Thursday, March 03, 2011


This semester, I am taking two advanced level statistics courses together. Usually the department spreads it out for students so that students take one statistics course at a time, but academic daddy wanted me to get the stats courses out of my way so that I can start analyzing data and publishing soon. I would have never thought of this idea, but when he asked me to, I cribbed, sulked, even tried to reason with him. Each course is demanding and challenging in its own way, replete with homework, assignments, projects, and exams. However, as you would have rightly guessed, it is futile to argue reason with the advisor. It takes less cognitive load to just do what he says.

Starting this year, my weekdays were inundated with stats. I call Thursday my “statistically significant” day, with classes from 9 am continuing right until 5 pm. It would get so tiring that I would cancel workouts later on, head home, and fall asleep out of sheer fatigue. Then there are assignments every week that involves hours of learning to use SPSS and getting work done. My life was suddenly full of big words like heteroscedasticity, multinomial regression, and linear modeling. It wasn’t terribly unbearable, but I wish I could have spread it over subsequent semesters instead of having an indigestion over a stat-enriched diet.

I was in class early morning, really early. At 7 am, I had reached for the 9 am class. I had a midterm later in the afternoon and I had spent a sleepless night cramming. To ensure I don’t fall asleep in the wee hours of dawn, I had showered, and reached the class 2 hours in advance to study some more. As far as I know, there is only one person in the same boat as I was in, taking both the statistics classes together. Everyone else just took one course. He soon joined me in class, and we started sharing woeful thoughts about the impending midterms later in the day. Staying awake at night made me so cranky that I started to crib about how miserable my life was, how I was missing out on a chunk of socializing and having fun because I was always under pressure to finish the assignments for both classes. It’s not that these were the only two classes I was taking, I was taking five courses in all and producing research as well. He asked me why I was taking it if I was so unhappy, and I told him how it was the brilliant idea of my advisor. The momentous time came then and I asked him why he was taking both of these courses together. I could at least blame my advisor, but what was his story?

Nothing could have prepared me for his story. His wife was working and hence he decided to start a PhD. A few months down the line, his wife lost her job and was unable to find one. And yes, they have three kids to take care of. So, it is in his best interests to take as many required courses as he can so that he can graduate early and does not have to spend an extra year taking courses. By the way, we both have been just six months into our programs.

He seemed very matter of fact when he said this, but my jaws dropped as I heard him say that. Nothing could have prepared me for his story. I felt so humbled, and so guilty. Here I was acting like a spoilt brat, cribbing because I couldn’t attend a few seemingly insignificant get-togethers, couldn’t socialize some evenings, and that’s there is to it. I neither had a family to feed, nor had a change of circumstances that would make me plan ahead and load myself with courses to finish my PhD sooner. A carefree, blessed, happy-go-lucky person who had absolutely no responsibilities other than the self-inflicted responsibility of doing well in academics, I was cribbing as if this was the end of the world. His story left me with such a sense of sadness that I am never going to complain about too many courses again. I see now that it is all a matter of perspective.


1 comment:

Kolor said...

Very true. The family PhD people are usually the most efficient as well. Get the most work done in the least time. This case shows that there are other with more serious reasons than us. I would like to argue that this is not a good reason for you to take more courses without complaining. Your colleague is missing out on a lot of fun and socializing that being a PhD student is associated with. This time will not come back, ever.

An exaggerated but relevant analogy to this would be for a woman to happily accept discrimination in corporate circles just because somewhere in the world(afghanistan) women are beaten with chains for mistakenly baring their skin.