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.

Love,
-Sn

A note to self before the school year begins

I know you’ve got into your dream school. It is not clear how, and you do not need to find out. It was a collaborative effort by yourself, your family and countless people online who helped you stay on track but there is no need to label anything. Yet, you need to remember that it was a collaborative effort in any case and you are not alone no matter what happens. If you do well, that is great but if you feel overwhelmed, just breathe. It is important to keep your health in check, in all scenarios. If everything fails you can always go back, although I would advise you to keep going no matter what. It is a big achievement nonetheless to come this far and you can only do better.

Here are a bunch of tips for you to live by:

  1. Study like it is the craft you know and love. Study for knowledge but also for useful skills. It is those skills that translate into action and change the world.
  2. No matter how small, a mystery is still a mystery and your mission is to solve it. Even if it is mundane, small, insignificant detail, it still completes the big picture.
  3. Science is logical. Don’t expect mercy if you put in wrong numbers.
  4. Keep yourself in check. Finish well before deadlines but submit on time (not before time).
  5. Know that the first draft always sucks and thus you need to write it no matter how much you don’t feel like it. Read Mark Manson’s Do Something Principle.
  6. Eat healthy, at least once a day.
  7. Keep only one non-fiction book at a time. You probably wouldn’t have time to read that even.
  8. Remember that your legacy should not be how many clothes/books/stationery you own but what you did with what you have.
  9. Give the benefit of doubt. Don’t jump to conclusions immediately.
  10. Keep your tongue in check, it often betrays and badmouths people.
  11. Never forget where you came from. Help and reach out to those who are still hanging in there.
  12. Build honest relationships. Those last.
  13. Help someone you know can’t/won’t pay you back.
  14. Simplify. Simplicity always helps.
  15. Keep your hobbies alive. Learn that language you find funny.
  16. Nothing is set in stone. You can always steer yourself in the direction your heart calls for.
  17. Life is dynamic. Everything changes and you do not always know why. It is better to let it go.
  18. The bigger mysteries linger in those little details. Pay attention and you might discover something you couldn’t imagine existing.
  19. There is something magical about it all. I’m not sure what, but it has something to do with a state of flow and perfect, beautiful chaos. Pasta comes close, I suppose.
  20. There is no such thing as a vacation. You just decide to do different things.
  21. There is a thing called mental peace. Calm down, take deep breaths and fall asleep watching your thoughts from a distance (maybe that is what they called meditation).
  22. Only keep current journal. Take what is necessary and brings joy from the old one and then recycle it.
  23. Use exercise as an antidepressant.
  24. Look out for love. It comes from all unexpected places and people. If you don’t find it, start radiating it.
  25. Life is an onion. Everything alive is an onion. You can either peel back the layers and get amazed or sit still and make assumptions.
  26. If something unexpected/devastating happens, yield “PLOT TWIST” and move on (quoted from the internet).
  27. It may not be a “general solution” but then again many problems are higher order differential equations that have “particular solutions” and “singular solutions”. The point is, it might be a solution that works only for your problem, but it works.
  28. Set self-imposed limits on hoarding. Be intentional.
  29. If it is made of pure matter, it won’t spoil. 
  30.  It is okay to dive into guilty pleasures. But you can choose pleasures that are “less guilty” than others.

I could ramble on, but you need to get back to work. Come back when you lose touch or just want to refresh why, how and where you are. You’ll be okay.