Collaborator, Friend, Whiteboard

There are very few places where I feel more at home than here at OHSU. It’s a welcoming environment, to be sure, &, although the cynic in me is quick to point out that, having been a Ph.D. student here since 2005, I have spent more time on campus than I have in my actual apartment, I like to think it has more to do with the welcoming bit.

Like many graduate students, my work space is designed to evoke a panoply of hyphenated adjectives in the happy passerby. Care-worn. Lived-in. Pell-mell. I image people passing by on their way to something sciencey, & feeling reinforced: “Yes,” they’ll think, “OHSU is a place knowledge goes to be found.”

It wasn’t until my third year here on the hill that I felt my workspace really came into its own, sending what I hoped were all the right messages to all the right people. To the new graduate student, it would instill excitement for discovering the many opportunities of graduate school. “Oh!” I like to imagine them actually saying out loud, “do we all get to successfully complete an Integrity Education Booster course?” & I smile knowingly, having misheard them: “I think you mean you GET to.” To my Dissertation Committee members, my cubicle space boasts the tattered remnants of conferences attended–evidence of successful networking & fruitful fact-finding missions. To my advisor, it speaks of progress being made, of a dedicated student dedicatedly juggling a variety of academic balls, all while carefully walking the line between productive member of society & hypnagogic day-walker.

Over the years, R.A. (my whiteboard; figure 1) has become something of a valued collaborator on my research endeavors. Maybe I’ve spent too much time alone in the library building, or maybe it’s some previously undocumented side effect of the fumes released by an over-clocked CPU, but I sometimes like to think of him as having a personality of his own. I said as much during his most recent performance review, complimenting him on the long hours he put in, in preparation for our recent manuscript submission.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to let you know how pleased I am with the work you’ve put in this past year,” I said, interpreting his silence as a polite appreciation of my compliment. It was genuine, too: I learned early on in my graduate student life to place a high priority on having a temporary receptacle for my thoughts–something less permanent-feeling than a moleskin notebook, but somehow with more credibility than a scrap of paper.

Figure 1. R.A., hard at work.

An interesting consequence of the seemingly thrown-together chemistry involved in creating my particular cost-effective brand of dry erase marker is that the longer R.A. holds onto my red- or black-colored thoughts, the less likely he is to ever let them be removed. As such, he serves as an interesting longevity-weighted snapshot of my passing interests–a sort of whiteboard equivalent of examining tree rings. The careful eye can still see evidence of my teachings in statistical learning theory & Behavioral Economics, though long gone is any evidence of my passing interests in the Hormetic theory of drug response. Gone, too, is the early draft of my science rock opera about a rag-tag collective of Microbiology Ph.Ds with no regard for the status quo. At present, R.A. is remembering a condensed cheat sheet on symbolic logic, & a bird’s-eye-view of my dissertation project outline.

Recently, I must confess, I’ve taken R.A, a bit for granted. The economic down-turn has been hard on us all, & I just don’t see funds in my budget to continue supporting a full-time Research Assistant. My recent experiments with the EverNote application on my Android phone, I can tell, have left R.A. feeling neglected. & so I was only a bit hurt, rather than surprised & a bit hurt, when I received R.A.’s two week notice this past week. Having already accepted a higher paying R.A.2 position in the Orthopaedic Research Group, my research workflow will soon have a void that, deep down, I always knew EverNote could never fill. But it is the nature of gradstudentdome to be filled with comings & goings; I know I must power on.

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About the Author

I'm a PhD candidate and build robots.
StudentSpeak

StudentSpeak

Ever wondered what life is like as a student at OHSU? What does it take to become a researcher? Just how gross is gross anatomy? Welcome to the blog that answers these – and many other – questions. It’s students writing first-hand about their commitment to careers in science and health care. It’s honest about the challenges as well as the joys. It’s not always pretty. But it is our story. Thank you for sharing it with us. And please, let us know what you think.

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