Sunday, October 29, 2006

More procrastination

Listening to: 'En Aranjuez Con tu Amor' by Il Divo [Ancora]

Nothing much to say at the moment. I should really prepare for next week's supervisions but instead I've managed to spend the whole weekend doing nothing. Oh I bought a pair of boots - very nice. But yeah, other than that, nothing. I'm spending way too much time on Facebook.

I decided to move (well, copy really) all my poems from deviantART to a new blog, Mind Over Matter. Don't ask why, I don't really know...I think I was just trying to find ways to waste time. It also made me realise that I haven't written anything since March 2005!!! That's disgraceful. I really need to do something about it...I used to be such a prolific poet (if you could call me that). Hmm maybe now that I'm effectively jobless I can find time to write. Oh screw that, haven't even found time to start teaching myself Tamil yet! Grrr...

OK I'm fed up of procrastinating now. I will go and do some work. Promise. Just after I check Facebook........

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Side effects of Eye Candy

Listening to: 'Love Song for No One' by John Mayer [Room for Squares]

So this is where they've all been hiding - grad school. Four years after I decided that Cambridge is devoid of hotties, I find myself in a room with all of them! OK slight exaggeration - they're good looking (then again, my taste is questionable) but not amazing (i.e. no threat to Brad Pitt), and I wasn't with all of them, just four. But still, decent lookers with brains are hard to find!

Finally, there's something other than work to think about. This would seem a great improvement from the 'am I bothered?' attitude I had a couple of months back, but somehow it's not as comforting as I hoped it'd be. There are two thoughts that pop up frequently -
...Yeah but it's not like any of them fancy me!
...even if someone did, it's not like I'd actually go out with them!
Yes I know I'm being awfully schoolgirlish about the whole situation, but I guess when your only remotely pseudo-romantic encounter was an aeon ago, your imagination tends to work overtime. And that's another problem. All this eye candy has jerked my memory awake and sent it back to that fateful perfect moment...and it's depressing. I feel as though I'm a slave to that memory and it's painful. And while I'd like to say that John Mayer's Love Song for No One echos my current sentiment, there's a part of me that doesn't feel confident to step out of the gloom. *Sigh* my heart feels heavy. Lack of sleep doesn't help either.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Getting on the Flickr bandwagon

Listening to: 'Chega De Saudade' by Lisa Ono [Bossa Carioca]

Quick post 'cos I should've been in bed an hour ago. Just sorted out my Flickr account. Don't expect any breathtaking shots, but I've put up some that I thought are decent. Haven't put the Prague ones up yet, but I will do.

Oh yeah here's the link.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Fancy some cheese?

Listening to: 'L-O-V-E' by The Harvard Krokodiloes [Downstairs at the Upstairs Bar]

Much of the past week has been spent trying to find my way home. The cheapest option I was given was SriLankan Airlines...for a bit more than £800 - I'm sorry, not happening. But then, my parents came through (as always). For just under £500, I can fly to and from Colombo...from Geneva. And thanks to the very sweet Swiss Embassy (it's all that toblerone, I tell you) I don't need a visa to visit Geneva, here I come! In all my geekiness I did contact the folks at CERN to check out the possibility of me visiting, and while they assured me that I wouldn't be exposed to any remotely dangerous magnetic fields, they informed me that there are no vacancies on the tour for the day I'm in Geneva. Boo hoo. Oh well, enough of other things to occupy myself with, I'm sure! I know zilch about Geneva apart from CERN and the Palais des Nations, so any suggestions for stuff to do in a day are greatly appreciated! I'm quite excited about exploring Geneva by myself.

In other news, my first supervision is on Thursday. No, I'm not being supervised...I'm supervising. Eek! It's so weird being on the other side of the fence, hoping that someone will actually understand what I'm trying to explain. Funny thing is, now I need to do past exam questions as preparation - and I thought I'd never have to do them ever again!!! Funny that.

Oh and I was in London over the weekend. I was tired by Thursday, but I decided to move my ass over to London on Friday evening. Met up with friends from school on Friday night (and slept at 5am), met my aunt Saturday lunchtime and met up with college friends for Pinky's birthday on Saturday night (again, must've slept at about 5am). Dragged myself back to Cambridge on Sunday evening, feeling quite awful. Who said you need to be drunk to feel rough? I think I've slept it off now though, which is good, 'cos it's still only Tuesday!

Well, swimming tomorrow night so if I want to prepare for supervisions on Thursday, I'm gonna have to do it tonight. You'll hear from me after that, if I haven't already been mauled by my supervisees!

Oh before I forget...check out - move over Sudoku, this is my new procrastination aide!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Splashing out

Listening to: 'Finding Me' by Vertical Horizon [Everything You Want]

Just got back from swimming. Yes, swimming. Yours truly has decided to get some exercise that's not walking to and from the Chem Eng department. It won't be cheap, but I think it's worth it (and my father agrees...which is a good thing, considering it's his money!). Technically, I'm supposed to be able to swim - I have my '10m Front Crawl' certificate from primary school (I love how British schools give you certificates and 'star' stickers for every little thing). Practically, I can hardly float. I've managed to unlearn everything I learnt. D'oh! Thankfully the instructor is amazing and my 'classmates' are as clueless as moi.

Taking the advice of those who commented, I went and told the Safety Officer about my condition. The first-aiders will be informed so that in the event of an emergency, they'll watch out for me. My supervisor will also be told, so that I'm not asked to carry anything. Oooh and I get a pair of prescription safety specs paid for by the department! Maybe I should ask them for a new laptop while I'm at it, eh? ;-)

Oh and I bought 3 pairs of earrings today from Claire's - the only place in Cambridge with decent clip-ons.

Now I will end this slightly random blog post. I need sleep.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

To be, or not to be...

Listening to: 'Valerie' by The Zutons [Tired of Hanging Around]

The Goo Goo Dolls did a gig at the Cambridge Corn Exchange last night. It's quite surprising how many good rock bands actually play here, considering what a small place this is. I guess the student population makes it worthwhile. But yeah, there was a spare ticket...I could've gone. I've never seen anyone play live before, unless of course you count the time I saw Jason Donovan in Joseph - man I used to love him (yeah I know, I was young and foolish). LOL I remember 'practising' my scream, for when he appeared on stage...hey, I was nine, what do you expect?! My poor darling father paid a lot of money for that birthday present.

Anyway, I digress. Like I said, I could've gone. The ticket wouldn't have been too expensive either. However, I had to decline on medical grounds. Yeah I can tell you're confused. I think I've alluded to my condition in a previous post, but I've never explicitly explained it in BlogWorld. I'm not sure why, but it's possibly because I'm trying to maintain that I'm more than just the sum of my imperfections. Nevertheless, I feel I should be less vague about what is undoubtedly a major part of my life, so here I am (this isn't supposed to sound dramatic by the way, so I apologise if it does)...

When I was eleven years old, I was diagnosed with a condition called scoliosis, which basically means that my spine is an "S" shape instead of being straight, and my rib cage is twisted. I had corrective surgery when I was 12, where a stainless steel rod (about a foot in length) was inserted and clipped to my spine. Because the curvature was quite severe, the correction wasn't absolute, so my spine's still a bit curvy and my rib cage is still twisted. [Useless piece of info: Melanie Blatt of All Saints also has scoliosis]

So what does this mean in the long term? Well, almost nothing. Externally I look mostly normal, maybe like someone with bad posture. I don't have pain, and my scar is just a straight line down my back, which isn't too ugly to look at. On a personal level, there are some limitations. I can bend from my hips and knees, but not from my waist. My heart and lungs have less room to expand (due to the twisted rib cage) so I get short of breath very quickly. If I fall (or bend from the waist), the clips that fasten the rod to my spine might break, and I'll be paralysed. Hence any kind of competitive sport is out of the question; same with crowds (hence the 'no' to the concert invite). Oh and I'm not supposed to carry heavy things because of the strain on the spine. Finally, when I look in the mirror, I look like halves of two different people stuck together...which can be quite frustrating when I'm in a vain mood...but that's more a case of low self esteem than anything else. Thankfully clothing covers my sins.

In one respect, I'm really lucky. I have a condition that has been largely corrected, and I can live an almost-normal daily life. Compared to people who have more severe mobility issues, I'm cruising. As long as I don't go near a big magnet, I'm fine. Oh and by the way, airport security hasn't detected the rod as yet.

On the other hand, I'm slightly 'disadvantaged' (although that seems like the wrong word in this context). Because people (including, and especially, my friends) can't see my condition, they forget that it exists. They forget/don't know about the limitations that I just mentioned. They don't seem to realise that I can't do things like a 'normal' person. They forget that sometimes, I need help. Any complaint on my part gets the response "oh she's whinging again, bloody attention seeker" or "if it's such a big issue, why did she come in the first place?" and I can see that my presence is a burden. Sometimes I think it would be different if I was pretty, but that's another discussion altogether.

So what am I? Am I disabled or not (see, this is where the title ties in, kinda)? According to the UK Disability Discrimination Act, I'm disabled if my condition has a 'substantial and long-term adverse effect on my ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities'...does having to stop half way up every small hill 'cos I'm out of breath count? I don't think so either. So legally, I'm not disabled. But since of late, I find my actions more and more restricted due to my condition. Or it may be that I'm trying to be more ambitious and then getting upset when I realise I can't do what I want to. If I'm not disabled, I should be able to do anything I want to, and anything anyone else does...but I can't. So, I ask you again, what am I? Call me a scientist, but I don't like being in a grey area where I can't be defined. I want to know where I stand. Our department's safety session is on Monday - do I tell the Safety Officer that I have 'disabilities'? Are they disabilities in the traditional sense? Do I have a legitimate place at the bottom-end of the disability hierarchy, or am I really just an attention seeker?

I'm generally of the opinion that one shouldn't get into a situation where they are a burden to others. Others shouldn't have to suffer for my sake. But does that mean that I can never go on a group holiday ever again? Does that mean that I can never go to a concert, even if I'm given a ticket? Does that mean that I should never engage in physical exercise (e.g. walking) in case I fall and someone has to take me to hospital? Suddenly something that was initially a very mild disability has turned into a huge deal. Suddenly I feel like I don't belong in the world of the 'physically perfect', and that I should 'stick with my own kind' (i.e. those with reduced mobility). Suddenly, I don't fit in.

Please understand, I'm not looking for sympathy. My condition is just 'one of those things'. The purpose of this post is not to make you feel sorry for me. I'm not ignorant to the fact that there are many of you reading this who have your own imperfections. How do you deal with it?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Elitism, Discrimination and the Curse of Cambridge...

Listening to: 'En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor' by Il Divo [Ancora]

...or "why I don't like to say I'm from Cambridge".

Let me start with a (few) disclaimer(s): I am in no way trying to rub it in your face. I do not think I'm better than you. I do not think that I'm the most privileged individual in the room. I am not some kind of alien who can't carry on a non-intellectual conversation. The fact that I'm a female engineer at Cambridge does not make me a freak.

Now let me ask you a question: do you believe me? Nah, didn't think so. And that, in my opinion, is where the problem lies. Stephen Fry, one of Cambridge's prominent alumni, said this last year:
The best thing about having gone to Cambridge University was never having to deal with not going there.
And essentially, I think that's what's happened. A kind of 'sour grapes' attitude adopted by some unsuccessful applicants has helped immortalise the 'Cambridge Elite' - something that (in my experience) hasn't existed for quite a while. On one hand, the university is trying its level best to appear more accessible to 'target' audiences - ethnic minorities, state schools, kids from broken homes. In the other corner, Cambridge graduates get the following reception when they go out into the 'big bad world' (these are things my friends have been told) -
" it because you're intellectually superior?"
"You're doing quite well at being approachable for someone from Cambridge."
And then of course there's the alpha female syndrome. Let me explain:
  1. Go to party with no other Cambridge people present
  2. Get introduced to Random Guy
  3. Random Guy asks you where you're studying
  4. You say 'Cambridge'
  5. Random Guy's jaw drops - OR - Random Guy makes some sarcastic comment to prove that he's not intimidated (see that's just not convincing enough to me)
  6. Random Guy conveniently finds a way to leave, with you standing by yourself looking like a mutt who can't carry on a conversation
Oh I'm sorry, did you get upset by the fact that I have a higher IQ than Britney Spears? D'oh.

And that's not all. Yesterday I learned the workings of Research Councils in the UK, and how universities get money for research. Bottom line: if the project is from Cambridge, it won't get any funding 'cos "otherwise the other universities will complain that the councils favour Cambridge". I'm sorry, what? What happened to Research Councils rewarding the most worthy projects? What happened to Research Councils aiding research??? I'm disillusioned already. I thought I avoided industry so that it wouldn't be about the money. And now I'm told that if I was doing the same project at a mushroom university, I'd probably get funding because it would 'make the council look good'. Ugh this makes me sick. Everything in this world is a bloody popularity contest.

So yes, hopefully now you understand the Curse of Cambridge. Hopefully now you understand why quite a few Cambridge people are reluctant to tell you which university they're from. Hopefully now you understand why Cambridge seems to be getting much less publicity for 'groundbreaking research' compared with past centuries.

Oh by the way, I passed Stephen Hawking on the corridor at Addenbrooke's Hospital yesterday.

Monday, October 02, 2006

"Workin' 9 to 5..."

Listening to: some random (but nice) song on Radio 1

So it has begun. I am a first year postgraduate student at the University of Cambridge. My work week will be officially 40 hours long, and long as I want it to be. I walked into the department at around 9.30 this morning and drifted out at about 5pm. Nobody knew, nobody cared. It's a weird office work without office regulations (and without the pay). I've started with a read-through of someone's PhD thesis, and so far, so good. Admittedly, I've only read 10 pages.

Now I have to go downstairs and make some dinner (for myself). I'm beginning to see why PhD students are perceived as being unsociable creatures.