Saturday, April 28, 2007

High points

High points of my big day

The Ph.D defense consists of a ~ 1 hour talk which is public and open to all, followed by a private exam which consists only of 5 committee members and the student.

My best friend from high school was here for my defense! That meant a lot to me. She has little to do with molecular biology or gels or anything. Throughout my talk, every time I looked in her direction, I found her nodding emphatically to whatever I was saying. It was very reassuring. After the talk, she came up to me and said "I didn't understand a thing, but great job!" :D

I finally got to wear my 3-piece suit! My dad bought me this suit when he came to the U.S. as per my sister's specifications that I had to have one. I have owned this for 6 years now and never had an opportunity to wear it. Academic life gives you few opportunities to dress up- and the skirt was not the best idea for my post-doc interviews in biting cold. I am so happy I could finally wear it, and it looked great! :-) (yeah, you've to take my word for it, no pics)

The seminar room I gave my talk in was house full! About 40-odd people showed up. It was very flattering and the show of support made me feel really good.

My advisor gave me a glowing and affectionate introduction. My friend D video-taped my talk, so I have it on tape too, so I can share it with my parents.

The talk went off really well. Both my advisor and I got several huge compliments at the end of it, from students and professors alike, and many more emails later praising my talk. My advisor's words "You blew them away, you have set the bar really high for all future defenses". That's high praise, coming from her!

My advisor has been beaming like a proud mother whose first child took her first step. It is so nice to watch her like that. She was giving me a ride home at the end of the day, and got so emotional about how I had helped her set up lab and how I was now leaving.. aww. It is such a different side of her that I am seeing now.

I have always gotten emotional, and shed tears while at the defenses of my friends, when they came to the acknowledgments slide. When I came to the end of my talk, and pulled up my personal acknowledgments slide with photos of my parents, sis, b-i-l and niece, and the names of all the wonderful people who've been with me through this trip, I DID NOT cry! :-) I was so scared that I would cry, I was sobbing for 20 mins while I made that slide at home. During my talk, I did the whole voice cracking and gulping and pausing to drink water bit, but managed to hold back any tears. My best friend, sitting in the audience, apparently made up for it (my advisor told me later). :-)

My advisor hosted a party for me the next day, to which also several people showed up, including my H.O.D who made the trek from another building. My committee was treating me like an equal and it was an awesome feeling.

One of my committee members during my post-defense exam "I was really annoyed while reading your thesis. It is the first time I had to work so hard to find anything wrong". :D

Oh, but they all did find mistakes galore, and I have less than a day to fix them and turn them in, so I better get back to work. :-)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Mother of all anti-rants

TGFI is now Dr. TGFI

Got done with my thesis defense about an hour ago. I am currently in class administering the final exam for the class I teach, and posting via email. Later this evening, there is much alcohol waiting to be consumed, and it is quite unlikely that I will be in a position to operate a computer after that.

Meanwhile, I want to thank all of you for hearing me out, humoring me and egging me on to the finish line. You are all a huge part of my big day & so you are among  the first to hear about it!  I am not yet drunk, so this is my heartfelt, very genuine thank-you!!!

Several associated rants and stories are long overdue, and you will all get to hear them in due course. :-) For now, I just feel dazed- and must make sure my students don't take undue advantage of that!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

'overheard' on orkut

bimbette#1: "I'll tell you on the phone. dun wanna write here where every1 can read"
bimbette#2: "haan yaar, so bad na, i wish ki orkut pe thoda to privacy hota"

eediyots all!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

On memories

A commenter left a very nice comment on one of my old posts, and I quote

its not so important to remember individual events as the feeling something inspired in you, and the experiences and what you've learnt from it.

They were timely words then, and even more timely now, as I am having to make keep and throw decisions about my own stuff. It's a bitter-sweet thing to do, and I am happy-sad. :)-:(

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The good doctor

A few years ago, one of my closest friends here, V, suddenly cut himself off from the rest of us for no apparent reason. I knew he was stressed, and assumed that he cut off communication because he needed some space. But things went from strange to bizarre, and the last straw was a very disturbing email he sent me and another common friend in response to our emails, filled with swear words very uncharacteristic of him, asking us to back off and accusing us of conspiring against him. Much as we racked our brains, it made no sense. I tried confronting him at his home only to be yelled at and have the door thrown in my face. Unable to make any sense of his behaviour, I was at a loss for what to do next, and very scared. I went and told my advisor, who insisted that I call the counseling services on campus and talk to them. I decided to talk to a doctor on the condition of remaining anonymous, since I was afraid of making a mountain out of a molehill. The good doctor J heard me out, and asked for copies of the disturbing emails. I sent them to him after concealing my friend's name, but soon enough, the doctor insisted on knowing who it was, saying that it was a clear sign that my friend was disturbed and needed immediate help.

The events that unfolded since that are almost out of a movie. Dr. J went out of his way to reach out to my friend, perhaps risking his professional position in many ways. After denying help, V was taken against his will and forced into counseling services. Eventually, V took a break from school , went and stayed with his family for a semester, got medical care and attention, and came back to school to finish his degree. He was indeed suffering from a temporary stress induced condition wherein he was undergoing delusions and a break from reality. The right medical intervention and a break helped him recover and resume a normal life. Throughout the entire episode, there were several occasions I felt guilty, confused, worried that we had all over-reacted and many other things about what was going on. All these feelings were put to rest when my friend returned and was the same old person I knew. He had made a very good recovery, could openly acknowledge his condition, and made appropriate lifestyle changes to live a more stress-free life.

V lived alone, and was dealing with his fears (not knowing that he was ill) in his own way, having lost trust in all his close friends.I cannot imagine what might've happened if Dr. J hadn't intervened, and hadn't pressed to get involved. Dr. J's prompt actions and persuasion is something we have all come to be thankful for after this episode. Of course the magnitude of his problem is in no way comparable to the virginia incident, and I am not trying to play the blame game here, but the point I'm trying to make is that often the cry for help is made, and a lot can be done if this is heard and responded to in the right fashion.


The college student responsible for yesterday's Virginia Tech slaughter was referred last year to counseling after professors became concerned about the violent nature of his writings, as evidenced in a one-act play obtained by The Smoking Gun. The play by Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old English major, was submitted last year as part of a short story writing class. Entitled "Richard McBeef," Cho's bizarre play features a 13-year-old boy who accuses his stepfather of pedophilia and murdering his father. A copy of the killer's play can be found below. The teenager talks of killing the older man and, at one point, the child's mother brandishes a chain saw at the stepfather. The play ends with the man striking the child with "a deadly blow."

Reproduced from here

Hindsight is 20/20, but I can't help thinking a trained psychiatrist/psychologist's eye would've probably seen the hints to a very disturbed and sick person's mind behind that kind of writing.

Why wasn't this sick person attended to immediately? Is it because we have too many angst-ridden, perverted, depraved emotions being thrown around inconsequentially to a point of desensitizing everyone? Is it because nobody could actually take any action in the absence of a direct threat? Is it because nobody has the time to care?

An unnamed professor who taught Cho characterized his work as "very adolescent" and "silly," with attempts at "slapstick comedy" and "elements of violence."

, Cho's former creative writing professor, and former English department chairperson, says she was disturbed by the student's behavior and writing to the point of warning campus police and other officials about him, but was told they could not do much as no direct threat was involved and could not violate his rights of free speech.

Reproduced from the wiki

Glory be to free speech, the freedom to own arms.

Monday, April 16, 2007


Sometimes, writing can be fun. There are those a-ha moments and then there are times you rediscover what it is that you loved about this stuff. This stuff rocks and I wouldn't be happy doing anything else.

Other times, there are deadlines.

Saturday, April 14, 2007


Begin at the beginning and go on until you come to the end; then stop.
-Lewis Carrol

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Don't drive and sleep

After 6 years of living in the U.S, I only started eating from drive-through eateries this year- I have consumed more junk and fast food in the past few months than I did in the last many years of living here. Well- some things cannot be avoided and at this point I can only promise myself to get back to healthy cooking and eating when I am done with this madness.

Anyways- so I discovered yet another drive-through place and was returning from there with a brown packet of cholesterol, when I noticed rather badly placed signs on the road, making it a bit difficult for one to yield to on coming traffic while turning there. I was thinking in my mind how dangerous it was, and why nobody fixed it..and already made a mental wrote of writing to the city planners (yeah, I love doing stuff like that, especially when I have more important things to do). After consuming the contents of said brown bag, I went back to staring at the computer and thinking about how much my life sucked and how I should stick to salad for tomorrow and what my mom will say when she says the weight I have put on. It was all so depressing that I was debating between slogging it out at the computer or calling it a night...

Against my resolve, I gave in to the temptation of getting ready-made vegetarian deep-fried poison yet another time. I was hungry, preoccupied with guilt, and very sleep-deprived because I had hardly slept that night. My eyes were tired and as I pulled out, I kept falling on the steering wheel and tried to slap myself to wake myself up. I couldn't control myself and the next thing I knew was I was being woken up by blaring horns (including my own car's ) and I had crashed into the car in front of me. The bike rack that sits on the back of my car was all over me. Somebody was trying to extricate me from there- and I was thinking about how fat I had become.

I don't know if it's the thesis or the food that's giving me these nightmares. This has gotta stop.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Music and associated memories

We all know how certain songs evoke specific memories- "Please don't go" brings back vivid memories of my school farewell party; "The summer of 69" takes me back to a very specific day of college, to a specific place, going through some confusing emotions while sharing that song with a friend.."Devil's daughter" , in as much as I hate that kind of music, reminds me affectionately of my school pals who were wannabe rockers, complete with a wig and an air guitar. :).

"Every breath you take" takes me back to the day I saw Sting live in concert, and "With or without you" has many associated memories- of the time I was leaving home to come here, and of the day I saw U2 live in concert.

Raag Mohana Kalyani is the only raagam left that I can at all remember or can recognize if played. There used to be this particular Tillana that my dad played on the tape recorder at home that I really liked. I remember being snubbed by my violin teacher who told me it was too difficult for me to learn and I should stick to "ra ra venu gopa bala" and master that first. I quit the violin soon after that, and therein ended my stint in carnatic music. Some day, I will pick it up again. But even today, I can play that tillana in my head.

When I first joined my current lab, five years back, I was the first student, mine was the only computer, and then I owned only two cds that I played on the loop in the lab, because I needed some sound besides the sound of me talking to myself. The cds were a compilation of indy rock tracks by local bands of this town I live in. I was not the most familiar with that genre of music yet, but sung along anyway. Those were the days I was learning a lot of things for the first time, all by myself in the lab. I worked long and late hours, purely driven by the excitement of all those new things I was learning, and the challenges of trouble-shooting and debugging. Every 2 hours or so, the background music would repeat itself with unfailing regularity. But it never bothered me- I was too busy having fun.

A lot has changed since then. My taste in indy rock has become very defined, and I would not tolerate some of that crap I listened to on those cds back then. Our lab has grown, brought in company, diversity in music taste, and we moved labs (twice), to much nicer buildings and now have a music system that blares music all day long. I-tunes sharing lets us listen to a wide variety of music from everyone in the building.

But even today, when I pop one of these 5 year old cds in, I automatically become invigorated and motivated to work, the songs (even the crappy ones) take me back to that dingy old lab, my lone self, and that heady feeling of being completely happy and excited and making things work!

Just what I needed today. :)

Saturday, April 07, 2007