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Archive for November, 2009

Last year there was a lot of fuss about the Bologna Process. I confess that I did not spend too much time on it, and I came from a different educational system and I did not see anything objectionable about the idea. In fact, I see it as beneficial to the students, both their learning process and their mobility. I understand that their protest had more to do with the local educational system than the Bologna Process, an old grudge that jumped at the opportunity to manifest itself.

I will leave the debate of ideas. I am more interested in anecdotes and what really happens on the “physical” level. The students occupied some buildings and at some point, some violence was involved. I myself passed by the University of Barcelona at Gran Vía, a beautiful place, the entrance hall was decorated with statues of Luis Vives, Alfonso el Sabio, Isidoro, etc. It was one of the camping sites of the students. It acquired a musty smell which was not incongruous with the age of the building. There were sofas and chairs, which I assume was the platform where the students debated their ideology and what university was supposed to be, the very idea of knowledge and the community of scholars. At the entrance, beside the first column, was a recycle bin, full to the brim, with Estrella Damn bottles. I do agree that alcohol does help with increasing one’s eloquence, especially if your audience is under the effect of the same substance. I do not want to go on describing upstairs, the actual sleeping spot and cooking place, with unwashed dishes and murky water and tents that leant on paintings, loans from Prado.

I mentioned anecdote, and here I will record one.

One professor observed that his son was going to join a march against the Bologna Process and, anxious to know more about their objections, he asked what his son’s understanding of the proposed changes was. And his son replied: “Well, it’s something about Bolivia, no?”

Since then, I looked with reservation the impressive turnout at the demonstrations.

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To the determined mind

It is fascinating how our mind plays tricks on us sometimes. Once an idea has set foot and developed there, it is difficult to let it go. But our mind is also very creative, so instead of letting an idea go, it bounces it a little, squeezes it a bit here and there, and voilà! Now it fits perfectly!

Yes, it is a bit abstract to talk like this. So, let’s have an example.

It happened some years ago, when I was a fresh Ph.D. Any new holder to this coveted title will tell you the state of wreckage one is in in the first few months, especially when the future resembles only too well the description of limbo. To change this, of course one desperately uses all the connections one has. At the end, I was granted an interview to discuss the possibility of joining a project as a postdoc. This is by no means an indignant way of passing 2 or 3 years until you find something more permanent, and for you to “mature” in every sense of the word.

I read intensely the subject of the project, recited a brushed up summary of my thesis, indulged in repeating, aloud, the selling points of my CV. I went to bed early, wore my lucky underwear, put on my best shirt, arrived half an hour early, mesmerised myself as to how agreeable I could be.

It was very unfortunate that the professor in question got the idea from somebody that I was still working on my thesis. It must be from one of my contact’s contact’s contact’s contacts, although my contact’s contact’s contact with whom I talked to knew otherwise, and she already put a word in for me with the professor. After this had been cleared up, his mind started to reshape his idea. So, his proposal for me was to get a predoctoral scholarship for a new doctoral thesis in the new university, and he started making phone calls. When he saw my impassive face, he realised that I was either hard of hearing or I did not understand his complicated thoughts, so he wrote everything down for me. I do not think he ever conceived the possibility that I thought I was in a nightmare of the eternal return.

For a young researcher or a young faculty member, it is not advisable to confront the wisdom of the old, because the academic circle is so small that you never know if one day you do not get your tenure because of a little gesture from a ghost that rises from its grave in an inopportune moment.

I was very complaisant, and promised to consider all possibilities. When I think about this, it always surprises me how that idea can occur to such an intelligent mind. The only satisfactory explanation I can give to myself is the tenacity of an idea and the persistence that a researcher is used to, a quality that enables one to spend years to pursue a subject. Many times he/she must be familiar with frustrations when he/she hits a dead end, but things can always be changed a little to fit in. Soon, this ability becomes a part of the personality that one becomes versatile, or, error free.

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Recently I ordered a book from The Book Depository, a great online bookshop with free worldwide delivery. Usually the book comes very fast, but this one did not arrive. After two weeks I wrote them to inquire. I got an email message beginning with “We are sorry…”, that the book may have got lost, and they promised to send me another one right away, which I got within a week.

Before I could convey my emotion when reading the message I have to tell something about myself. I was a complainer, a trait that I do not complement myself with. I used to complain about everything, rude services, unsatisfactory treatments, delayed orders, and I was terribly spoiled, until I came to Spain. With all the vigour I set out as usual, letters, messages, face to face confrontations, I got no answer, no apology, instead I was taken to be the responsible party. Continuous trials make the expert doubt herself. So, at the end, I put down my sword and surrendered. Finally I am humbled.

When I opened that email message and read “We are sorry…”, tears filled my eyes! I was so moved that I felt like a legitimate customer again. Of course I went ahead and bought another book from them. I know when one gets older one becomes more and more sentimental. I still have on my bedside table an alarm clock over 20 years old, a courtesy from the Times Magazine when I commented something about their delivery service.

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