Sometimes people do thoughtless things. In their glow of righteous judgement, they assume that their listeners agree with them on some issue because it would be unthinkable not to, and they start seemingly consensual bash fests on *other* “stupid” people. But just because I don’t say anything doesn’t mean I agree. I mean, I’ve seen the quality of the bashers’ rhetoric’s and attempting to diffuse it isn’t worth my time. Being angry about this isn’t worth my time, either.

Nevertheless, I find myself increasingly annoyed with people for reasons it isn’t quite politic to explain. As a result, what I really want to do is find someone in this state who has the substance of my values and rant to them about shenanigans. But this makes me almost as bad as the people I’m ranting about because I’m tearing them down behind their backs. Indeed, for all I know, the person I’m ranting to doesn’t share as many of my values as I think they do.

The difficulty with writing about something like this is that it tends to come across overly vague. I have mentioned no issues and named no names because I have lost count of how many times and over how many issues this has happened to me in the past few months. It’s as though I’m a magnet for this behavior. In fact, as irritating as these people are, and as often as it happens, it remains that they feel comfortable enough around me to confide their annoyances and frustrations without fear of judgement. Alternatively, they think I’m a spineless wimp rather than a highly disciplined logic machine.

Either way, I can work with this. I have genuine arguments I can pick apart on my own time, and I have friends to whom I have grown so close that a revelation of my true values wouldn’t destroy the relationship. Indeed, I’d be surprised if most of my friends hadn’t guessed already. More importantly, I have an opportunity to force myself to love people. (Anyone who doesn’t think you can force yourself to love someone probably doesn’t have a great relationship with their siblings.) And that is a skill which will likely save my job for me one day…unless I become the Hulk, an occupation to which my present temperament is much better suited.

Me Hulk

Something You Probably Shouldn’t Ask A College Student

Someone recently asked me whether I felt “victorious” in the context of checking up on my progress through grad school. I demurred, but if you think about it, that’s a really relative question.

victory First off, unless you’re talking about college students who just aced really difficult assignments, I don’t think students generally feel “victorious”. (Maybe your experience has been more special than mine.)  I don’t feel victorious, like, ever. I feel loved. I feel safe. I also feel stressed and , scared. The good news is the answer to that question does not determine how things are actually going.

This is firstly because my feelings do not determine reality and reality does not determine my feelings. Sure, there’s a strong correlation there, but it’s one which (I hope) grows weaker by the day. Secondly, we have to draw a distinction about who’s doing the winning here. If I ace an assignment, but don’t feel I’ve done my best, I’ve lost. If I ace an assignment, but have to work myself to exhaustion, both the teacher and I have lost (It’s not supposed to be that hard). If I fail, but I accomplish what God has me here to do, He’s won. If I do my best, learn a lot, and still fail, I’m not sure if I’ve won, I’ve lost, or I can draw a tie. (Also, who do I win against? Myself, the educational system, or a difficult subject?)

You’ve asked the wrong question, probably because you don’t know what you want to know. Even I don’t know whether I feel victorious. If you want to know how I am, ask directly and expect an honest answer. You probably don’t want to ask about my studies unless you want to hear jargon. I’m not going to tell you my grades. I’d rather you told me you were praying for me. I’d rather you told me about a really hard test you once took (and didn’t fail). I’d rather be a person rather than a collection of grades and feelings.

Red Flags in Activism

Grass-roots activism has been a powerful force in American-history. However, there are certain common problems with activists’ arguments, which, if not obliterating that cause’s chance of being taken seriously, prevent *me* from taking them seriously.  Every organization that exhibits one of these warning signs is not necessarily foaming at the mouth, but has blind spots and should be approached with caution.

Darn Commies! (C) Paramount Pictures & Lucasfilm

Darn Commies! (c) Paramount Pictures & Lucasfilm

Persecution Doctrine is the belief that people/the establishment are actively persecuting a cause. But exactly what is persecution? Merriam-Webster defines “persecute” as

1: to treat (someone) cruelly or unfairly especially because of race or religious or political beliefs

2: to constantly annoy or bother (someone)

Often, however, no evidence of constant harassment or unfair treatment is presented. Nor does such evidence prove that either viewpoint is in the right. It only suggests that one side finds debate threatening. However, if said cause wishes to proceed in this vein anyway, I find their arguments more convincing if they document a substantial number of concrete examples of how the organization/specific people have been harassed or focus their argument on things the organization has done, rather than ways it has been disenfranchised.

Squelching Debate. Ironically, the people who complain that their viewpoint has not been given a fair hearing often deny the opposition the same thing. This may take the form of deleting criticizing comments or banning commentators from web-page. Debate suppression may take the form of ad hominem attack, building straw-men, or bulverism. Indeed, if these organizations actually believe that their opponents are “haters” whose viewpoints are dictated by the “establishment” one begins to understand their persecution doctrine. However, the correct viewpoint will not be injured by answering the opposing arguments, and will be more respected for it.

Excessive Adherence to/Refusal to Acknowledge Authorities is another warning sign. One may disagree with the authorities, but to do so, one must present reasons, and one’s own authoritative voices. Or activists may attempt to cover their back by only citing particular authorities without addressing personal experience or opposing arguments (See Squelching Debate). The potential activist should realize who their authorities are, determine whether that authority applies, and present challenges to and alternative viewpoints to their own.

Excessive Attention to Marketing need not signal duplicity, but it has been used to “crowd-out” bad stories. To establish credibility, one might address these bad stories openly, and without generalization. They won’t be as apt to pop up later.

Fear-Mongering is used as a recruiting technique. Unfortunately, these fears often rely on unproven assumptions or there are alternate means of preventing the feared outcome. To make these strategies more effective, one should ensure the feared outcomes are direct consequences of your cause’s failure, rather than one-thing-leads-to-another scenarios.

Refusal to Compromise or Leave Opponents an Honorable Out commonly prevents amicable agreements. For example, after WWI, the French insisted that the Germans shoulder the bulk of the war debt and accept responsibility for the war. Regardless on your opinion of whether the French were justified, the Germans never would have taken such an agreement had they any choice, and Hitler’s rhetoric at the beginning of WWII highlighted showing the world the superiority of the Aryan race. Policy change is essentially a treaty, so I believe in giving your opponent a way to come out of a skirmish with dignity intact. For example, Germany could have given up Alsace-Lorraine in exchange for debt forgiveness or trade agreements or something else, which might have allowed the new German administration (over which France had just become dominant) to remain in office where France could exert its sway.

Partial Falsehoods fall under the umbrella of intellectual dishonesty (unless, of course, there’s no way one could have known the truth). Activism is all about morals. What are yours?

Poor Spelling and Grammar does not imply poor reasoning skill, but look at it this way. If you can’t be bothered to proof-read or hire an editor, than why should I give you money? Quite probably, you don’t have an accountant either. If you don’t care about your cause enough to discuss it in an educated way, than why should I care?

Excessive Anger is both one of the most detrimental and most difficult problems to cope with. If you didn’t believe in this cause, then you wouldn’t be an activist. Yet anger clouds thinking and allows the opposition (if it exists) to write-off your supporters as a bunch of frothing at the mouth idiots. Rather one might formulate with possible retorts and ways to address them in a professional manner.

While these warning signs are present in a number of popular activist causes, I believe that they are the reason a lot of causes haven’t gone further: the organizers refuse to address people who value complete logical arguments or the organizers have not thought about why the opposition might oppose the movement or whether the movement’s goals are even viable.

While I find these characteristics troubling, they do not imply that an activist cause is necessarily wrong. There are some causes I support which display some of these red flags. In addition, there are many opposing outlooks on this issue. In researching some of the rhetoric out there, I stumbled across a post opining that youth activism is actually too “safe”, politically correct, cool-headed, and dependent on authority. While I agree that government-funded activism isn’t a good idea, my gripe with activism is that it is too emotionally driven, and the public makes decisions based on fear, rather than reason, while the activists place the appearance of righteousness over reason.

Why You Haven’t Seen Me in Three Months

There are three stages to graduate application.

1. Anticipation: Around October, I began thinking seriously about preparing my applications. I was in the process of writing fellowship applications to fund graduate school so I already had a lot of the material ready.

The primary barrier to application lay in the personal statement. The personal statement is an important part of the admissions process and commonly contains academic interests, future goals, reasons for pursuing graduate study, a summary of past research, reasons for applying to a particular university, and professors of interest all within 1-2 pages. That would seem straightforward enough. However there isn’t really a graceful way to say “I want to go to grad school so I can learn enough to complete the goals I’ve just mentioned.” (I didn’t say that.) Nor is it very easy to write a gripping narrative when the application instructions ask for details about research dates, results, and impacts: it’s not untoward to ask for such things, but the story turns into a laundry list.

Another complication was the GREs. Due to spending my summer at an REU, I hadn’t had a decent time to study. Then, due to difficulties deciding where I wanted to send my scores, I missed the deadline to sign up for the September 28th Chemistry GRE. That meant I got to take the normal GRE twenty-four hours before the chemistry GRE. What fun!

About the time I had a basic statement ready, I realized that I’d told professors who agreed to write recommendations for me that I’d sent them the request links as soon as possible. But it was also necessary that I tell them *when* the letters were due. Guess what? A lot of applications either don’t have a firm deadline or maybe sorta imply that it’s at the same time as the rest of the application. Unfortunately, some applications won’t send out requests until the application is actually submitted and others won’t let you input recommender names until you’ve submitted some kind of essay.

2. DesperationAbout three weeks out from my deadlines, I realized that most school deadlines fell two days after the end of finals week. To complicate things, the Hertz fellowship folks scheduled an interview in Chicago the week before finals week. So NOTHING was going to get done finals week or the weekend before. That was ok. I’d get everything in on the weekend after my interview. He he. I got stuff in before school offices opened on Monday.

Tweaking the personal statement for each school was also something of an adventure. I had a difficult time narrowing my list of schools in the first place. You see, I hadn’t heard yet of the Directory of Graduate Research through which students can find professors in their area. Instead, I identified the top twenty to forty schools in my area and was painstakingly reading through all the professor bios to find people I wanted to work with. (I also tried searching people who wrote really interesting papers in my area, but a lot of them either lived in China or no longer worked in academia.) Once I had identified target schools, I had forgotten what research went with what name and had to re-read professors’ bios so I could write about where I fit into their research, in addition to tweaking my essay to better fit general application requirements.

Of course, then, each college had these unnerving questions

  • Where else are you applying? To quote Frozone’s wife (the Incredibles) “Why…do you need to know?”
  • Have you contacted any professors at this school? Will I be penalized if I haven’t?
  • What are your potential sources of funding? Why is this an issue? I’m a college student. Of course I don’t have any money. BTW, most fellowships have no firm decision dates.

3. Insanity: I am technically done with all my applications, my recommenders having been very good sports about the entire process. Unfortunately, there seem to be a whole lot of loose ends.

One interesting facet of the application process was the ubiquitous ApplyTexas application. It’s supposed to eliminate the hassle of filling out a lot of different forms for Texas public colleges. Of course, each of these colleges has supplementary requirements, to satisfy which, one must log on to that college’s website. Last week I received an email from an administrator asking me to submit such supplemental documents and inviting questions. I replied with a minor question about transcripts…and got an automated reply.

I began checking my email every ten minutes.

Hoping to stave off some of the minor panic which comes with waiting one to four months for a reply, I logged on to a popular graduate student forum…and regretted it. What with my good GRE scores, GPA, and research record, I thought I had a great chance of getting in at the schools where I applied. There were people online with nearly perfect GRE scores, publications in recognized journals, and steller GPAs from name-brand institutions. What’s more, almost every school I had applied to had already started admitting some of these bright folks, leaving me to wonder whether I had a chance.

On the other hand, academics are competitive by nature. However, what’s really important is doing good science, which isn’t necessarily the same as sounding good on paper. It also helps to realize that most students, even those competing to get into the same program at a university do not want to work with the same professors or do the same research. While I won’t go so far as to say that everyone’s research is equally valuable, researching at a slightly less prestigious university does not mean that research is any less valid or that the person researching is any less of a scientist. At least you made it through the application process. That takes guts.


I’ve been working with a NMR a lot lately. It generates a reality all its own. Working with it during the past couple of days has taught me a few lessons:

  • You left something down a flight of stairs in the other lab. Figure out what it is.
  • Murphy’s law says as soon as a professor says this needs to be done today, another student will show up with the same urgency, whose sample should take much less time than yours. In theory. His sample is bigger on the inside.
  • After you insert a sample, you will realize that you forgot to remove your metal watch,  which might have messed up the magnetism of the NMR or your watch. No joke, my watch is losing time, though that might be the battery.

    Poor Watch

  • If you’re counting on getting “done” within a set amount of time, you won’t, because…
  • Shimming a sample never works the same way twice!
  • It may be necessary to pray for the equipment to get it to shim properly.
  • If labels can fall off, they will. Color code the caps of NMR tubes in sequences to make things simpler. (I use green-white-blue for incrementally more concentrated solutions.)
  • Make too much solution. Even if you use a volumetric flask, the elves will steal a few tenths of a milliliter.
  • There isn’t enough time to do homework between samples. Well, maybe like one question.
  • Do the dishes. The dish tray is a queue, not a dishwasher.
  • Things often don’t work out as planned. Keep going. 🙂

Dressed with Distress

Guys have it easy. As a general rule, when they get dressed up, they only have to ask “Do I have to wear a suit?” and on very rare occasions “Do I have to wear a tuxedo?” Girls get a very different dilemma. They not only have to worry whether they have to wear a skirt, but also about the color of the skirt, the material, the looseness, whether they wore the same thing a few days ago, if they can wear a hat,and whether they can safely wear close-toed shoes, to say nothing of the color, make, and style of the blouse, jewelry, and bag.

I am aware that certain persons have taken it upon themselves to make men’s clothing just as difficult. (This is why we have the fashion industry and the hipster.) The common man has in large part ignored this and just worries about matching his belt to his shoes.

Females such as myself are in a similar position. We don’t like the rules and have no inclination to follow them. We like dressing up, but have very distinctive styles. I have the fashion sense of a viking hippy. (That is to say, an elf.) So we cheat. My own cheating involves (gasp) wearing the same thing to every formal function possible. This involves lots of black, corduroy pants and a sweater. One day I hope to have the wardrobe of a conservative hobbit, or at least a college professor.

Then again, perhaps that I am attune to these things means that do have a good fashion sense. Perhaps guys have a bigger barrier. My little brother recently attended a formal function with his tie tied in a half hitch. Now I may have to worry whether my nylons match my blouse, but, for the present at least, I don’t have to tie a tie.

(I do realize hostesses may have to wear ties. I consider this an occupational hazard.)

Thanks to for the wonderfully informative diagram.

Tupperware: A Phantom Menace

A new menace to the world order has come to my attention. Even in the most ordered democracies, the presence of just one of these agents introduces entropy and initiates a swift downfall into chaos. Even now, it lurks unsuspected in our homes. This phantom menace? Tupperware.

Like most people, I find Tupperware to be a convenient way to store and transport leftovers. Few people consider that it both contributes to obesity, propagates waste, and encourages people the likes of Martha Stewart.

  • The ability to transport food encourages people to do so to ridiculous extremes. It is true that these people could buy vending machine chips for lunch instead of bringing a sandwich with them, but then, lunch is an unsustainable added expense, a privilege, and the vending machine economy is stimulated. So I say, support your local vendors especially if you live on a campus almost entirely supported by restaurant and vending machine revenue.
  • The availability of storage encourages people to make too much food. But we all know what happens to leftovers in the back of the refrigerator. They evolve and make evil plans against the nostrils of all mankind until someone notices and squelches the revolution with a trash bag.
  • All those partial matched sets of Tupperware came from somewhere. The chief culprits are people the likes of Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray, who endorse the containers after they have been designed and manufactured. I sincerely doubt Betty Crocker personally examined your sandwich box. Will you trust your BLT to someone who sells their opinions on sandwich boxes so freely? I thought not.
Then there are the practical disadvantages of Tupperware. These include their inability to actually stack like normal dishes, to actually store food, and to reduce dirty dishes.
  • No matter how many times you buy a matched set of Tupperware and throw out the rest, in a few weeks you will always find that the containers no longer fit into that neat little box and have spread throughout the entire cupboard–especially if you let someone else do the dishes. (Why are there so many different shapes of containers?) Only half of the original set will still be there; and the only lids left will belong to the lost containers. In addition, someone will have the brilliant idea that they can reuse a cottage cheese container. Moreover, someone else will have found another piece in the car that you haven’t seen since you left college, and then there will be that other piece someone left at a potluck and moved away….


    Can no one stack them right?

  • Tupperware lids are tricky things. Nine times out of ten, they don’t fit on the containers they’re actually supposed to fit on, unless that is, you have ten strong men and a trained monkey. The other ten percent of the time, they are obviously too loose, and you can throw them out. But the lids leak. They don’t always leak, or else that could be discovered while washing dishes. They leak the day one packs chili and has a major essay in one’s bag. Devious things.
  • I’m not sure whether Tupperware was actually meant to reduce dirty dishes, or just make the fridge easier to pack. Considering that dirty containers are created every time one uses Tupperware, I tend to doubt the first. Considering that once the food is in the Tupperware, it becomes invisible, either because of the cloaking field surrounding all normal Tupperware, or because one only opens it because one thought that the re-purposed margarine container actually had margarine in it, I also doubt that it’s worth it to put these things in the refrigerator in the first place.
So I ask you, fair readers: Is it worth it? One must ask whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous food storage. Or to take arms against a sea of lids, and by opposing boycott them. And speaking of slings and arrows, I should finish preparing for my physics test. Adieu.