Friday, September 28, 2012

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Notes to self: Snippets from this trip

A hot bath on a cold and rainy day after dragging your heavy bags through unknown places is probably the best thing that can happen to you.

A combination of rain and the cold is killer. Give me a sunny day instead of a cold and rainy day, any day ;)

A hot cup of soup, even if it is just Campbell's in a tin cup, is amazing in this cold weather. Well, of course you knew I was gonna say that already!

It's amazing how good a scenic view can make you feel. I only say it out of experience. I didn't believe until now that the beauty you see can actually make you so happy. How can you not be happy when you are in such a beautiful place!

No matter how long the holiday is, the day will always come when you have to go back. 

I always felt we should have stayed at this place for a while longer. There is so much more to see. But I felt this in every single place I went to.

Someday I want to rent/own a caravan/ motorhome and come back and visit all these places again.

Reminder to self: try traveling lighter. Getting from point A to point B with a suitcase is ok. But not getting from A to B to C to D and back to A again.

Oh How I dread to come back to the land of doing dishes and going back to work  again. Shudder!

I really need another vacation to get over this one!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Scotalnd - the land of food and drink- First impressions.

Scottish people are absolutely smashing! They are a great friendly bunch. Just as soon as you figure out what they're saying. It takes a while to get used to their accents, you see. Every single person you see will not pass you by without hurling a hiya or great day! your way. If you think that is just a formality, most people are eager to make conversation too.

The weather is to die for! At least now. It's summer. The sun is out but the breeze is cold. The evening air is chilly. Just nice for a pint of beer or a glass of single malt.

I just love the dogs here. Apparently, so do the scots. There are dogs pretty much everywhere. A husky in the park, a lab in the bus, a border collie in the departmental store, you name it and they're all here. Adorable creatures, of all colors and sizes. I will post pictures soon. The people are so proud of them, and for good reason.

They have a lot of national pride. Anything you pick up, the label says made in the UK. Nothing else, if you catch my drift. Their national pride shows. And if  you think bagpipes are a thing of the past, think again. The kilts and bagpipes are not in anyway obsolete.

The Scots have an awesomely wicked sense of humor. Will do a post on that soon.

The fish and chips are really something. So are the fried Mars bars :) They love their fried stuff almost as much as Indians. But then again, they love Indian food too! Apparently, you get the best Indian food in the UK in Scotalnd. I will let you know once I taste some. I am beginning to get sick of the fish and chips and sandwiches anyway.

As of now, loving it here. I'll be here for a week more. Will keep you posted. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

My 10 minutes of fame -II

You can see the first part of this post here.

And so it finally dawned. The day I was supposed to make my presentation to the BIG scientific community. You might think I'm making a very big deal out of this but to me, it was a big deal. And probably that's why I was putting enormous pressure on myself to do this right!

Usually student and post-doc presentations are held in the afternoon after the symposias are over in the morning and most of them are held in small rooms. But imagine my horror when I was told I was supposed to present in one of the big symposia halls itself. These symposia halls are big ones with the capacity to hold at least 600-800 people. Since the speaker cannot be see by everyone, there is a huge screen which projects the live feed of the speaker. So, every single expression on the speaker's face is obvious to everyone. Every grimace, every frown and every bead of sweat is out there for everyone to see. But the good thing about it was since there is so much light on the speaker's face and the rest of the room is dark, you don't realize there is an audience. You might as well be in an empty room.

So, anyway on the day itself, I was too nervous to actually concentrate on any of the morning talks. During lunch I couldn't really eat much either. My talk was scheduled to be at 2 pm. All my friends and colleagues were wishing me luck and making random conversation. But I couldn't really get my head to do anything. So I went to the auditorium a little ahead of time. 

To my surprise, my supervisor was already there. I was touched to know that he was there even before me. Have I mentioned he is one of the best bosses around. (And no, he is not reading this blog. I am sure!) He wished me luck again and told me just to be myself. He told  me about his first talk and how it was a horror-show and that it would only get better. I can only hope. 

Ten minutes to two, I went to the chair (not the electric one, just the chair-person of the session) along with  other speakers of the session.The chair told us we each had 2 minutes extra as one speaker had cancelled out. So I now had 10 minutes for my talk and 2 minutes for questions. I was delighted that I could manage with time to spare. I don't have to face the timer ticking on my slides if I take too long. One of the other speakers sat right next to me. He was a post-doctoral fellow and I'm so thankful to him. I didn't even catch his name. The only thing he said to me was " Why are you so nervous? You do realize that you know more about this project than anyone else in the audience does!" , which is actually very very true. That did boost my morale quite a bit. 

And then, my name was announced. And today's first speaker is Dr. Maya. The chair person didn't know I was a phd student. And he also said " He is going to speak to us about...",  he didn't know I was female either. He did apologize when I went on stage, but by then I didn't care any more. After I was at the podium, everything else went blank in my memory for the next 9-10 minutes. It was just me and my slides.I know I blanked out a few times, but came back immediately, which my colleagues said they didn't notice. And then there was applause. I was too blank to notice that too. Then the dreaded Q and A session started. Every one of the people who asked me a question complimented my talk/work. Maybe they just did that just as a formality. Nevertheless, it felt good. I am proud to say I answered all questions. Surprisingly, it did look as though I knew more than I thought I did! My Q and A session was better than I had ever dreamed of. After a round of 8-9 questions, I came down the podium and sat through the other talks in a daze. After the session, my boss came up to me and patted my back and said, "You did well, kid!".That meant a lot to me. 

And just like that it was over. There! I had given my first presentation at an international conference in front of at least 500 people.

I am hoping that someday, I will look back and laugh at myself and think how silly I was to feel so nervous about a talk. And that is one reason I am recording this in such detail.

And now that the tough part is over, let the holiday begin.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

My 10 minutes of fame - I

My 8 10 minutes of fame

It all started in the end of july when I was making plans to attend my annual conference. This year I decided to to the UK, having already gone to Europe and US the last 2 years. So, there was this conference in Glasgow in September that I decided on. When I told my supervisor, he was quite happy coz he said he was going to this conference too. And I found that quite a few of my colleagues were going too. So, it would be a fun lab trip. That was that. It was decided.  I was going to Glagow!

How it usually works is that you send out your abstract (a brief summary of your research findings) and then the conference organizers choose a few of them for actual oral presentations and all the othes go into the poster category where you only present a poster, like I've been doing the last couple of years. So, quite certain that it would be the case this year as well, I submitted my abstract. Then we all started making plans for the trip and where we would travel afterward etc etc. A few days later, all my colleagues got their acceptance letters for posters but I didn't. I was just beginning to think that the unthinkable had happened and my abstract had been rejected (which almost never happens, coz they accept 98% of the abstracts). And then it came! The email which said my abstract had been chosen for an oral presentation. 

Ohhhh, the horror!! I have to make a presentation in front of a huge audience. I spent the next two days in shock, excitement, stress and then shock again. And there began my preparation of my slides, getting my data in good shape, presentation and practice. My supervisor was super proud and wanted to make sure I do a good job. He always said "You'll be fine. Just be yourself!". He made me prepare my slides well in advance , went through it in fine detail and then made me practice my actual presentation. The problem was, you see in such conferences, all the big shots get about 30 minutes to present but measly students/post docs get only 8 minutes. That was the tough part. Because you see, you have to give just a short introduction to your work, present all your good data, conclude and thank everyone, all in just 8 minutes. In all my practice sessions, no matter how many slides I cut down, how fast I spoke or how little I said about each slide, my presentation always took at least 10 minutes. I decided I'll take it as it comes and set off....

And then we came to Glasgow! Unlucky as I am, my talk was scheduled to be on the last day of the conference. So I had to bear the stress for 4 more days. And I couldn't actually enjoy Glasow much but I still did as much as i could, with the presentation in the back of my head. The day before the last day, there was a party which I had intended to skip, but my boss insisted that all of us go. And so I went. And I'm so glad I did. I had a ball. It's been a long time since I had that much fun at a party full of strangers. It's amazing to see all the scientists having so much fun. It seemed that they were actually for real. The serious speakers and sharks drinking, letting their hair down and having a good time. It was a fun party with 3 parallel sessions of different music, one of them of course being the Scottish pipes, with the band called the red hot chilli pipers. 

Did I mention I did the Scottish dance, with my boss and other team members and of course the kilt-wearing pipers. We had a roaring good time. I'm glad I went to the party for another reason, it took my mind off the stress for the talk. We partied until late and as soon as I went back, I was fast asleep. I had a dream though, that I went to present and my slides weren't showing as they were prepared on a Mac and we had to use windows to present. So I said I'll just use my own computer. Then I couldn't find my adaptor and by the time I ran around looking for an adaptor, they said my time i.e 8 minutes were up. So I couldn't present any more.

When I woke up in a sweat, I realized it is THE day. My first thought was OMG!! I was stressed. I had intended to do a few more practice sessions but that didn't happen due to the party. But I told myself I had done it enough number of times, so much that even in my sleep I was running through my slides.I was going to be ok.

More to come. Watch this space!