Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Poop Group + 5 Differences With Grad School

October is just flying by. I looked at the calendar today and couldn't believe it was already the 25th! Personally, I blame the weather. Every fall I look to chillier temperatures and changing leaves to signal the passage of time, but it's been hovering at or above 20 degrees for all of October so it still feels like I just started (cue the boos and rotten tomatoes from all of you living in colder climates). Anyway, undoubtedly time has passed quickly because I've hit my stride here at Stanford, a lot of which has to do with the research group I've gotten involved with - the Poop Group.

In case you didn't know, I'm aiming to do my PhD here in water and sanitation in the developing world. Invariably, that has to do with either cleaning poop or preventing poop from spreading, hence the name the Poop Group. It's a really special group; the people are smart and insightful, and I can see myself thriving here for years. I covered how I'm not sure if I can stay (hint: it rhymes with bunding), but at the moment I'm just worrying about what I can control. Following that thought, I'm preparing myself for when funding does appear by organizing myself and my thoughts: I spent my weekend writing my funding research proposal despite not having any competition to enter it in.

Except I hit a roadblock. I couldn't narrow myself down to an original topic. Every time I read something, I thought, "Wow, what a great idea...why couldn't I think of that?" So, I did what I always do in these situations. I took a step back and I prayed for guidance and for wisdom.

Now, when they say God works in mysterious ways, they definitely mean it. As I began my search for an original topic, I came across an article on anal cleansing techniques in Kenya, an area where there's a large gap in literature. As I read more and more, looking for bits and pieces in the literature and getting more and more excited, I knew I had found my topic. The ideas in my head were connecting faster than a bullet train in Shanghai - "I could look at this, or this. Hmm, I wonder how this affects this?" Essentially, I see it as an unstudied pathway for contamination; no one's looked at it before because it's taboo and, frankly, it's gross.

So, while I had always considered myself a water person, I now face the prospect of devoting the next five years of my life towards bum-wiping practices. And you know what? I absolutely love that! If I can contribute to global knowledge in this way, then I'm honoured that this is my part.

God definitely works in mysterious ways.

Of course, as is tradition, here's five things that I've already noticed are different about being in graduate school:
  1. Undergraduates are annoying. This is probably pretty obvious. Any time you move 'up' a level, you belittle the level you just came from. This really hit home for me when I was eating lunch the other day. I was in an undergraduate dining hall ($5.95 for all you can eat? Hells yeah!) and I couldn't help but overhear this nerdy, probably freshman, kid try to strike up a conversation with this girl.
    Guy: "Have you read Ayn Rand? I really don't think her theory of objectivism..."
    Girl: "Hmm no, I haven't."
    *Awkward silence*
    I thought this was the most hilarious thing since sliced bread (that's not a typo, sliced bread is hilarious). Boy am I glad to be done with those times in my life.

  2. Everyone is working on something cool. All of my peers work in labs or groups or on projects that are at the forefront of their fields. Cancer biology, radiology, materials science, environmental engineering...I don't think I've ever walked away from a conversation about someone's research thinking, "Man that topic sounds so boring."

  3. There are a surprising amount of older people. I half expected this, but I was still surprised at how many people had been working for a while and came back to do grad school. If I had to venture a guess, I'd probably say the distribution was bimodal, with a fair amount of people just graduated and a fair amount of people in that 26-28 range who've done other stuff.

  4. There are a surprising amount of married people. I guess this is kind of similar to #3, but for the first time ever many of my peers are married. I haven't quite figured out how this changes dynamics (it hasn't really yet for me), but it's neat to have a more diverse background of people to share experiences and get perspectives from.

  5. You can take library books out for entire terms! This is my most exciting one. Are you like me? Do you hate having to return your library books every three weeks? (*crickets chirp*) As a grad student, you don't have to return books until you're bloody damn well done reading them. I think I just might read my books twice, just to get the full value out of them.
So as you can see I'm adjusting pretty well to extended-library-privilege graduate life. My research stuff is rolling and I'm already feeling that smug sense of superiority over undergraduates. Clearly, I've arrived.


  1. I kinda agree with you on the undergrad part, but there was this one grad student who HATED undergrads and belittled to the point I cried in front of her and she didn't care. To this day I still hate her. Angst much? Yeah, unfortunately she is still at UW.

    It kinda made me realize that yeah undergrads are kinda annoying, but I should be more accepting of others.

    /end rant

  2. Well certainly some undergraduates are bright and humble and are really interested in things. Their enthusiasm is something we as grad students can definitely learn from.

    But it still doesn't make me yearn for that stage of my life anymore, that's for sure.

  3. That's for sure. I think it's the work/assignments/stress/exams/midterms that push us away from that part of our life. The social aspect was great though

  4. Actually that's kind of the opposite of how I feel. I mean there was a lot of work, but where ever is there not a lot of work? What pushes me away from that stage of my life is that time of unknowing, where I wasn't really sure of who I was or what I was doing. I don't know, I always felt out of place in Waterloo, especially coming from out of province and with everyone focusing on jobs, and I don't think it ever really lived up to the expectations I had of college.

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