Tuesday, December 07, 2004


'Did you say ten to twelve o' clock?', I disbelievingly asked the Professor, who was holding his chemical court for freshmen in room E440. I stared at him, stared at my reservation form which said I had reserved the room for my qualifier at 11.00, then back at him again. 'That's right. I am teaching in this room from ten to twelve today. I'm sorry. There's nothing I can do', was his cold-hearted reply. I realised that these things don't happen just in India. Getting a room reservation in the Chemistry Department is hard, and I had reserved this room almost ten days ago for my qualifier, the yearly ritual which makes my mind cringe. After all, it's just once a year that the faculty gets to eat your heart out. 'Somebody in the administration' had messed up the room reservation schedule.

Meanwhile, the three members on my examining committee were frantically running around all over the place trying to find me and the room. Somehow, I managed to round all of them up, and finally saw an empty room. In I went and downloaded my powerpoint presentation in a flash. And so began my presentation quite smoothly...for about 20 minutes (the duration is supposed to be an hour). Someone knocked on the door. Inorganic Chemistry class at 11.30. Out goes our brigade again, laptop and evaluation sheets in hand. Is no room available? What about the conference room next to the office? Looks good. As we sit down, someone from the office comes in. There's a lunch seminar at 11.45. The next attempt to find a room reveals none in sight. Finally, Prof X sees a small room lurking in the corner? It's the chairman's office, with no board, black or white, and no overhead projector. Would the chairman mind? Does he even need to know? In we go quietly. Nice, cosy, small office harbouring THE chair of the department. Would I like to sit in it, asks my advisor? No, thank you, I say. I am trying to make sure this is a honest, typical qualifier exam. Seeing my hesitation, Prof X jumps in the chair. He is known for his provocative articles even in the most formal scientific journals. An iconoclastic and formidable expert in his field, he would make more than a few souls squirm if he occupies that chair (Not that he would like to...far from it). Seeing him in the chair tickles my advisor's funny and poetic bones. 'Ahh!', he says mockingly to the man in the chair. 'A bloodless coup, I suppose!'. My third committee member, a young and brilliant assistant professor from Caltech, nods somewhat grudgingly. My advisor cannot resist the opportunity and takes a picture of Prof X with his cell phone. 'We ought to send this to everyone in the department!'. During this time, I am wondering whether this is a graduate qualifier exam or a pre bar-mitzvah informal gathering. Suddenly my advisor probably notices my presence. 'Oh, yes! About those calculations of yours...'. That's it. No more presentation. I should have spent all that time in eating pad Thai or something, instead of making all those slides. After a few more minutes, a few tough and many not-so-tough questions, and a few general comments (The most enduring one being the ominous 'Never trust what the computer tells you') I am sent out to wait to hear the verdict. The options on the evaluation sheet read:
1. PhD. candidate
2. Possible PhD. candidate
3. MS candidate: will leave with MS at the end of current semester
4. No degree: will leave by end of current semester.

Mirror mirror on the wall, will this be the end of it all?? But no. Inspite of the most informal and disrupted exam of my life (Another lesson in American nonchalance), the three examiners think it's still worth to tolerate my presence in the department. They come out and shake my hand and suggest a few things. My joy and anticipation of celebration quickly subsides when my advisor says, 'Well, about those nucleosides, I think it would be a good idea if you did some more claculations on them...I will be going out of town on Thursday, so make sure you turn them in to me by then...'

Another day in the life of a graduate begins tomorrow. That was hardly my idea of either a peaceful or a gruelling one hour qualifier exam. But that's graduate school. Whatever the vicissitudes of research and PhD. committees, the show goes on. Next year, I hope to stay in one room the entire time.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congrats !!!! :) .....
Now for the trip home .....

7:53 PM  
Blogger Saket said...

Congratulations! Soon will arise Dr. Jogalekar

6:03 PM  
Blogger Hirak said...

Hope your work and its results turn out to be more predictable than the vagaries of the finding rooms.

9:44 AM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Neelesh: Thanks! Hope to see you in aple Pune!
Saket: Thanks! Although I don't know how soon soon is...
Hirak: Thanks! Maybe the vagaries of room finding were precisely a prelude to the nature of my research!

9:56 AM  

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