ideals of beauty either, do they? Weirdly distorted faces and body parts angling in weird directions, and, in later works, just piles of square shapes called ‘A Guitar Player’ or something. However, I find the process of the Cubist painting delightfully scientific. The idea being that in order to represent a three-dimensional shape on a two-dimensional canvas, you have to be turning your object full circle as you paint it. But we see what sort of weirdness comes out of this – this is also interesting from a science point of view, when we discuss how the object of our research is changed upon the act of measuring its properties. Maybe all we get is just weird distorted projections?

And here I’m going to insert another Duchamp quote that I picked up at the exhibition just because I like it so much:

If a shadow is a two-dimensional projection of a three-dimensional world, then the three-dimensional world as we know it is a projection of the four-dimensional universe.

I’m going to stop here, and save my thoughts on Andy Warhol and some other works from the permanent exhibition for part three,

Noodle.

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,

Noodle.

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,

Noodle.

Thoughts From Copenhagen

That was a very strange feeling: when the train approached the familiar city that wasn’t my home. I hadn’t experienced this before – coming back to a place that I had lived in, even though just for a few months. It felt kind of cool. I must say that I love that I’m old enough that I can come back to a place I had lived in before and which isn’t my home country.

I went to visit Copenhagen last weekend. I lived and studied there for a semester a couple of years ago. This weekend was nothing extraordinary perhaps. We didn’t party with the Pride Parade that just happened to be happening that weekend too, or anything. But it was so lovely when a familiar face greeted me at the station and I spent Saturday and Sunday with friends I hadn’t seen for a long time, just hanging out, geeking out at pretty Charles Dickens editions or just talking about nothing in particular (LeakyCon, VidCon, Doctor Who, Dexter, Bones, House were mentioned, among other things).

I wrote this up while on the train back to Sweden, so please forgive my sentimental side, it always wakes up on trains, for some reason,

Noodle.