Monday, November 29, 2010

Slytherin' through the zombie apocalypse

I have noticed that the amount of time I'm in grad school correlates with certain trends in the results of social media quizzes, like those found on Facebook. The most notable trends include: the longer I am a grad student, (1) the greater the chance to be sorted into Slytherin House, and (2) the longer I will survive in a zombie apocalypse. I guess grad school is paying off after all!

As I approach the 7.5 years of grad school mark, I can now pride myself on having apparently learned the skills needed for post-apocalyptic domination - whether it be apocalypse via zombies, noseless wizards, all-seeing eyes on a pedestal next to a mountain of doom, or communists. (Yes, I can now confidently say I would weather a "Red Dawn" situation well.) There are many factors that push you over the line between For the Greater Good and burning a personal beeper into a minion's flesh, between being braincandy and the ultimate deliverer of zombie asskickery, and I think the most significant is your use of 5 year olds. Are you willing to use a 5 year old as a weapon? And when does using a 5 year old as a weapon become a first choice versus a last case scenario? For many these are tough questions, but the zombie apocalypse takes natural selection to a new level - and many would argue rightfully so - making them important questions that need to be considered. The souless venture of grad school prepares you to make these important decisions; decisions that could possible alter the fate of the human race. A decision that now seems simple: "Bring on the 5 year olds, I don't want to waste ammo."

How about you? Would you have your brain sucked from above your yellow and black scarf-wrapped neck, or be a master of 5 year old-wielding badassness? Maybe you should go to grad school to figure it out.

As for me, I might have to reconsider my bitterness towards my poor life decisions. Perhaps grad school really is about finding yourself. Or at least what you would do if you found yourself surrounded by zombies with nothing but an ice axe.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The one shamrock to rule them all

When I passed my comprehensive exams in 2009, my advisor gave me a purple shamrock. It wasn't that it was a luck thing, it was mostly that it was probably the closest plant she could find to hot pink. For the most part, she supports my decision to be out of the closet about my love of hot pink (though she doesn't necessarily support me when I argue for hot pink archival storage mediums, but otherwise, she indulges me). But in addition to it's near-pink awesomeness, I have discovered that this plant has magical powers of prediction.

Up until this point in my life, I have failed to keep any plant alive for a sustained amount of time. I generally kill mint within a week or two, and I have been told that mint is like a weed and generally very hard to kill. I'm simply a horticultural failure. (It goes without saying that I'm also a failure at fish since they seem to prefer suicide over living with me.) So when my advisor told me that shamrocks can be high-maintenance (as in I have to water it and keep it's temperature moderated - things I don't even do well for myself), I figured this wasn't going to bode well for my innocent little purplish Shammy the Shamrock.

But surprisingly, for months and months - over a year, in fact - my shamrock thrived. We had some unfortunate experiments with trying to have Shammy live outside and lessons in "What happens when I don't water you", but he's always bounced back. And eventually I started taking better care of him.

Then something sad happened at the end of the spring: Shammy started to die. His little shamrocky shamrock things pulled out of the soil and no new ones popped up. One new shamrocky thing did sprout at one point, but didn't last for long. I was heart broken; Shammy seemed dead. And, rather suspiciously, so did my dissertation. As soon as Shammy's shamrocky fronds respirated their last breath of carbon dioxide, all progress on my dissertation halted. I didn't recognize this correlation at first, it wasn't until the fall that I saw the direct connection between Shammy's health and the health of my dissertation. Meanwhile, I fell into my smut, crotch rocket, and 4x4 ridden mid-dissertation crisis. See ya, dissertation!

But as is the academic cycle, conference season rolled around and I was mercilessly forced to say an emotional (and temporary...I hope) goodbye to my beloved smut and figure out how to do science again. As I got my act together and started to read articles, put together presentations, remember how to count, and learn how to pronounce big words again, Shammy started blooming. One morning I woke up and Shammy was popping up little shamrocky frondy things! And now that conference season is over, and I can focus on my dissertation again, a new frondy thing has sprouted. I have hope of actually graduating one day again.

Empirical evidence obviously indicates that Shammy really is the Paul the Octopus of my dissertation.

And now I live every day in fear he's going to die.