Colourless green ideas sleep furiously

When I came to the university about 3-4 months ago, I was all charged up about doing research projects, publishing papers, etc. I always imagined myself to be this hidden wizard of computer science who will just race through the tons of research papers and practically become an authority on research in my field within a span of a year. Pretty soon, I signed up for some reading groups where they discussed papers, I took courses that dived straight into the core of my research interest, and was suddenly beginning to feel good about myself. More importantly, professors and other senior researchers here are more than happy if you go up to them after having read an extra paper or two and ask questions about them. So I tried to bury myself in the research papers and journals and stuff like that.

But it was then that the realisation struck that I know practically nothing of the field and the subject! So while I would plough on and on through 15 or 20 pages of a research paper, I'd hardly understand anything in the entire document. All new terms, so many references, and so much data suddenly seemed to overwhelm me. Wikipedia, google and all were good, but assimilating the knowledge embedded in these papers to form some meaningful representation in the brain was not happening. I would walk into reading group meetings with the paper in hand, and then wonder at the way others were able to analyse the paper and discuss it so meaningfully, while I would sit and stare open-mouthed. In spite of my efforts, things went past my head like a jet plane flying past a potato godown and I kept wondering what I am doing here.

And more scary are the profiles of the new people being admitted to the department! Man, toppers from all over the place with a couple of years of research lab experience: I almost feel like an outsider who came in by fluke here! But the good thing about such people is that they are not snobbish or anything: they are more than happy to discuss the concepts that they know with me whenever I am genuinely interested... and that is all the time. You go up to a person to discuss the last day's lecture, or even the next day's assignment, and everyone is willing to share ideas and/or discuss the material. It is not a spirit of competition: it is a spirit of synchronous growth.

But I have an advantage that the others don't have: I am learning things afresh. So I am allowed to ask the most silly questions and can get away with demonstrating that I am a fool, and learn a whole lot in exchange. I also get to suggest bizzare ideas to implement stuff, sometimes ideas that I just learnt in another lecture... and yet nobody frowns. I know that it is a crude method of learning, but I like to know every inch of the way and usually do that by questioning almost everything that I am taught. It is a bit unnerving and frustrating to not know what almost everybody around you knows so well. But I am trying... trying hard so that the 'colourless green ideas' that currently 'sleep furiously' in my brain settle down and that I make some sense of the whole. It will take enormous patience and tenacity, but I know that I can make it. Some day, we shall overcome...

Comments

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Das, point noted! But perhaps these snobs and helpful people exist everywhere... we shouldn't generalise!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Research is not knowing about everything but making the d best out of wat u already know n still keep learning more n more...like a ship steering its way through deep oceanic waters and towering icebergs to discover what mystery lies hidden behind them...i guess u just have the right attitude to make d best in this field !!-Ms NMA

    ReplyDelete
  6. I hated reading journal/confy papers and then asking question on those papers to profs. I did it once or twice, and realized I was just faking it without any real interest in it :-).

    Unless you are steering towards an academic professin after your PHD, or a research position at M$, IBM or Google, I often find real world tech has little relation to academic world.

    Just my 2$

    ReplyDelete
  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  8. ARUNABH DAS:Research is tricky stuff....u hve to come up with d right results n u tread different paths to reach em....but u never know if u're safe....its so challenging n u may often find urself wrong n d ship may drown !!!!!!...n will end up u in redoing d whole thing...d icebergs resemble ur stream of thoughts...n u never know which curve may drown d ship...but this doesnt mean u stop n just stare...u hve to go on despite negative results...n reach the right conclusion which is d mystery shrouded by d icebergs....but wat drives u all through this is ur optimism....history isn't made in absence of fear.But on d contrary I find u pragmatic so I don't disagree with u altogether.-Ms NMA

    ReplyDelete
  9. Ms NMA, you carry a very sober head on your shoulders, and thanks for the thoughtful comments! The thrill lies in steering through the icebergs, in diving through the unknown and trying to search for the hidden treasures. Yes, failures do come, but then they also teach you how not to do it!

    Supremus, I too had suspected myself of faking the interest at some time... but now I know for sure that I am interested. The fascination doesn't seem to fade away from my thoughts. And yes, getting a research position in some corporate (be it Microsoft, Google or IBM or Amazon) is what I plan to do finally.

    Das, agreed with what you said... but lets see what the future holds for me :)

    ReplyDelete
  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Ah, a post I identify with! Felt so lost at the start of the semester, feel a little less lost now. Couldn't have done it without the wonderful profs :)

    Go Irish!

    ReplyDelete
  13. "Comment deleted" so many times? Are you taking panga with someone online?
    I agree with what you have written. In research, you are walking on an unknown path. No one knows the end result. So only a few should tread there. By tempermanet Indians play safe. That's why there are so few Indian research students but so many code coolies.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Anonymous, feeling a little less lost but still feeling lost, eh? :) Well, all the best to you as well!

    P.S. - Is this sky?

    Alka, well, the first set of comments were deleted by the author himself. I deleted the last two as this comment space was turning into a meaningless fight over verbiage. No panga business --- just avoiding crap from generating more crap :)

    BTW, nice to know that you agree as well. But the idea behind playing safe also stems from the kind of encouragement and infrastructure a budding researcher can get in India, I'd say. It is easier being a researcher here than in India

    ReplyDelete
  15. Your post reminded me about my initial days at work, when I had just joined. I had to research on the aerospace and defense market and analyze the financials of the companies involved.

    Imagine my plight when I had to sit and digest aircraft, helicopters, satellites, airports and much more. I never knew being a financial analyst was so tough! Slowly, I got over my fear and now I am happy with my sector. :)

    So you will make it too, one fine day!

    -Rani

    ReplyDelete
  16. Sudipta,
    U will mark the diffrence within urself after one year .... i carried same exercise with some computational optimization methods when I was in college... Going thru 20 papers a day..searching all night on google for PDf files etc...but it was in India..no researcher was around me like u hav now..Now i m a software coolie in India..

    At the end I think research is more about passion and the belief within urself for ur work..

    Best of luck

    ReplyDelete
  17. Syrals, well although aircrafts, helicopters, satellites, etc sound cool, I am sure that the nitty-gritty figures behind each of them must have had you frustrated then. Good to know that you like your work now; and thanks for the good wishes! :)

    Anonymous, yeah well I understand the feeling... and hard work always pays off no matter what. Why do you imagine yourself to be a s/w coolie in India? My experience of the industry did not make me hate it: I did like the work there as well! But anyway, thanks for the good wishes: I liked the way you summarised your view of research!

    ReplyDelete
  18. Sudipta, I have tagged you. :-)Hope you won't be too mad with me for daoing that. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  19. Alka, why on earth should I be mad for being tagged? I'll take it up sometime :)

    ReplyDelete
  20. Heh, it happened to you at the PhD level? You smart person you. It's been happening to me ever since my second undergraduate year. People around me write and debate furiously about the spontaenity of jazz as related to the (apparantly meaningless) poetry of some snooty bastard or the other, and how it's become an appropriated metaphor of cultural expression of ethnic identity in some postcolonial cultures and how in a way it's reshaping (Eurocentric) political theory as we know it.

    And I'm all :O :O :O

    Not good for the soul, this sort of thing. But oh well. Grin and bear it. One, two, three... :D :D

    ReplyDelete
  21. ...where they speak no word of truth...but we don't understand anyway...

    ReplyDelete
  22. Rimi, ahh... after such a long time! Well this has been happening to me on and off for a long time, but it had never struck me so bad. And what was that jazz, etc?? You can add an infinite series of :O -s for that on my behalf.

    Das, to understand, you must know the truth --- that is a prerequisite! :)

    ReplyDelete
  23. All the best dude!! I'm sure u must be heading in the right direction :-)

    ReplyDelete
  24. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  25. so how do u feel now...is it still the same....or u are feeling on par with others....or somewhat near...!

    ReplyDelete
  26. R, I guess it is still at the same level

    ReplyDelete
  27. oh no - thats bad...what's stopping you?? Have you worked within you....do u want me to send you motivational stuff....to inspire you...buddy don't give up, just get up and fight !!
    You shall overcome...( U better do that...my ipod is going away - oh no....:-)

    ReplyDelete
  28. R, thank you, and the fight is on! Whatever gave you the idea of an iPod coming your way?

    P.S. - In case you want to continue the discussion on this or any old blog post, please drop me an email. It is difficult to dig up them and go and comment back.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular Posts