Working and Playing Hard :)

Hey everyone :),

Wow, a record number of viewers last week! You all make me so happy :). I suppose this would coincide with my beautiful color scheme change? I told my father that it’s “much prettier now”, but I’m not sure how many people enjoy the chartreuse and dark red combo just as much as I do. (I’m frequently people’s first encounter with “chartreuse”, in fact, which friends feel should be some version of red / purple.)

As you can tell from that intro, I don’t have any driving thoughts to impart to you this week. It’s been a rather sleepless week, as I worked on writing a project proposal for lab during the day and applying for a fellowship at night. I’ve definitely reached some hard sleep limits (good to know, good to know…) but had quite a few fun nights as well. It’s my first time living the “work hard, party hard” life, and my conclusion is that while I can do it, it certainly is exhausting!

Today I’ve been doing a lot of sleeping, as well as hanging out with my dad, who is visiting from the US. His job takes him to Brussels occasionally, so after his work week he took the (underwater!) train up to Cambridge. We took some long walks around the city—he also commented on its compactness—ate a lot, and talked rather a lot as well. I’m apparently a veritable fount of words with him. It surprises me, because on the one hand, I was a motormouth in middle school. On the other, I’m more of a listener in most of my current interactions. Then you have that intersection when I’m with friends, and I’ll monologue for minutes at a time (this happens frequently enough that Tiffany calls it “Monica downloading”), but only with the reassurance that the other person is enjoying the continuous word flow and that they’ll want to speak for a while later. I suppose it’s the difference between social interaction being either fun but draining or part of my recovery mode—and new people versus family are my extremes :).

It was wonderful to have my dad up here, and especially to hear his perspectives on what’s going on my life. His conclusion to my mother: “Academically she isn’t being very challenged, but socially she’s being pushed.” And I hadn’t thought of it this way, but that is probably the fundamental difference in my life here. The funny thing about research is that—well, it’s not classes. By definition it goes at your own pace, because you’re figuring things out for the first time and not trying to cram massive amounts of information into your head. Sure, there’s pressure and deadlines to meet them, but everything’s on a much longer scale—months and years, rather than days. I’m putting in a lot of effort developing project proposals at work, and working on my graduate school essays at home. But I wouldn’t say it’s overwhelmingly challenging the way some of my courses were last year, because I’m currently in the position that “I’ve done all of this before”. I wrote my first legitimate research proposal last fall (which was overwhelmingly difficult) and saw computational material for the first time last year (again, very difficult). I’m at a pretty comfortable point right now, because I have a background in everything.

I’ve never been this continually social in my life, however. I have formal dinners every Thursday, which run for three hours and involve conversation that entire length of time. This Thursday was a particular doozy because we had Matriculation into our College at 6pm, and then formal hall until around 10:45pm. I then should have gone home and worked on my essays, but was too mentally tired to make it happen until I worked out for an hour or so. I had some great conversations—two of the people sitting next to me had done PhD or Masters work in America, so they were advising me about how to best navigate the PhD waters. The girl on their other side had spent two years in L.A. as an au-pair before she came to study here, and was telling me about how I needed to go to Austria for the Christmas markets. I had some rather slow conversations as well, where we had to get into the mode of “tell me about yourself” but the interest really wasn’t there. It’s so interesting how you can figure out whether it’s going to be a good talk or not within the first few minutes—I haven’t figured out what it is that makes conversation flow easily or not, but with all the practice I’m getting, hopefully I’ll be able to extract some insights!

My father was also telling me about some of the office politics in his work, and the (to me) astonishing amount of negotiation and managing he does. I told him that it sounded incredibly difficult, but he told me that what I was experiencing—navigating new relationships, lab relationships, all the tiny decisions that go into emailing people and communicating with people and grad school apps and everything—it all comes down to the same skills, just on a different scale. I’ve always been too busy to practice socializing properly—school came first, then sports, and being a varsity athlete makes you very efficient with your time—but this is the first situation in which I have the time and impetus to really spend a lot of time practicing these skills. So I sign up for formal halls on Thursdays, spend time chatting with my flatmates, talk with my labmates, sign up for any and all food events, spend time with the porters, go out occasionally for dinner… not anything out of my comfort zone, really, but just putting in the hours, because it’s never been as fun, necessary, or rewarding before. And so I go out and have a good time and learn to be more polished, and come back and hang out with my flatmates and they sigh at me because I’m ridiculous, because did you really just plop a frozen chicken in the pan on max heat and then dump two different kinds of noodles in one pot of boiling water—and hey, wait, this actually tastes good, would you stop skipping?

Speaking of social events (when do I not ;P), Friday night was M.L.T., which I was informed of very sneakily by my labmates one day. My first thought was: “ooh, I’m gonna get hazed now! I bet it’ll be fun.” What I said was: “Can I Google that?” It turns out I couldn’t google it, but it stood for Monthly Lab Thing, which I correctly guessed would be a hang out night with lots of drinking. (I don’t know of any lab that doesn’t designate occasional Fridays for drinking. Harvard Medical School, MIT, … in many ways we’re all the same everywhere :).) What I didn’t expect was that it was probably my favorite-ever drinking social event. It was so much fun. I can’t believe how much fun it was, how comfortable I was, how easy it was, how hard I laughed. I had, like, maybe a 1/6th of a cider with 4% alcohol content, so it couldn’t be attributed to that either. (Though that did make me copy peoples’ accents a lot more than what I usually do? Apparently no-tolerance Monica = more weird Monica, which, upon reflection, really doesn’t surprise me at all.) But whatever it is that makes conversation easy, my labmates have it, and we just had such a spectacular time. Maybe the magic was that Poly organized it, and she’s a master at this… but whatever it was, it’s always a revelation to me, when things just click so beautifully, when you’re just talking for hours and hours.

So lab’s going well, rowing’s going well, social’s going well, work and grad schools apps are coming along. My dad came and visited, my sister Nicole’s applying to college, my grandmother sent me a letter; I’m overseas and closer to family than ever. It’s funny how you expect certain things from an experience, and you always end up in a significantly different place than you started. I’m so thankful to be on this adventure, with so many happy surprises along my way :).

Please write with comments and questions—I expect the next few weeks to be rather slow with insights, as I’m mostly going to be in lab and working at home! And thank you so much for reading—the fact that you take the time continually amazes me, and continues to make my day :).

Monica

M.L.T. We have me, Vasilis, Andre, Poly (top row), and Lukas, Joseph, and Lizzy (bottom row). I attached the whole series of pictures. :)
M.L.T. We have me, Vasilis, Andre, Poly (top row), and Lukas, Joseph, and Lizzy (bottom row).

DSC_0120 - Copy DSC_0119 - Copy

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