Archive for the ‘Sylva’ Category

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 voilĂ ! 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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I disagree with myself!

When I was attending one most important yearly congress of the humanities and social sciences in a Northern country, I came across a very refreshing way of promoting oneself.

In one of the presentations, the speaker summed up several opinions from well-known experts on a specific topic and pointed out their insufficiency, after which she read us a dangerously long quote expressing similar viewpoints, and just when my mind started to wander, the speaker told us:

“Well, this is what I wrote two years ago, and I disagree!”

That was expertly done, I have to admit. And it caused the result that she aimed at, laughter, without applause though. I wonder how many times she had practised in front of the mirror, or in front of her unfortunate family.

The last one that made an impression on me, besides this strange inability to put the slides right, or the normal fidgeting of one’s materials, or going over time, was a presentation in which the speaker kept on reminding you that there were more details about the topic in the book that she was about to publish. I consider the audience very generous by asking at the end what the title of her book was, which she withheld during her presentation. That could be a dangerous strategy, since you may not be asked at all. She gambled right though.

But do not mistake me, they are perfectly likeable people when you talk to them personally, and they do not always talk about themselves.

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