Thursday, May 11, 2006

Cast of Characters

To tell you much about my graduate experience, I’ll need to introduce some people. Since the structure of my group was so well defined, it might be easiest to remember us in order of seniority. Therefore, I’ll use greek letters for identification.

Some general rules (which may be violated in certain instances). We are separated in seniority by about a year. This makes the hierarchy quite simple and we follow it relatively strictly. It’s a friendly group – bright and fun and helpful. I fell in love with these people from the very first moment and they continue to impress me a great deal.

We come from a few departments and do varied research in the same general niche. Therefore we can all help with general concepts – programming questions, processing steps, technical details – but apply said knowledge in different areas. This offered an incredible opportunity to be exposed to a variety of projects while understanding the core of each.

I wrote this out then decided it was one of those “what the hell are you thinking?!” posts. So I’ve changed details as much as possible while retaining some semblance of reality. My stories won’t make sense otherwise. That way I won’t worry about taking this down should I be discovered here online.

α - Our leader. He grandfathered in when Advisor started the group and is handsome, brilliant and charming. He graduated after my first year, and is now in a tenure-track position.

β - She took me under her wing at my first visit, and I huddled there for some time. We’re friends, yet similar enough to be viciously competitive and catty at times. She’s smart, funny, and a bit resentful that the boys excluded her. We were friends because she needed a companion on the lab. But the relationship has been beneficial to me, plus I really like her a lot. She graduated mid-way through my second year and is now a faculty member at her post-doctoral institution.

χ - Likely my favorite of the group. Vibrantly intelligent, he’s one of, if not the, best teachers I’ve come across in my years of education. I know more about my field and its intricacies from him than any other person. He’s also incredibly kind and was supportive beyond all bounds of what should have been expected. I still ask him for advice – big and small – first. He’s completing his post-doc soon and will decide whether to continue in research or teach.

δ - This is where the system gets complicated. δ joined the group as an undergraduate right around the time χ appeared. He has done a great deal of research in his graduate career. By far the most aloof of our little group, I told him after the first year that he was “mean” and he’s since made more of an effort to cater to my sensitive feelings.

He’s undeniably sharp, but makes you work to obtain his knowledge. He’ll suggest reading, ask intimidating questions, try to prove how very much smarter he is when compared to you. His teaching style – to me – is that anti-χ and therefore doesn’t work all that well. He is incredibly funny once you get to know him. I’ve laughed harder and more often at him than anyone. I like him a lot, but it took me the longest to get comfortable with him. He remains at my graduate institution, likely to finish within the next year.

ε - Officially at δ’s level in graduate progress, but clearly below him in the hierarchy. I feel like you all know me at a more personal level that hints at who I am professionally but perhaps isn’t identical. I’m exceptionally sweet and accommodating – an easy collaborator, eager to learn, willing to do the inconvenient work to make progress. I’m impatient at times (a lot of the time), but always willing to hear stories, giggle at jokes, commiserate over bad luck. I’m smart, but I rely on other people a great deal – some out of laziness, some because I feel it’s highly efficient to use outside knowledge to make internal progress. I’m right around the one year mark of my post-doc. Notice that the departure order got screwed up with me. I should have left behind δ (or around the same time), but fled early.

φ - Arriving about a year after I did, he was the reason (or part of it, anyway) for the graduation order snafu. He was completing his work in 3 years rather than the requisite 5, and it freaked me out enough to finish up as well. But that’s not really the point, though it plays in to one of my stories.

He is one of the kindest, gentlest people I’ve met. Soft-spoken, well-read, incredibly polite. He wanted nothing other than to read his books, do some experiments, write some code that he would freely give to anyone who asked. A teacher, undeniably, but one who becomes lost in the material – engrossed to the point that the casual student will quickly grow frustrated at the amount of detail presented from φ’s sheer joy in how elegant and lovely our work is. While I resented his quick progress a bit – especially since he employed a different strategy than I did - I feel quite protective of him and am proud of his progress. He’s also nearing the year mark of his post-doc.

γ - He joined us about 6 months after φ. Hit the ground running – I got incredibly jealous when his publication record shaped up much faster than my own. A natural programmer who rivaled χ in skill as well as teaching ability. Friendly, smart, easy to work with. An excellent student, and a guy I like a great deal. He’ll do well, and remains in the middle of his graduate work while providing assistance to less senior students.

η - She joined a year after γ, and I mentioned her earlier. Oh, she thought she was brilliant, and didn’t fit with our outwardly humble group attitude. Immediately established some mild hostility from most of us due to her lengthy stories and lack of appreciation for our delightful tales. Her progress has been slightly slow, but I think my leaving helped her a great deal in becoming more independent. She would say she’s always been quite capable and needed minimal help. I would disagree. But she’s hitting her stride – still a bit blunt, can rub people the wrong way, but is smart and capable.

Example? Because I feel I'm being overly hard on her? I asked her how things were shaping up for her graduation and she said, “No offense to you, but I wouldn’t leave in 4 years. If I’m going to do a PhD, I’m going to do it right.” I shook my head and smiled. Offensive, wasn't it?

ϕ - The order’s going to get screwed up again here because we have someone who started as an undergrad. So I’m struggling to rank the last 2 members. He’s still early in his research, but has a strong grasp of the material and is more than capable of making quick and high-quality progress once he escapes from coursework. Friendly, funny and quite sweet. I don’t know him well, and regret that. I like him – we email occasionally and it’s always pleasant.

κ - I helped recruit her and just can’t convince myself it was a good thing. She just doesn’t fit – has little interest in the research, struggles with classes and has stayed quite stationary in terms of research progress. I think she knows little more now than she did at the beginning and is at the stage of her career where that’s becoming unacceptable. I don’t believe it’s a question of ability, but rather one of interest. She’s one of us, but we frown over her lack of excitement in a field we all adore.

So, some dramatic detail was added, but these are loosely based on my graduate companions. Stories to follow.

My internet runs out tonight around 8PM local time (countdown to doomsay begins – should anyone seem me wandering the streets of Seattle late tonight, I’m searching for wireless signal) and I’m continuing on to a small but well-populated island in the Pacific for a few days. So I’ll be flying (and flying and flying due to a crappy reservation and multiple layovers) tomorrow but will update when I can (likely in a couple days).


post-doc said...

You may not realize it, but I think you’ll miss me a little bit as I travel. :) In moments where I'm not uncomfortable and tired over the next day and a half, I shall miss you too.

JustMe said...

i'm already waiting for the stories, i was so excited to get to them! i guess i will have to be patient :)

Jane said...

Have a safe and fun trip! Can't wait to hear the stories when you return.

post-doc said...

I'll have time to write stories tomorrow, so I'll post them upon landing in Hawaii. In the meantime, I'm waiting every second for them to take my internet away, so I'm breathlessly sucking in all the online reading I can! I might have some sort of blog addiction problem...

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