29 May 2009

Burn out

I seem to be burnt out on science. My graduation is in just a few days, but I'm already well into summertime levels of concentration and diligence. Even when I remember about them, I don't want to read my favorite science blogs, which used to be a daily pastime. I don't want to work, and I've been sleeping and eating abundantly and not doing much else. In particular, I've not been updating this blog, which I meant to do days ago.

All of my classes are over, final assignments submitted and exams completed, and now I just wait until graduation and for the next phase of my life to begin. This summer, for the first time in six years, I'm not working, and in particular, I'm not doing any new research (five of those six summers involved full-time research gigs). It feels very odd not to have plans, a little bit like the summer after my senior year of high school, where I took a low-effort job and hung around with the friends I would lose touch with during our college years.

Of course, I have conferences to attend, including one abroad, in a country where I don't speak the language, which is both exciting and intimidating. And I will be in occasional contact with my research advisor to continue discussing our project, because it's developing too well to drop it now. I'm looking forward to this summer: abundant sleep after my year of sleep deprivation; delicious, well-balanced meals after a year of frozen chicken patties and canned soups; mental relaxation after a year of racking my brain and stressing out over research questions.

This has been a tremendously productive year, and I'm proud of it. I'm also really happy to have it finished.

14 May 2009

Grieving in public

A student at my school recently suffered a very tragic, very public loss. The event affected everyone on campus to some degree, but few people were as involved as this student. A few nights ago, I went to see a choir performance featuring this student's group. I was very impressed when she walked out on stage with the rest of the choir: Though her skin was sallow and her hair matted, she had the brave face of someone staring down impossible demons. To me, her sparkly dress and colorful scarf indicated that she was not ready to give up. She smiled few times during that performance, always in response to some unexpected event, as though the surface of her sadness cracked just enough to let her former happiness bubble through for a fleeting moment.

As I grow up, I become increasingly aware of life's transience. The choir performance reminded me of a post by Average Professor last winter when her graduate student was killed in a car accident; that post brought back memories of last summer when a friend was killed in a sudden, unexpected, bizarre way. I've tried, while reading news stories, to internalize the death counts: Twenty bombing victims means 20 fathers straining to maintain composure at their child's funeral; 100 friends gathered together, saddened and confused; 200 teachers, bosses and co-workers shuffling quickly past an empty desk. The numbers are staggering; they force us to filter the sadness, often by similarity to ourselves (I admit, I feel less sorrow over foreign lives lost than I do over American lives, despite my sincere efforts to counteract this tendency). The magnitude of loss and suffering is too great.

I know this post is personal and very sad, and I've considered keeping it private. I'm going to share it anyway, because it's important to me to have some memory of the brave faces people put on when they're forced to grieve in public.

03 May 2009

House hunting

I am moving to New City in the fall to begin a PhD program. I could (a) find a rental, find roommates, and pay rent every month, or (b) purchase a home, live in one room and rent out the others, and pay off part of a mortgage every month. Because the housing market is so low, mortgage payments would be equal to rent payments on 2 or 3 bedroom apartments (should I be awarded a mortgage by the powers-that-be; my income, though guaranteed, is by no means large). As a first-time homebuyer, I'd also get a nifty tax credit if I choose to buy a home. Weighing all the positives and negatives of purchasing a home, I've decided that I'm seriously interested in going for it.

Yesterday, I drove to New City to scope out potential properties. I saw condos, single family detached homes, and townhouses. I went to every neighborhood in which I'd consider living. I met several real estate brokers, each of whom told me how many years they'd been in the business and how hard they worked. (Does anyone else find it strange that real estate brokers are some of the only people whose jobs are not looks-dependent [to differentiate from models and actors] but who still have their pictures on their business cards and advertisements?) And then, when all that was over, I went home and took a nap. It was exhausting!

The bottom line is that I think I'd like to buy a property in New City. The idea of living in one place for more than twelve months at a time is very appealing, as is the thought of having an investment that will increase in value over time (this market must go up, right?). It's blowing my mind a little that I can actually do this, but I'm very, very excited by the idea. I have to keep reminding myself to finish my schoolwork; it's so easy to be distracted by real estate listings online. But soon, classes will end, and I'll be able to go full swing into home buying mode. I'm looking forward to it!