First Impressions of Graduate School

As most (all?) of you know, I’m just starting graduate school at the University of California, Santa Barbara, working towards a PhD in Bio-Physics and Bio-Engineering in the Bio-Molecular Science & Engineering (BMSE) department. The orientation prcoess started on Tuesday, and it’s been quite a ride so far.

Tuesday was the governmentally-mandated Safety training day. In practical terms, this meant about 3 hours of a slide show crammed full of pictures from the 60s and 70s, with the occasional bit of information thrown in to keep you off-guard. We did, however, get to do a live fire extinguisher demonstration, complete with burning tub of gasoline and a hilarious fire safety instructor (typical dialogue: “So when you’re facing down the dragon, you’ve got to have ammo in your gun, so you need a recharged tank. Yeha!”)

After the safety lecture, I managed to gather up 5 other people and we all decided to get lunch on State St (the walking mall of Santa Barbara). One of the students, Scott, needs a ride to his car… Well, his car was about 200 meters from campus, and I proceed to turn it into a 15 minute trip by missing an important turn. Crud. We snagged lunch at a great Italian place… which unfortunately had horrendously slow service, since we were all starved. All in all, though, it was a great chance to start getting to know Scott, Henry, Angela, Anubhav, and Camille.

Wednesday, by contrast, was much better. It was the MCDB retreat, but our department was invited to attend (trivia: in previous years, our departments had shared one retreat, but since our department is growing, we decided to do it on our own this year… but free food is free food). Retreat apparantly equals incoming students sit silently for hours on end listening to faculty talks. Luckily, since I wouldn’t be working with any of them, I felt no guilt in ducking out of quite a few of the talks to mingle with people, eat breakfast, or whatever else. Some of the talks were pretty cool, though– my favorite was “Molecular Mechanisms underlying neurodegenerative diseases- ‘dynamic’ insights of tau mediated neuronal cell death”, presented by Dr. Stuart Feinstein.

Plus, how can you turn down a free lunch? Well, maybe if the margin is so tight that by the time the end of the line (right around me) was approaching the food, they were counting every sandwich and cookie… I think 3 people ended up without food. Gah. Maybe they shouldn’t have invited the BMSE kids, if their margin was that tight. At lunch I got to see more of Scott, Angela, and Anubhav. I also got a chance to meet two other BMSE club members, Yoko and Li.

So– at this point, I’m feeling pretty happy. I’m fed, I really like the faculty attitudes (they seem to see collaboration more as a given than anything special, for one thing.. every faculty I’ve talked to is collaborating with a minimum of 3 or 4 other faculty on campus, often across department lines) and environment, and most importantly– every BMSE student I’ve met has been very fun. Easy-going, friendly, and interesting. Most excellent.

The afternoon concludes the day with the poster session / kegger at the UCSB Cliff House… a off-campus building that happens to be about a half mile from my house, on the cliff overlooking my beach. *laughs* convenient.
I biked the 3.1 miles (I didn’t want to walk back on the beach at night, and by road it’s quite a bit less direct) to the Cliff House (ugh, hills) and wasn’t sure if I was at the ight place.. so I asked a Motorcyclist who had pulled off at a similar spot, and was just removing his helmet and black leather jacket…. Yup, turned out to be one of the professors… Who collaborates on some nanotech stuff. Very nice guy, very laid-back and very smart. Hopefully, I didn’t come off as too out of it– I had just biked 3 miles uphill, and I’ll admit I was a little winded.
The poster session was great- very few posters that screamed out at me, but I met a lot more current graduate students (including some who invited Scott and I to join them for a weekly Friday night outing), and met up with the BMSE graduate students I had met on my recruitment weekend, Dana and Neils (both of whom got married between that weekend in January and now. hehe).
I got to eat dinner with the BMSE crowd, and we’re already making plans to hit movies and stuff. Like I said, very fun and interesting crowd, and I feel so much more relaxed than I have been. Hopefully, they feel the same way about me.

Now, I don’t have an official orientation activities until next Monday… which is convenient, since I need to go visit my first rotation professor, get my student access card, and all sorts of other “housekeeping” issues.

So, yeah… that’s my first impression of graduate school. What do you think?

One Response to “First Impressions of Graduate School”

I don’t know, Andrew, that’s a very intimidatingly long post to just respond to 🙂

But, it does sound like you’re doing a good job at settling into your new environment — being social, setting up group activities, and just making friends/networking. And, pretty soon you’ll have some interesting classes and lab work to go with it… You’ll be like a social Drosophila.

Teisha - September 16th, 2004 at 6:11 pm

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