Happiness of Pursuit: Animative moments in a research scholar’s life

Design: G Shreethigha

Editor: Siddharth D P

Over two millennia ago, in the city of Syracuse, the ancient Greek scholar Archimedes was believed to have had his celebratory ‘Eureka’ moment while in a public bath. Although there are different versions¹ of the story, it can be agreed that legendary discoveries are often made, and unsolved mysteries solved in the unlikeliest of places and times. August Kekulé, a German chemist, postulated the benzene ring structure after a dream he had of the ancient symbol of the ouroboros, depicting a serpent eating its own tail.

Such great ‘Aha moments’ in life and research often have their humble origins in the mundane. These are frequently the culmination of the seemingly minuscule accomplishments of everyday life, which we often shrug off as unimportant.

True fulfillment is not just in the big ‘Eureka’ moments but is realized in everyday strides, struggles, and accomplishments.

This conviction is clearly palpable in the life of a research scholar. Reaching the lab on time, having a productive day at work without glancing at the lunch menu or the constant social media notifications deserve a pat on the back. Needless to say, there is no feat too big or too small. 

Imagine a day when you get your methodology right in your ‘very fourth attempt’ and fewer things go wrong in the experiment, or you finally figure out what was wrong with the code that you wrote three weeks ago.”

Furthermore, you collect enough data (sample size > 1 that is) to analyze, and the data finally begins to make sense, and the theory from the textbook comes alive. You arrive at ‘almost’ significant results to discuss with your supervisor for the next weekly meeting. After a pretty productive day at the lab, you jog your way to the guitar class and later hit the gym. You then grab a healthy meal and a cup of coffee to keep your brain at optimal functioning to write your paper before writer’s block strikes. And while you are still thinking about your unresolved questions of the day, you hit the sack, hoping to let your dreams do the talking, just like Kekulé’s did. Ah, the pipedreams in a research scholar’s life!

A high-precision laser experiment

Ask any research scholar, and this is what they would have to say.

Getting past the abstract of the paper you have been reading, washing glassware without breaking any, completing the simulation before the computer freezes, successfully evading the question ‘what am I doing with my life’ when you see old friends getting another promotion at their jobs –these are the signs of a perfect day. And when you successfully manage to book a slot to use the busiest instrument, it is equivalent to winning the lottery. There are greater pleasures that make your week, such as surviving paperwork, getting just the right amount of sleep, scoring free-food, catching up with an old novel like a long lost friend or binge-watching your self-prescribed therapeutic TV series during the weekend to prepare your TA nerves.

You ceremoniously trot to the classes, which demand your attendance as the TA, only to leave open-mouthed that the undergrads’ questions aren’t just about the tests or attendance.”

Or when the students surprise you with their duly turned-in lab reports just before the deadline, and don’t make you feel skittish every time you see their precarious handling of the lab instruments, and actually pay attention to what you are saying without the occasional haggling for a mark and a half, it is nothing short of a promising week. 

Then there are some momentous milestones, such as getting emotional when you meet your perfect results for the very first time, when the search results for papers reporting exactly similar work show zilch, writing your first paper with not too many corrections from the supervisors and finishing your manuscript just before the deadline.

This list simply goes on; getting accepted to participate in conferences (especially those, which ‘coincidentally’ happen to be on your ‘places to visit’ list), completing the presentations on time even during the hunt for the lowest ticket prices, having a good time at the conference, meeting new people, discussing and exchanging ideas, only to realize that you aren’t alone in your struggles.”

The fortuitous vacations, seldom as they come, are equally endearing. Your mother’s magnum opus filmy style welcome² and a transient transition from the customary ‘Maggi’ to warm home-cooked meals coupled with insightful banter from your self-proclaimed wise siblings, cumulatively begin to put your brains at ease. But while still on your break, you inadvertently obsess with the poignant questions of your research, leading to the serendipitous discovery of a new concept or perfectly drafted plans for your next experiment. These remind you that vacations sans work are an illusion in any research scholars’ life.

Then comes a day when you find yourself crying over your first paper rejection and question your self-worth. But, when followed by some ice cream with your friends who celebrate your efforts, it reminds you that such moments are but blessings in disguise.”

Then there are the anxieties clouding a resubmission, getting ‘not so boorish’ comments from the reviewers, and the delight of receiving a ‘Congratulations, your paper is accepted’ email, enduring the frightful seminars, during which you surprise yourself by enjoying the questions the audience throws at you. These moments throw you over the moon.

These are superseded by even bigger moments. Hearing the most awaited words from your supervisor, ‘You can start writing your thesis’ is exhilarating, and so are the times when you write the last page of the last chapter of your thesis. Then you reach the acknowledgments section and get teary-eyed remembering it all – the support of your family, your supervisor, and the people who never gave up on you: friends and lab mates who helped you stay sane. Eventually comes the ultimate Eureka moment when you defend your thesis, asserting how your research matters. On that day, you reminisce about the journey that you braved, count all your blessings, and realize that it was worthwhile after all. However, the magic only lasts a while, until someone pops the question, “So, what next?”.

Finally, here’s a word cloud we made summarizing the article.

The Word Cloud summary

[1]Hidetaka, Kuroki. 2010. “What Did Archimedes Find at ‘EUREKA’ Moment?” In History of Mechanism and Machine Science. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-90-481-9091-1_18

[2]Bollywood’s montage of a caring mother welcoming her son (Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham)

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *