YoungFemaleScientist has come up with this.

Mad Hatter has this excellent rebuttal.

The scariest thing is, that I can see many people coming with these self-serving generalizations as they see their precious longed-for academic success elude them and their professorial dreams fading. It’s because my field isn’t “hot” right now, it’s because X person scooped me. it’s because I am a woman of child-bearing age, it’s because I’m foreign, it’s because I’m American. No, it’s because there aren’t nearly enough positions to fill, and far too many Ph.Ds granted. It’s because publishing is a crapshoot that depends on the sometimes subjective opinions of editors and reviewers. It’s because being smart and able isn’t enough, you need a healthy dose of luck.

What we all need is alternatives and escape plans in place. Until then I’ll be off and be foreign.


Hollywood and Saris

I saw Rachel Getting Married last year, and enjoyed it very much. It was definitely one of those self-conscious indie films, peopled with with  improbably tolerant people with oh-such artistic sensibilities and oh-such-a knack of saying perfect things and experiencing perfect emotions, but the central characters were surprisingly nuanced and well played, and handled difficult situations in a reasonably realistic manner. After all who hasn’t wanted a best friend by one’s side but taken a sister instead because…well, because that’s what one does.

And of course since these wonderful artistic people are so culturally forward, the wedding of the title has everyone in Indian clothes. Indian is the new culturally aware these days, and Indian clothes allow women to wear all the colours they want in the name of brightness and all the jewelry they want because all Indians wear tons of jewelry all the time. Rachel and her bridesmaids are wearing tastefully pastel spangled saris, utterly ruined by  horrible loose blouses that even my sometimes fashion-backward grandmother would disdain to wear. No self-respecting woman who wants to look pretty would ever wear a blouse that was less than ideally tailored, in fact less that ideal tailoring is a perennial cause of conflict between women and their tailors (and entertainment for uncomprehending menfolk, but I digress).

To top it off they wore their pallus loose and hanging, symmetrically located between their breasts so that one could see the ugly blouses in all their glory,  instead of pulled smooth and tight, showing only the perfectly cut shoulders and swooping backs of  lovely tailored blouses.

Sigh. Of all the cultural stereotypes that I have seen and encountered in the US, it’s a little sad that I get so worked up about this one. But I do, because saris are lovely people! And when you are Jonathan Demme making a movie (starring Anne Hathaway), you can afford to hire someone who knows something about saris so that your beautiful actresses look even more beautiful because they are culturally correct.

Cultural incorrectness anyone?

The other day, I saw a woman taking a group of police officers to task because they had their car engines running while they were picking up coffee.  She contended that they were wasting fuel, destroying the environment etc., and they insisted that they needed to engines running to keep their on-board computers charged. You know, the computers that connect them to their dispatchers and all that good stuff?

I’m inlcined to side with the policemen here, not least because being a policeman is a thankless job. Sure, they could have turned off their engines for five minutes, but they were loitering, hanging out in the sunshine and drinking coffee, much like I was. I figure they’re entitled.

The astounding thing to me, was that this woman had no reservations about dressing five policemen down. I would never do that. Never. Not with American policemen, and certainly not with Indian policeman. My cousin’s house was robbed while I was in India  these past holidays, and it was an informative introduction to the workings of the Legendary Indian Police. All the stereotypes? They are true. Of the nine policemen we met, one was honest, respectful and professional. One.  Fortunately for all of us, the one honest one was an Inspector, so it looks like honesty can be rewarded.  However, the basic premise that you will be helped if you are wronged? False. And as for addressing a group of five policemen, every Indian knows that is a very bad idea.

Berkeley is exceptional even by American standards. Even so, I can only imagine the security of a society where one doesn’t have to be scared of, or watchful around the police. I think what makes it possible is the respect that the police get,  and the prospect pf reasonable recompense. Policemen are underpaid everywhere, and have an uncomfortable role in society. I do think  that Indian police have it much worse than many, and we Indians suffer as a result.

Returning after a long hiatus, I choose this as my topic of the moment: what place does the word “fluffy” have in a game of professional tennis?

I was watching the Australian Open last night with sports-mad husband, which is why the game between Tsonga and Verdasco was on. I found the game somewhat annoying, because it seemed like they kept winning points because the other one hit the ball out. It was pretty invariable in the first set (after which I gave up): they would rally for a few balls then one would hit it out. Toss, serve, repeat. Tiebreak.

And why was this happening? According to the commentators, it was becasue the roof being closed against the crazy heat made the ball more fluffy. Yes, fluffy. Yes, my husband nods, it gets fluffier.

Are you kidding me? These guys are pros, at their physical peaks, seeded 5 and 14. And they can’t adjust their groundstrokes to the fluffiness of the ball? Neither Serena Williams nor Svetlana Kuznetsova had problems with the altered texture of the ball in the previous match on the same court. And if the fluffiness was a persistent condition, the two gentlemen could have, as talented professionals, acclimated their strokes in a game or two? I guess not, because fluffy is as fluffy does.

Can’t wait for tonight. Will Roddick beat Federer because the velvety feel of the court surface at night helped him glide across the court? We’ll see.


On Sunday, a few weeks ago, I got home from a mini-hike and took a nap on the couch. Not an extraordinary event in itself, but this was a multimedia nap. I had the TV on and my computer atuo-refreshing game scores: I was watching two NFL games simultaneously while napping.

I’m a freak! When did this happen? I’m not a sports nut, although I was reared in the religion of cricket. I think it’s perfectly normal when grown men around me start hopping around enthusiastically in the living room, swinging their arms in a strange parody of a cover drive or windmilling their way through some hypothetical leg-spin bowing. It seems entirely natural that talented international athletes dress in bright yellow, baby blue or pearly green form head to toe. That they wear colour-coordinated hats. I’m used to the soporific, yet weirdly energizing, day-long process that watching a cricket match is. I own a Tendulkar T-shirt (of course I never wear it, because India lost the one time I did…).

When then did I become such an avid watcher of a sport in which hulking pawns crash and thunder around, in a game which, my husband assures me, is just like chess. I think it started when I moved to the States and was left cricket-less and bereft. I needed a sport to watch, and I started with ice hockey because of assorted relatives’ obsessions. It was fun for a while, but all I could think about was how cool the skating was, not exactly the point of the sport. I can’t do baseball, I just can’t. So I sat through Sunday football gatherings reading a book, even during Superbowls.

Then I gradually started to watch the game. And watched it even more, to the point where I started to understand it. Following that, I started dating a football nut, and eventually married him, and thought that my watching the NFL was fair trade for him having to sit through Kate Hudson movies when I had control of the remote. Now I watch the NFL because I like it. I go to Yahoo’s NFL site every morning, I read Michael Silver with as much interest as I read Thomas Friedman or Judith Warner. And, I know more about the football players for the my team (the Chargers, oh well) than I do about the Indian cricket team.

I know, I’m ashamed. But I think the NFL has become my cricket substitute in the States. After all, most people who watch it don’t play it, everyone has an opinion that they yell at the TV with passion. All this is common to most sports fans, but the NFL is most like cricket because of that whole soporific, yet energizing, day-long thing. All Sunday, starting at 10a.m., you just sit around and sort of drift through the game(s) and ads. You can cook, clean, read, all with the game on, just like cricket. You may miss the occasional critical moment, but mostly you can just check back now and then for the scores and replays. The (usually meaningless) commentary drones on soothingly. Oh, and international-caliber athletes wear hideous colours, head-to-toe, with matching headgear.

I suppose then, that the NFL gives me that cricketing feeling.

Academic Junkie

I’ve been a postdoc for three years now, long enough to feel actually graduated, and not long enough to have forgotten grad school.

I drifted into a Ph.D. program, largely because I was academically good and had no other plans. Something like heroin: you just try it once by accident, it gets addictive, and before you know, it defines your life. Many years later, I’m firmly committed to the academic life, with the grinding research, pathetic pay and rare rewards. It’s a conscious choice, and while there is no guarantee whatsoever that I will actually be able to make a career in this field, I’m okay with giving it a shot.

Which is my long and rambly way to bring up the Ph.D. students in my lab. I’m in a lab at a fairy prestigious university, and as such, the students that come to do their Ph.D.s here are extraordinarily bright, pushy, ambitious and hard-working.

They also seem to have no sense of balance: the students in my little division at least. They work all the time. They are here early, leave late, work on weekends, spend all their time in lab and with their labmates. They are full of energy and so driven to succeed, it breaks my heart.

I am an idealist, this is my biggest failing, and my greatest motivator. I was even more of an idealist in grad school, and I worked hard, and did so many things that I just do not have the energy to do now. I look back now, and I see it as a series of emotional stages I passed through, all somehow culminating in my being called Dr. Indian Abroad, and in my continuing to subject myself to the emotional roller-coaster of a postdoc. But more on that later.

I went from futzing around in my first-year into the second-year slump, then into the third-year trough, followed by the frantic fourth-year, culminating in the fifth-year freak-out. My work-style also followed this pattern, going from ignorant but enthusiastic bunny to frustrated lab-rat chasing its tail, and ending up as manic, crazily-focussed, super-endurance athlete. Needless to say, it was a great high while it lasted, but I crashed and burned afterwards.

Life can pass you by in grad school. And sometimes, I just want to tell those driven kids around me to take a break and think about it. Or maybe, they have it right, that is the life that’s worth having. Academics Anonymous anyone?

I want to Vote!

I want to vote! I want to vote so badly it *hurts*! I bounce up and down with frustration every time I see an exit poll, or a new map re-distributing the electoral college. I read a friend’s ballot with the greed I usually reserve for Georgette Heyer and dosais. I vented some frustration by voting in the Economist’s Global Electoral College and casting my vote with a particularly deliberate and satisfying click. But that’s it. For the rest, I will rail at the television, pray to the gods of Pennsylvania and Virginia, and dress up as a swing state for Halloween. A blue one.

It’s not just this election, though being on the scene and unable to do anything is difficult. I have never voted in any election. I’m an Indian citizen, and never managed to vote there in the three years that I lived there and was legal, mainly due to atrocious geography. Then I moved here, and haven’t voted since then, because India doesn’t have absentee voting. I have spent fruitless hours trawling through the ill-designed and distinctly user-unfriendly websites of the Indian consulates in the US, hoping that we had absentee voting. I haven’t found it yet.

I feel disenfranchised. Really. And simultaneously, I think that that feeling of disenfranchisement is a uniquely American one, because it is based on the charming idea that every single person’s vote counts. Cheesy movies aside, that is rarely the case, either in India or the  US, and with gerrymandering such a prevalent sport, most people have no hope of making that difference. I think it would have been cool to vote in Brazil: they used to have a blank space on the ballot where you could write your vote, and apparently people used that to freely express their discontent with government. The Brazilians even voted a rhinoceros, Cacareco,  the mayor of Sao Paolo, protesting against the government’s corruption.

Essentially, I feel that I have a voice, and its being suppressed. I do realize that this is something I would have probably shrugged off with equanimity, or at least fatalism, had I lived in India. California’s fresh air and optimistic energy have changed me though, now I am a seething, muzzled, disenfrachisee where I could have been a gentle cynic.

And there are people who can vote, but haven’t bothered to register!!! Vote, people!