Friday, July 20, 2012

Life in a Lab

I have done little to describe my life in research here.  So let's look at yesterday.

To start off with, I walked in my office at around 9:30 am - I was running late - and greeted the two other guys who were in my lab at the time.  One of them was in a suit and tie ready for his final defense of his dissertation.  I smiled at him, "Are you ready?"  He smiled back.  We both laughed.

Everyone else in the office came in between 9:30 and 10:30 am and I greeted them with just a nod because my headphones were in and I was trying to get through the Japanese lesson I had started the night before.

The printer in front of me ran out of magenta ink.  The other girl in my office pulled out the box with the new ink cartridge and said, "Eigo desu" which means "It's in English."  I jumped up.  "I speak English!"  And ran over to help her.  Between her and another guy and myself, we were able to fix the printer.  About fifteen minutes later the black ink went out.  But this time, the guy in the lab who discovered it was an expert in the process and didn't need anyone's help.

At 10:30, I attended the final defense.  It was in Japanese.  Before it started, though, one of my professors mentioned my name so I looked up to see what he wanted.  One student translated for me: "You need to sign this non-disclosure agreement."  I smiled at him, "Even though I won't understand a word?"  He laughed.  I pulled out my pen and signed the line he told me to.  I was able to fill out my status as a student but the other guy had to take the paper back to write out the name of the lab I was in for me in Japanese.  (Turns out the powerpoint was all in English so I actually could understand a lot.)  I alternated between watching the slides and staring out the window, thinking about my own research.

Overall, it was a very easy defense and the Phd candidate came up to me afterwards to explain that he had already had a pre-defense in which he was grilled for hours by the professors.  Sounds stressful.  In any case, I'm glad he passed.

Then lunch.  I now go to lunch with the other members of my lab.  But since I don't speak Japanese, I just sit and listen.  I try to differentiate between words and sounds (nouns, particles, verbs and its forms) but it usually just means I'm sitting silently while everyone else around me talks.  Slightly tired, I pulled out some quote cards from my wallet about not giving up and having optimism and read them.  Two of the kids in my lab wanted to see what I was reading and so I showed them.

After lunch, I went back to finish my Japanese lesson.  I am a very slow Japanese learner.  (But apparently, it helps because when I went home and flipped on the TV, they made mention of "kyuujuusansai" people and I understood that to be 93 year old people)  One of my professors saw me and came to give me a gift: 
A sticker of the Hayabusa, an unmanned spacecraft from Japan that completed a sample return mission.    Yep, so cool.  AND you may not be able to read the Hiragana but the box says Apollo.  It's a candy that is in the shape of the Apollo module and came out in 1969.  I guess even if America has completely forgotten about how awesome it is to go to space (and doubts that we even got to the moon) it's nice to know Japan still remembers.

After Japanese, I spent my afternoon designing in SolidWorks for one of my lab partners.  By about 5 pm, I was done with that and he asked to see what I had done.  So we sat and discussed our options (the design had some problems) and I went back and fixed it.  Then he said that he might investigate using a different material (which was actually a brilliant idea) so we discussed new design options.  By this time it was about 7 pm and he had shown no signs of leaving but I was fading fast so I promised I would come in on Saturday to finish it.  He looked at me like I was crazy.  "I'm not coming in tomorrow!  Do it Monday."  So we talked a little baseball - he likes baseball - and then I went home.  I was the third person to come to the lab that day and the third to last person to leave.  I'm not sure if that makes me a diligent researcher or an overzealous one.

Research-wise, I really like it.  But now that I'm here and working, I'm realizing I might have made more work for myself.  Rather than have just my own research to work on day in and day out, I now have my personal research, the lab research here and then Japanese to learn.  I went from one daunting task to three.  But switching between three helps keep me motivated rather than slogging through one.

Oh, one short note about some of my office mates.  I have grouped the people in my mind.

There are "the kids" who are the young ones who are really so adorable that the grandma in me wants to pinch their cheeks and pat them on the head.  One of the kids I call mini-Hasebe because he looks kind of how Hasebe looked at 19 or 20 and so it's a fascinating game to watch him and imagine what Hasebe would have been like had he attended college.

Next, we have "the cool group" who I have so dubbed because that's just what they are and they dress very American so they strike me as the type who would feel right at home in either culture.  They also speak excellent English.  In any case, a lot of people in the lab follow their example.  When these guys work, everyone works.  When these guys talk, everyone talks.  Yesterday, though, three of these guys were dressed alike, with skinny jeans and plaid button-ups rolled up to the elbow and they kept doing things together as a group which was amusing given their matchy-matchy status.  Thanks to one of those cool guys who insists on me calling him "Joe" I have now dubbed the cool group the "JoBros" and, yes, that is a pointed reference.

Then, we have "the diligents".  These are the one who are the first to come in and the last to leave.  They don't speak that great of English but they are sincerely kind and do their best to help.  These are probably the people I spend the most time with and the people that drive me the most to work hard in my research and most of all learn Japanese so I can communicate with them.

Last we have the "outliers" who don't come into lab as regularly.  When they do, they maintain their own individuality and quirks and so even though I know them least, I remember their names most easily.

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