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Post-Exams and Pirates

My finals ended two days ago, and I’m still in my recovery period. I slept in until noon, ate junk food all day, and watched four episodes of “CSI: Miami” as well as other mediocre television that I can only tolerate after wearing out my brain. I can’t believe I actually watched an episode of “Laguna Beach” today. This show left me with a feeling of, “well, I may have failed my MIT finals, but at least I’m not like the rich, spoiled teenagers on this show.” That must be part of the appeal. Shows like this make normal people feel a little bit better about their lives.

I think another few days of laziness, Christmas cookies, and holiday marathons (where is the “Spike TV” James Bond marathon, I ask???), and I should be ready to face another semester. Assuming I don’t fail all my courses, I suppose…

Yes, finishing a college degree is tough. I’m finding grad school at MIT even more challenging than my undergraduate work, but that’s okay. I’m not sure that MIT– or any college, really– needs to be so stressful, but I guess that the college work I do is just a set of hoops I need to jump through so that I can live the sort of life I want to live. If it weren’t challenging, the degree wouldn’t be so valuable. At least, that’s what I tell myself to justify all the work I do.

Sometimes I wonder, though, if some of the work is just there to be difficult, not necessarily to teach me anything useful. At times I feel that the challenge of going to a place like MIT is just to prove that you can survive. When you have that degree, you show that you’re tough. You made it, both academically and psychologically. Not fun, but a necessary hoop, again, for doing what I really want to do. Of course, I do love many of my classes. I wouldn’t be in grad school if I didn’t. But certain classes… honestly, I just find them monotonous, difficult, and stressful at worst and marginally useful at best.

This coming summer, at least, I will be able to have a taste of the sort of life I want to live– I want to travel, and I want to study rocks. Today, I learned that my research cruise is leaving from Thailand in June. We weren’t expecting to leave from Thailand, and I’m very excited. I’ve never been to Thailand before, and I’m hoping to spend at least a couple of days there before we leave. I bet that the scenery and the food will be fantastic.

Tentatively, we are scheduled to end our cruise in Sri Lanka. My advisor forwarded me an email containing a debate about the Sri Lankan port. Apparently, the scientists as well as the people at Scripps who run the ship are worried about some “at-sea skirmishes” that have been occuring around Sri Lanka recently. They’re considering ports in the Maldives as alternates.

At-sea skirmishes? Wait a minute… that means they’re worried about pirates! And somehow I don’t think they mean the Johnny Depp sort of pirates. While I’d not like to run into any pirates (aside from Depp, of course) on my cruise this summer, I still am sort of hoping we end up in Sri Lanka. Because Sri Lanka sounds beautiful, and maybe we’d run into Arthur C. Clark. Then again, I’ve never been to the Maldives either… yes, another semester at MIT will be challenging, but it will all be worth it for this summer.


Evelyn is a geologist, writer, traveler, and skeptic residing in Cape Town, South Africa with frequent trips back to the US for work. She has two adorable cats; enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking; and has a very large rock collection. You can follow her on twitter @GeoEvelyn. She also writes a geology blog called Georneys.

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  1. But pirates are supposed to be helping reduce global warming! I reckon these modern day pirates are taking the nasty parts of piratical life and not the necessary parts (wearing of eye-patches etc).

    Maldives or Sri Lanka, either way sounds good!

  2. Unfortunately, I do think the Sri Lankan pirates are the AK-47 and RPG kind, not the musket and eight-pounder kind. What a complete bummer.

    It's funny, I was just having dinner with my mom and a friend of hers who just returned from working in Thailand. He painted the typical picture of Thailand as Disneyland for oversexed men.

    Fortunately, you're not an oversexed man, so you're free to skip the seedy bars and go straight to the beautiful landscape and amazingly delicious food. Huzzah!

  3. The thing about the "hoops" are that they don't just make you look tougher, they actually make you tougher. What they teach you is not necessarily the content of the class but the ability to study and learn complex things.

    I hope you passed all your exams and enjoy being lazy. And merry christmas!

  4. a lot of the people who are teaching you have no experience of learning theory, and fall back on how they were taught.

    Which means, a ton of trivial information to stuff in your head, since the internet wasn't available and texts might not be at hand on a ship or remote field station. Also, a lot of instructors never take the time to evaluate annually what information is need to know vs. nice to know. So, they just add more stuff, and the course gets more crammed with information. Since,the rate of info growth is expanding exponentially…you get the picture.

    So, while I know the names and feeding habits of a bunch of lice that live only on pinnipeds and bats, you know will know a bunch of trivial rock stuff.

    Mazel Tov.

  5. Well, MIT is not the only place to learn toughness. I spent some years in the Army, infantry/ special forces, and if you get the researchers to pay my way there and onto the boat I will defend you from any pirates… would love to travel around that part of the world! Just let me know when I need to take off work. :-)

  6. Yeah, if you want to hire any gunslingers/swashbucklers to fight off the pirates, you know who to call ;)

  7. I remember thinking much the same thing when I was in graduate school. However, I know realize that the main thing I was learning (in astronomy in my case) was how to really think about research-level problems. This is a lot more than just learning how to solve the problems they give you in the textbooks. It' really more developing the tools you need to deal with real data: figuring out what makes sense physically, or learning to interpret data and cut through the noise to find the really cool stuff. Even now that I'm no longer doing research, I still find that I'm using the habits of approaching problems that I developed in grad school.

    So yes, you're getting tougher, but you're also training to do the science. And you'll be amazed how much of this stuff will come up when you're out there in Maldives.


  8. Thanks to Evelyn, astrogirl and dkary for some insight into what it takes to be a professional scientist. It goes a long way to correcting the stereotype of ivory-tower intellectuals in sterile labs or air-conditioned lecture halls.

    Indeed I've read some accounts of what field work for advanced degrees is like, particularly when it takes you to remote areas. The general impression of such stories is that the scenery is often lovely, weather and climate permitting, but between work and other concerns (bugs, the attitude of locals to foreigners, food, toiletries, etc.), it's not exactly Cancun or Club Med.

    So I have a certain amount of respect for those who have jumped through such hoops, academic and otherwise.

  9. The problem with Sri Lanka is not pirates but the civil war. The Tamil Tigers have been attacking ports with suicide boats.

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