Sunday, August 24, 2008

It all comes down to this?

It's summer field season, so anyone with half a plan is out collecting flowers or clover or bees. Unless you're me. Then you are inside up to your eyeballs in phytotelmata literature. Yeah, try saying that five times fast. A side benefit of this indoor exile has been that I have received a free preview of things I get to look forward to in the future.

J. is finishing her dissertation. She defends in about a week. For the past month this mother of two, one of them only a few months old. appears in my office (also known as the T. lab lunchroom) to rinse out her breast-pump, and take a few minutes to vent.

I somewhat naively thought that, once you had actual data, the writing bit would be an easier process. Apparently, it is not.

"I'm sorry, the only thing I can tell you is, that you have this to look forward to," J. says, in a tone of genuine distress, before returning to her office.

The past few weeks have been like watching snippets from a tv show or lifetime original movie: I see her break down, bravely battle back, only to face the next obstacle, and repeat the whole cycle.

But now it is done, or so I thought. Last Tuesday, the day after the dissertation was due to be delivered to the committee, I come in to find that J. has been at school all night, due to various margin issue and the fact that the printer ate her dissertation. Three times.

But now is it all printed out and needs to be assembled, for which she is using the large table in my office/lunchroom. "I'm not sure how to do this."

Given the stage of her life, you might think J. had been referring to defending, finishing grad school, moving her family to a new city and beginning a new phase of her life.

Nope. She was talking about how to physically assemble to gods-be-damned dissertation.

We puzzled over the hardware, which was not at all intuitive, and I began to think how terrible that after all the blood, sweat, tears and broken bones that went into the thesis, one could be defeated in the end by something that came off the rack at Office Depot.

I think I was actually pretty damn close, I just missed the fact that the title page had to be folded over so that you don't actually see the unsightly hardware ,but in the end we called on the expertise of Bearded J., a post doc who had already gone through this trial, and he demonstrated the proper technique for neatly packaging the last 6 years of your life for presentation to the chosen 6 who will sit in judgement upon it.

J. looks at me when it is all finished. "So, in five years you are going to remember this, right?"

As we say in the RIM: Inchalla.