Wednesday, January 15, 2014

PhD

Unlike now, there was a time when I wrote posts as I knew of the people reading them. I guess that makes me more open now. I'm just a lost soul at this moment. I just finished PhD after slogging for 6 years. My thesis defense was last Monday, the 13th of January, 2014. I've been enervated rewriting my thesis after one of my reviewers asked me several changes to it. It was tough and took nearly a month of hard work till late night. Took a toll on my mental balance, I guess I flipped to a great degree of what remained after undergoing the hellish period of getting married here in India...they call it a love marriage and it's not really appreciated by our fucked up society. I've faced some of the worst time just working to being with someone I was in love with. I hate this country for several reasons; the biggest one being its people. So many of them are bigoted, egoistic and self-aggrandizing and I can't relate to them.

Anyway, I started to count the days to my viva from the 6th of January, a week before the viva. It's just like they describe a para-jump. The earth appear to come towards you very slowly till the last leg, when it appear like you're whamming into it. Time wasn't passing earlier, I didn't want it to pass as I had of work to do, even some experiments. I've been insomniac since more than a month now. I know it's damaging my body, I sense it but I'm just working to get out of here, away from these screwed up miserable people all around me. I started preparing the seminar from Thursday and wasn't too worried since I don't have too much of a problem speaking, at least about my work. However the anxiety of being judged by a guy was flying to my city from far away, and had just made me rework my whole thesis after writing some unfriendly comments, took its toll as well. I lost it! I couldn't speak, I was stuttering and stammering and was reminded me of the time of my marriage, of the helplessness I was feeling back then, of the hurt I was undergoing and making my parents undergo, and of the hurt my wife was undergoing back then...it just made it worse. I became increasingly agitated and that didn't help my speech practice. I gave one mock seminar after another, first in front of my supervisor, then my batchmates, then my labmates, then my labmate and repeatedly over and over again within a span of four days. I couldn't speak properly and I hated myself for it; it felt like I'd lost some part of me. In my mind I was continuously scolding myself but I just couldn't get it right.

Then on the evening before the seminar, after I'd almost perfected the contents of my slides after a phenomenal amount of feedback and whetting, I was practicing at my institute's seminar hall in front of my wife. I kept stuttering and stammering and I saw her expressions grow tense; I could see the fear on her face, the doubt that I'd be able to make it. Her face was down, she wasn't looking at me, thinking that by doing that, she'd be able to ease me out and get me to speak properly. I sat down for a couple of minutes and took deep breaths and cleared my mind, I had to reaffirm my faith in myself. I thought about the time of my marriage and of the time when I should've acted like a man but was too na├»ve and timid to do that. I asked myself, "after going through all that, are you still going to act like you did back then. Are you still going to behave childish and cry about the troubles in your life or are you gonna set it right? Are you gonna set these people right, these people who think that you can't do it. These people who want you to not to be able to do it. These people who want to turn you into a butt of jokes and an object of humiliation." In my mind I chided myself a thousand times and humiliated my own anxiety and timidity. Then I just blocked it all off! For a few minutes I thought of nothing and took easy breaths. I just eased myself as my lab-mates gathered in the hall to listen to me for one last time before my final talk the next day. Then I walked up the stage, smiled and started off...and I didn't stutter, I didn't stammer and I was only focused on one thing, i.e. to explain the story of my work to my audience. I got the job done and everyone was happy, for the first time since I started, I'd spoken well and with confidence. My wife was still not looking at me while I spoke, afraid that if she looked, she might ebb away my new-found confidence (and that's one of the things that make her a great wife).

That was all, I just wanted to speak properly at least once before my viva and I knew I'd take it from there to the finals without a hitch. I went back home with confidence, with still a bit of material left to read. Ranjeet helped me out with a last-minute agarose gel that Deepak couldn't get right after trying for two days and emailed me the picture at 12:00 midnight. I drew the legends and finalized it. The next morning I had a bout of anxiety again but I controlled my breathing and somehow managed to curb it. As I sat in the seminar room next to my wife with eyes shut and a nearly blank mind, the hall began to fill up with people. It was packed to capacity and people still poured in and gathered at the back. The crowd made me nervous but I made a promise to myself that I will not be intimidated by this. When my examiner, my supervisor and the coordinator stormed into the hall, I was already taken my position on the stage. Dr. PC introduced me to the supervisor and the audience giving a brief history of my career path and remarked, "Jesse must be a very popular guy here; the hall is packed beyond its capacity." to which, Dr. Kumaran replied loudly, "yup he's always been popular." On a normal day, I would've been elated to hear these things but that moment, I was ready for war and started with my presentation. The silence in the packed hall was eerie, nothing but my voice in a packed room was unnerving but I knew I had to go on. Half-way into the seminar, Sanjay PC indicated to me to jack up my volume a bit to which I responded accordingly. I kept my guide in my peripheral vision who was happily nodding in approval as I spoke. And then I concluded my seminar. Phew! Now was the question time, the external examiner asked quite a few, which I replied confidently. The other scientists also questioned me and I responded; by now I knew I'd won and was super-confident.

Then Dr. PC's usual statement, "are there any more questions from the audience? (silence!) No? Does Dr. Sarkar wish to add anything in the end?" Dr. Sarkar announced to the audience "We didn't have expertise in this field and yet Jesse has single handedly brought the work to this level in these 6 years, except the last one year when Deepak was hired to help him expedite the work. He's worked really hard and you know we had dreams for this project but like life, science doesn't always turn out the way you planned. Sometimes we have to face disappointment but we must make the best of what we can and hard-work always pays, if not immediately, it does so in the long-run. So all I can say is that he's worked really hard and worked well, we've all learnt so many new things together. And this work is still at an interesting mode and we wish to work a bit more on it and get it published in a decent journal. I wish him the best."

I was stunned to hear those words! I thought I'd vindicated myself with my seminar but my guide embellished it beautifully. Then I began the acknowledgments but Dr. Sarkar's words shook me up within and literally my whole tenure of six years, flashed across my mind in a seconds...I broke down! I tried controlling my voice but couldn't speak another word. So in a shaky voice, I gestured towards the slide and said...I thank all these people! When I got down, I literally had the whole audience walk over to me all at once and congratulate me. Dr. Ganguli and all the other scientists too came forward and congratulated me, my guide gave me quick hug. As I shook hands with everyone, I couldn't hold back the tears. This is something I wasn't prepared for, it was embarrassing but it was uncontrolled, so just kept taking the greetings as I cried, I shook hands. Finally I just hugged my wife and cried after everybody had gone out. She was worried, she couldn't understand why I was crying...I still don't know why got hysterical. All I know is that I poured it out, whatever it was...I unloaded myself. I couldn't stop. I was too embarrassed to go out in the open with swollen teary eyes. I ran to the car and sat with my wife and I cried again. I kept crying for quite some time and I really don't know why. But like one of my interviewers from UK said to me just a few days earlier, "The PhD defence was the sweetest moment of my life and I wish it is for you too."

2 comments:

Anu Jesse said...

I am so proud of you honey. Mwahh...

Stargawker09 said...

Congrats on the PhD! Its not an easy feat,especially when it is a rather new field of work. Glad to see that efforts and determination to make it work does pay off. Kudos to your wife for standing by you and supporting in such an understanding way!
I have been following your blog for over a couple of years now, and find myself going back to it now and then; especially on a stressful day or when everything seems plain pointless. Reading your beautifully penned life experiences, downright honest opinions, and stories of gumption and fortitude are no less than morale-boosting! Looking forward to the day when you realize your dream of writing a book!
Wishing the best of life to you and your wife!!