Saturday, February 24, 2007

"We came with the faces of innocents
And we left with the bodies of men."

Yesterday was the Undergraduate Research Symposium, in which everyone who had done summer or fall research in 2006 and wanted to present their findings did so, either of their own volition or the volition of their advisor (or in my case, a little bit of both).

As most of you know by now, I like to say that my research means little-to-nothing to me (even though it's not quite true). It's about the magnetic response of iron/zinc compounds at low temperatures--4 K or so--and has absolutely nothing to do with what I want to do with the rest of my life--as far as I know, the only magnetic property wine has is the ability to pull in pretentious people like moths before a flame.

However, it is my research and my name is right there on the abstract (which I'm planning on swiping, maybe so I can have it framed), so I have *some* attachment to it. I did have a fantasy going on in my head that afternoon, wondering if I could get away with jaded cynicism, and if so how far I could take it:

Person asking me about my research: "So what real-world applications does this have?"
Me: "Nothing! Absolutely nothing! The people doing this kind of research are Dr. DeFotis and two groups in Japan, and they are the literally the only people in the world who give one tinker's damn about the magnetic ordering temperature of iron(III)-bisdiselenocarbamate systems. *taking a swig of scotch from the bottle I have with me* Research self-perpuating for no good reason at all! Ain't academia great?"

Alas--or fortunately, take your pick--that didn't come to pass. Instead I just told people about what I did as best I could remember because, hey, it's been almost four months since I even thought about this stuff, let alone cared about what all the lines on the pretty graphs I made represent.

It was still a fun time, though. I got to talk with a bunch of professors from the department who were there, including my fellow Sinfonian Dr. Poutsma. He and Tyler (my research partner with Dr. DeFotis' group) told me two stories--somewhat at variance--about Tyler's defense of his thesis last semester. It seems Dr. Poutsma had taken umbrage with Dr. DeFotis' swaggering, superior attitude about the quality of his work (as well as his derisive comments about other professors' research), and had asked Tyler pointed questions about the nature of DeFotis' work--i.e., the fact mentioned above that no one cares about it except him and a few groups from Japan. The comedy of the situation drew from the fact that DeFotis had to sit there in the same room and seethe silently while Tyler admitted that no, in fact, our research had no practical applications and no, no one else in the world was interested in magnetic susceptibility. (Dr. Poutsma had been kind enough to warn Tyler beforehand that he was going to ask such questions, and was doing it not to put Tyler on the spot but rather to take DeFotis down a few pegs--a task richly worth doing, I might add.) Dr. Rice, the department chair and one of my personal heroes, added that the other reason behind the whole thesis song-and-dance was that they knew DeFotis was going to attempt to answer Tyler's questions and they all take extreme pleasure in getting to "shush" him.

It gave me a nice feeling, like I had been vindicated--perhaps avenged--by the entire department.




I'm still flying.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Icarus...careful how high you soar.

You might consider naming this post "The Avenger"...or some such.

12:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a compliement, not a snark.

12:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I meant "compliment."

12:04 AM  
Blogger Gryffilion said...

Just addressing the nagging itch of curiosity, what's your real name?

12:09 AM  

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