Monday, January 13, 2014

Love-hate relationship with Cambridge

"strategy for getting myself out of a rut is to sit at my desk reminding myself of what the problem is, reviewing my notes, generally filling my head with the issues and terms, and then I just get up and go do something relatively mindless and repetitive. At our farm in the summer, I paint the barn or mow the hayfield or pick berries or cute fire wood to length…. I don’t even try to think about the problem, but more often than not, at some point in the middle of the not very challenging activity, I’ll find myself mulling it over and coming up with a new slant, a new way of tackling the issue, maybe just a new term to use. Engaging my brain with something else to control and think about helps melt down the blockades that have been preventing me from making progress, freeing up the circuits for some new paths. My strategy could hardly be cruder, but it works so well so often that I have come to rely on it.
One summer, many years ago, my friend Doug Hofstadter was visiting me at my farm, and somebody asked him where I was. He gestured out to the big hayfield behind the house, which I was harrowing for a reseeding. ‘He’s out there on his tractor, doing his tillosophy,’ Doug said. Ever since then, tillosophy has been my term for this process. Try it; if it doesn’t work, at least you’ll end up with a painted room, a mowed lawn, a clean basement."
- Daniel Dennett, philosopher. 
Sorry for the MIA and sudden random quote. As I am writing, I am enjoying the Top 40 Billboard on Spotify, for the first time after months (or since second year Medicine in Cambridge started) The problem with these songs are, they are mostly pop sounds or clubbing songs which are...not so conducive for studying, at least not for me, because I enjoy them so much I tend to sing, or sometimes dance along with them instead of, well, studying. I am just too attention deficient to do anything these days. When I am studying, I must 'multi-task' (paint my nails, make cups of coffee, check my email) in order to 'focus'. I know it sounds paradoxical but it's true. If I just sit there and try to focus, I will never get pass the 1 sentence because I stand up and start doing something again. Sigh. 
Perhaps that's why I find the quote above so attractive. 
And perhaps, it's because I was just done my second year mock! Don't go 'it's just a mock' on me! Caius' mock is more intense than Cambridge finals. It's all subjects, back to back, with shorter than standard time allocation, all in one afternoon. I didn't do well, in fact, I think it's quite bad. What's more heartbreaking for me is I did bad in my favourite subject - Neuro. What if I am not that suitable for the subject, should I pursue it further? Oh wells. I went for a celebratory meal (for surviving the mock) with Livia at Gourmet Burger Kitchen after that and had a nice long chat with her. Surprising how we (actually they, the people doing a 3-years course) are approaching 'Halfway Formal' soon, it seems like it's just yesterday we were all freshers, in anticipation of starting our Cambridge life  
At least, I get to get tonight off, to enjoy this hiatus before Lent term starts again tomorrow. Should I sigh? Or should I be excited and happy?
Oh, Cambridge and I. We have this love-hate relationship. (It was just hate-more hate relationship for my first year) As much as I love the knowledge and opportunity it offers here, I sometimes yearns for a rest, the one without a deadline creepy at the back of your mind. Our holidays are not exactly holiday. I mean, who else in this world feels guilty for taking a break for 2 days during their 21st birthday and Christmas day!? And to the rest of the world, we are scoffed for having the longest holiday even though we are in the top university! No, our holiday is not a REAL holiday!  And all the 'attention' we get from our supervisors...sometimes I feel like I am just a part of the production line of 'First Class Students'. If we don't meet the number, our consequences would just be...unbearable.
But!!! I complain less nowadays, may be because I have adapted to the way things work here, working 18 hours per day is just a 'norm' now. Or maybe, because I have someone to share the burden with me... :) 
Talking about taking a break, I was just browsing through the 'Special Options' we get to attend as part of our second year course.(Don't judge, this is how I take a break from work) There are 8 subjects related to Medicine in a wider perspective that we get to choose from. These subjects are more interesting in the sense that they are not just lectures and labs, it's incorporated with presentations, seminars, lots of further readings etc on THINGS WE ACTUALLY LIKE. :) Ok, I am not being sarcastic here, there are really things which I truly love  and wish to learn about - cognitive neuroscience and psychology. I have always been interested in these things, but there seemed to be no hint of related things in our course so far, until now. :)) Selections of IQ tests during lab sessions, how cool is that?! No, I am not a nerd, I just have a different interpretation of 'entertainment.'
Another thing I love about Cambridge is, it's such a BIG name (although most of us here don't feel so), it opens many doors of top institutions in the world for you instantly. I am currently looking for summer research programmes in the States, more specifically, BIGGGG NAMES like Harvard, John Hopkins etc. Seriously, before Cambridge, I did not even dare to dream about these place but now I am courageously applying to do researches there?

In my first year, being in this place has taught me to be humble, to be hungry for knowledge and to learn how to learn. 
In my second year, being here has taught me to have courage. Strive for the impossibles. 

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