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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The PhD Symphony

A PhD is a labor of love sustained purely by desire and annealed by the most arduous of tests! Many a sleepless night, I have pondered over the ebbs and flows that this career choice has taken me through! The mélange of emotions that I have experienced can be likened to a glorious symphony.

[ For an exhaustive listing of all the musical terms referred to in this blog, click on this Wikipedia's Musical terminlogy link ]

It begins with a mercurial accelerando for an opening act, fueled by grand visions of academic ascendancy and economic prosperity only to be quelled rather abruptly by 'growing up' pangs. Your thesis now stutters along much akin to an allegretto with your courses and evolution weighing down your ebullience! The pace quickens with the completion of your qualifiers when your research fervor soars into an allegro...your ideas interplay like violins and cellos exploring the mystical elegance of F-flat! Your group members chime in with their oboes and harps making the coda i.e. the first act an exotic cocktail of verve and promise.

The Second act opens with an allegro that in real life is ‘termed’ literature search, preliminary discussions, feasibility study etc! Your advisor (read Conductor) perched atop his academic pedestal brandishes his baton; sheperding your group (read orchestra) through passages of sustained brilliance, only for your 'post qual slump' to break the tempo and lull the pace. Your research is now a mere adagio, barely engaging your creative genius while actually building up for a lively interlude. Days become weeks, weeks become months before the conductor senses your stupor and waves his baton frantically, reminding you of an approaching conference deadline...the string quartet (read 1st n 2nd year group members) are galvanized into action building up into a crescendo signifying the submission deadline while the wind quartet (the 3rd and 4th year grad students) go through the motions regurgitating their old results to chime in with their submissions! The post deadline phase is a coda...decelerating into a break before you resume your third act...

The Third act opens rather tentatively; a juxtaposition of your new found research proficiency and your shocking realization of all the far-superior brains operating in your chosen domain of research! Your first conference presentation is a curious staccato of false bravado and hidden angst. This interlude is rewarded with a tempered applause that the audience deigns appropriate for your debut performance! This feeling of joy dissipates rapidly upon sitting through other plenary lectures where multiple virtuosos display their talent with consummate ease! But then, confidence is a contagious fuel that refuses to extinguish itself! So you carry on in a vivace till the end of the act, soaking in the generous applause that you have now managed to coax from the audience!

The final act opens playfully with your content grad-school existence coruscating through every note! Your ease with research empowering you to scale heights you dared not aspire before...the conductor’s baton swaying ever-so gently, according you the freedom to explore and improvise! The string quartet teasing the wind quartet to match its profligacy...drawing plaudits from the crowd till the conductor accelerates the tempo and firms his grip on the baton, reigning in your blithe spirit. His movements are now more deliberate, instructing you to prepare for your preliminary exam (prelim), tempering your ebullience to a measured pesante. The prelim is a staccato of violin and cello, a complex interplay of notes not very familiar to your research faculties. The sophistication of the notes, squeezing out the last iota of experience and confidence that you had accrued over copious hours of labor!

The ‘post-prelim’ phase is an adagio where you tie up the loose ends and prepare for the crescendo that will be your thesis defense. The approach to the defense is very hectic, the tempo turns mercurial, and all the components of the orchestra contribute to building up the tempo. The final crescendo is a violent outburst of all your results, much akin to a dam bursting through to flood the audience with your complete body of work i.e. your thesis. The audience is held in awe and forced to live through your research life span! Traversing dark labyrinths, scaling azure peaks, treading lush meadows, swimming tempestuous oceans...experiencing vicariuosly the multitude of emotions that you were subjected to during the course of your PhD. The cataclysm i.e. your defense sweeps them of their feet and leaves them spellbound!! The cognoscenti slowly recovering to their feet...applauding you with a thunderous ovation and conferring your PhD!! Wow, what a feeling of joy and relief it will be to bequeath the title, a perfect jewel to account for all those acts of varying complexity you had to labor through!

Disclaimer: The afore-mentioned description might sound rather grandiose and mostly fictitious; an ironic cocktail of apocryphal glory and insignificant esteem! But then, what else is a PhD after all?

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