Monday, August 31, 2009

Better Laugh Than Cry


I wanted today to be the day that I welcome you all back to the scented adventures of Fragrance Bouquet with stories about the scent of salty air in Mykonos and the exotic, mysterious trails of spice that weave through Istanbul. However this day has been so rough, I find myself sitting here, my feathers just a tad too ruffled to be able to complete the article I’ve been lovingly crafting, bringing to life all the colors, images and scents of my beautiful holiday. What to do? Well maybe I can make you laugh a little instead, by writing about this awful day I’ve had.

Today’s the beginning of another academic year, my third and final bachelor year in fact. Coming back fresh from one of the most fabulous summers anyone could ask for last week, I was confronted with a sea of emails, among which a particularly disturbing one from the university, informing me that I have not participated in enough experiments (read: I’ve not played guinea pig to enough research projects as a participant) to warrant access to certain third year courses, or rather my actual bachelor’s thesis in particular. Now, I knew I was a little slack, I mean, I hate taking part in experiments, half of which I can see-through instantly due to the field of study I am in and the other half of which are just either devastatingly unpleasant, tedious or aggravating. However, I have taken part in quite a good number of them. According to the email however, I had zero credits gained from experiments. Zero. Accessing my account on Experimetrix (the website that helps you find experiments to participate in and logs your credits) showed the same mocking result: Zero credits. Brilliant. I’ve been fervently looking for credit-rich experiments to participate in all weekend, but unfortunately, just about anything that gives more than 3 credits involves undergoing a magnetic tomography scan, also known as an fMRI. Now I know the levels of radiation exposure are low… but I just don’t want to do it! Radiation is radiation. The practical little voice of logic in my head keeps reminding me it’s only just about as harmful as a few plane trips back and forth.. But hell, I really can’t bring myself to do it. It just freaks me out! I don’t want my head sitting inside an enormous magnet for two-and-a-half hours! Ugh! So I settled for making a couple of appointments for some experiments involving EEG testing only, despite not really feeling that hot about the idea of slightly moist electrodes attached to my skull either! Still not enough credits, so I’ll just have to find some el-cheapo (credit-wise) experiments to fill in the gaps in between as well. What I mean with some of course, is many. I started out today.

Experiment number one, on day one of the academic year. I made my way through the throng of googly-eyed, lost-looking freshmen all the way down to the bowels of the building to the basement, feeling desolate, wondering if I will manage to amass enough credits in time to start my bachelor’s project during the month of September. I was shown to a tiny booth, about the size of a public loo stall. The door closed firmly behind the experimenter and I was left alone with a computer for the next 20 minutes. The next excruciating 20 minutes. Pi Ka Po Ko Pi Da Ne, flashed the screen. Try to find the rule. Be Di Po Tu Mi Tu De. De Mi Tu De Ki To De. Find the rule, you’ll be tested next. To Te Mu To… etc. Press Space to Start the Test. Ko Te Tu Do True or False? What??? True. Correct! Errr… Okay… Mu Tu Ge De To Ko. True or False? Shit. True. Incorrect! Shit, shit, shit! It kept going on for 20 minutes, Ko Te Mu To Ki Ti Do, trying to teach me some weird rule I couldn’t figure out and then testing me to see if I’d learned it. I’ve never felt more stupid in my entire life. I’ve aced Multi-Variate Data-Analysis statistics exams but could not figure out Ko Te Mu To-Whatever. Finally I let my body do the work, clicking whatever came to mind after I noticed that when I did not try to consciously focus my hand somehow knew which button to press, true or false. Okay, so as crazy as it sounds instinct worked. Twenty minutes were up. Just as I was wiping the sweat off my brow a form came up asking me to tell them which rules I learned! What?! Feeling stupid again I made something up…but couldn’t resist writing that I felt that my hand knew what to press and in the end I just followed my instinct. So be it. I came out of the booth flustered. The experimenter asked me how I found it and I recited the same story to her. Apparently delighted, she informed me that that’s exactly what they are trying to prove, that is that they are working on a theory of Implicit Learning and that the brain can apparently learn things before it can actually consciously name them. She gave me one measly credit and I went back upstairs feeling all wobbly, trying to regain some sort of confidence in my intellect.

Climbing the stairs, a warm hand brushes on my arm: “How are you Divina?” Ah, classmate. We have a five minute chat before I realize she is not who I thought she was. She realizes too. I blush all the way to my hairline, but she seems equally embarrassed and actually tries to apologize for me. Upstairs, looking for the Social Psychology secretary to make an appointment with a professor, I find myself barked out of the room by an offended looking woman. I back out and look at the sign: Prof. E. a Doctor and senior researcher. Great. I skulk into the secretary’s office next door and almost burst into tears as I finalize the details for the appointment. I make my way to the study advisor’s office to ask for an appointment and I somehow manage to catch him in a particularly foul mood. “What do you want?” he asks me impatiently not even inviting me in. “I’d like to drop in tomorrow during your student walk-in hours if possible?” I trill. “What is this about?” The man is practically shouting and I don’t even know what I am mumbling, still at the door, for it takes about three more What-is-this-abouts before I can actually manage a coherent answer. I’ve no idea why he’s shouting at me and my stress is mounting. Finally the whole story comes out, not enough experiment credits, need to start the bachelor’s thesis now cause the second semester will be too full of heavy classes, need advice. He seems just as impatient. For crying out loud, this man is supposed to be an advisor, there to help, why is he glowering at me like the Cerberus guarding Hades? What is your name?“ And what is your student number?” I know my student number, but have trouble reciting it in Dutch. Or English for that matter. My brain has stubbornly learned the 7 digits in Greek. “Do you have a pen?” I ask him with a terrified rictus smile frozen on my face. I know what I am about to say sounds ridiculous, but I can’t stop myself. “You see, I know it in Greek in my head, it’s strange -haha- but, but, I need to write it down.” He coldly ignores me, his back turned. I am left there reciting the stupid number in my head in Greek. Finally I manage, slowly and one by one to translate each number. “Ten o’ clock tomorrow morning. Can you do that?” he challenges me loudly with wild eyes, as though I might actually reply that no, that’s impossibly early. “Of course, see you tomorrow”. Phew.

As I am about to finally walk out of the building I spot a friendly face on the couches across from the cafeteria. He spots me too and we greet each other with smiles and hugs, happy to see each other after a long summer. I finally take a few minutes to unload, telling him about my ‘social blunders’, forgetting who the classmate was, walking into Dr. E’s office by mistake when I was intending to go to the secretary… We laugh a little, me still embarrassed, blushing a little again. “Sooo” I start, changing the subject to what I think is a lighter subject: “Are you going to so-and-so’s party on Friday?” “Wow” he replies. “You really are full of social blunders today. I wasn’t invited.”

Ok so maybe it’s more cry than laugh. But at least writing it down helped. I don’t feel so awful any more. Writing it here helps me let it go. Tomorrow is another day. And on Wednesday I’ll tell you all about the scents of exotic Istanbul and her perfumes. That definitely makes me smile.


Image: via Flickr, photographer: gotplaid?


5 comments:

Jenavira13 said...

Ahh, Divina that is one day of suckitude. I'm starting my master's program again and everything is online so I don't get social blunders very often, but isolation is often at its zenith. And why the hell are advisors always so incredibly obnoxious?

Diana said...

Wow, that is one sucky day! If you did some experiments before is there NO WAY to prove you did them!?! No actual human who saw you there and can give you credit? Because it just seems crazytown that you can't get credit for work you already did.

Cross-Atlantic hugs!

ScentScelf said...

Aw, D...it's like you stepped through the lookingglass, and what should be the plot line of an extended bad dream was the reality of your day. Just breathe...seriously, just breathe...get through fixing the credits problem, then start in on the rest. Your advisor was probably caught up in some drama of his own, which doesn't mean his behavior is excused, just that you shouldn't let it intimidate you.

No more words...just a cup of tea, and a hug. :)

Welcome back, btw. :) :)

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Girl sometimes you just need to let it all out! It is good to vent after a day like that. I'm sorry... it sounds like it was a nightmare but it can only go up from here :) Can't wait to hear about your travels! xo

Ines said...

Oh, dearest Divina, it really was an awful day. :( I can understand the feeling, I came to work from a lovely holiday and ended up with so much work, I just couldn't understand where it came from. It's controlable now, but last week I thought I would cry from the stress of it.
And just to share, I never felt more stupid than, when missing out on first 2 weeks of my first year additional study of Swedish, I came to the room and the professor asked me something. In Swedish. Which I never heard before. The students helped and told me he asked me my name, but then 2 hours in complete Swedish ensued (which everyone could follow but me, missing out on 2 weeks classes) and I came out thinking I have never felt more stupid in my life. I got the gist of it soon after (after realizing that of course I felt perplexed about the text since they swallow syllables so when the sentence ended, I, following the syllables, were somewhere half there and couldn't understand what happened. I find it funny now, but then it really didn't help my self-assurance :)