When life gives you lemons

I enrolled in grad school a year ago and was all set to spend the next 5 years drowning myself in research when my supervisor decided to tell me she’ll retire. It came less like a shock and more like a quake. I didn’t know what to do.

I started (over-)thinking, whether she’ll postpone her retirement and join another institute or whether I’ll have to change my supervisor and field. Why she agreed to guide me in the first place? Why did I not think of this before joining? Why should I choose between an institute and a subject?

All of this wondering illuminated one truth: everything is temporary, you never know what will happen. I still don’t know how things will turn out, but I’ve made my peace with change.

A change often takes you by surprise and there is little you can do about it. Life just happens and you deal with it.

As I reflect back on a year old me, I laugh at how little she knew about her future. All she knew was that she loved science and that’s all she cared about. It didn’t matter to her where she gets to study, whether she’ll have friends or whether she’ll be able to order pasta at 1 a.m. I am jealous of that girl. She was prepared to plunge into the unknown because she knew she’ll be doing what she loves to do: Research. The current me, on the other hand, is freaking out because she won’t be able to order falafel roll and beer.

To heck with the beer, I don’t even like the taste. I have realized how accustomed I have become to this city and its malls. My dustbin is overflowing with takeaway containers and price tags. I have spent almost a year’s worth of savings and I am ashamed to say that I have 4 “cute” notebooks none of which contain a single drop of ink. I bought them just because they will motivate me to study.

Through all of this, one thing that I miss the most is my passion for science. Don’t get me wrong, it is still there, but I don’t act on it anymore. Even less so after receiving the news. I have been panicking and doing all kinds of ridiculous things to make myself better and silently praying that I don’t have to go. I haven’t read a single paper since. I haven’t done the one thing that could actually help, my work.

When life presents you with situations like mine, the best thing you can do is to do what you love and be great at it. Your work is the only thing you have control over and it is what matters most. So that is what I am gonna do. I am going to write that report on higher order spectra, starting with a literature survey.

It is okay to panic and cry loudly in the street but when the storm passes, make sure you go back and do your job.

Go back to why you are here, doing what you do. Go back to the love and the enthusiasm. If all else fails, at least you’d be content that you enjoyed your work and put your best effort in. Rest is just chaos.


You are good enough: A note to self

Dear me,

I know the past week has been as eventful as it could be. It was the most eventful week of your life, at least since the day you decided to pursue Science. Congratulations on achieving the fellowship and being in the top 2%. I’m really proud of you.
However, an anxiety has been gripping you ever since the result came out. You think you got it because of sheer dumb luck. Let me ask you, was it really just luck? Was sitting in that examination hall year after year your decision or fate? Wasn’t everyone telling you you made the difficult (aka wrong) choice? Who was the one figuring out color charges of quarks when she could have pondered about what colors suited her best for the date outfit? Yet you proceeded because you knew your heart. You knew you wanted it bad enough.

You had doubts. You knew it’d be difficult. You went for the interviews and blew it. Not once, not twice, but thrice, in a row. It was you who knew nada about Simpson’s rule but tried to integrate one upon x to the power n-1 anyway, in front of 5 scientists. Weren’t those 5 people laughing? A nobody trying to ‘do’ maths a new way, in front of 5 experts of the field. It was embarrassing beyond measure. Yet, at the end of the interview they asked you to keep working. They asked you to study some more and come back. They never said you can’t do it or that you don’t have the talent.

If the worst review you ever got was  ‘come back after more preparation’ (by the absolute best people of the field, mind you), you must have something. If they can believe in you, why can’t you believe yourself?

I know it all started after that response you got from a former acquaintance. He was the first one to literally say that you made the wrong decision and should have known better. Tell me, does he actually know you that well? He wouldn’t recognize your face if you were to appear in front of him, because you simply interacted a long time ago, very formally. He is judging from that impression of you, or rather a general impression of all the students he has met of your batch. None of your colleagues have sought this path. Clearly it is not a popular choice. He doesn’t know your journey or your expertise. He wasn’t talking personally about you, rather from a general perspective.

But that doesn’t mean he’s wrong entirely. He wants to convey that it would be difficult for you, thats all. He wishes the best for you. He thinks you would be better off in a career which is safe and familiar because that is what he views as the criterion for choosing a career. You, on the other hand, view things differently. You make choices based on your gut feeling.

Don’t get me wrong, I know you do your job diligently, day in and day out. You got the fellowship without any formal education, didn’t you? You really know your subject and you are sincere. But you know it isn’t exactly the lucrative or secure path. You are blessed in the way that you need not worry about financial matters as much as others. You can take risks. At least for now. But you can’t take the risk of regretting at the age of 80 that you could have been a scientist. You dread that the most. Hence you chose this way.

Even if it all goes to nothing, you will have the satisfaction of trying your best and learning laws of the universe along the way. Isn’t that all we need? To be consumed by a desire so great that even a great blow feels like a mosquito bite? To go to the bed with contentment and to rise with passion? This is what life is about.

Don’t get disheartened my love. There are no wrong paths. Every path is difficult. However, the kind of difficulty is different and felt differently by each individual. The path you chose resembles a little out of tune at the moment, but you’ll find your music. You have what it takes to get in tune with it, it would demand a bit more effort on your part, thats all.

Go forth with that resonates with your heart, because having your heart on your side will make you conquer everything.


It all starts here: dreams and goals

It all starts here: dreams and goals


Whatever Happens, will happen; and we shall deal with it when it does.

I have always felt joy in the idea of dreams. I believe that we all have our calling(s) in life; something we really, really want to do. Some of us get to make a career out of it while others settle with a hobby. Of course, many of us don’t understand what their “calling” is and if it is but an illusion. No matter what your stand on this is, I think you would agree that we all feel different levels of enthusiasm depending on the task at hand. I call it your calling for which you feel most enthusiastic.

My Story

I chose to become an engineer because they get jobs easily. Later, I decided to go into basic sciences and study for a doctorate (It hasn’t happened yet). The first time I tried my hand at sciences was two years ago, right after completing my degree. It didn’t go well. I was heartbroken, felt stupid. Still I wanted to carry on. I analyzed the situation, found flaws in my approach, felt better. I realized I needed to work on some topics and get my problem-solving skills up.

I worked on it for a year, got selected for interviews. It was finally working out. I was sitting with the graduate students and felt a sense of belonging there. All was good in the world, and dreams were coming true. Except that I couldn’t make it through the interview. My mind went blank. Answers were lost on me. Again, I felt stupid. I felt like I made a major mistake. I should have prepared well. I should have studied well. I didn’t deserve to be there, sitting among the candidates who devoted more than 5 years of their life, while I did only one.

I came back, working harder still. I revised my basics, and focussed only on the interviews and exams. I forgot why I was doing all this. The enthusiasm was all gone, all I had was the thought that I can’t let all my preparations go in vain. I need to make it this time. People started questioning my choices and suggesting alternate routes. I felt like I needed to “prove” myself to them. I needed to study but I couldn’t. I felt like I’ve failed.

I decided to give it up. I decided to let myself breathe and think about it. I discussed everything with my folks and they were a little disappointed that I was giving up (I have been living with them since graduation so they know all I have been through), but they agreed that I needed a change. So, I gave up on science for a week and joined a class on a diploma course in finance. It was only math so I was quite comfortable. I knew that if I want to, I can succeed there. I knew it was in my capacity to make a reasonably good career out of it.

Only two days in however, I felt miserable. I was getting anxious because I was doing too well for my standards. It just didn’t feel right. It felt worse than struggling with a mechanics problem. I missed science. I couldn’t stay away from science any more. You know when you break up with someone because they have commitment issues? That’s how it felt like. I wanted to stay with science even if it didn’t turn into a career.

I dug deep and asked myself, what was the part I was missing? Did I miss the difficult problems? The math of complex integration?The agony of finding a calculation mistake after you have struggled an hour? Certainly not. Because I was solving challenging problems in finance also, and making the same stupid calculation mistakes. No, I was missing the sense of mystery. I missed the serenity you get when you finally understand that the basic laws of the universe are quite simple. I missed the joy of questioning everything and rejoicing when you finally get it.

I realized why I gave up on science. It wasn’t the frustration of exams or anxiety of interviews, but rather the lack of wonder. I had lost touch with “Science” per se, and was devoting all my time to fitting values into formulae. I had stopped dreaming and started working. It was two years since I last saw a sci-fi movie or a documentary on the life cycle of stars, the things that first brought me to science.

I realize now that all the paths in life are alike in the sense that they all have obstacles and highways. No matter what you chose to do, you’ll face a unique set of problems and have certain advantages over others. No path is easy or difficult. It depends on the person. It makes sense to do things you find joy in. I know success gurus emphasise on hard work and remind you that every path has struggles. But every path has beautiful things as well, and those are the things that keep you going.

The biggest mistake was, I had gave up on dreaming and was working for the gratification of having my shit together. I realized since that nobody has all their shit together. 

Allow yourself to enjoy your dreams, while you are working on making them a reality.

Because if you don’t, you will forget why you started and every path would look the same. Life sucks when that happens.