Flying monkeys, hedgehogs, and castles, oh my!
A graduate student’s experimentation with relaxation and fun
I originally wanted this article to show that graduate students can kick back, relax, and stave off the insanity that is just a stone’s throw away from the genius we all aspire to achieve. However, as I wrote the title, I realized this may actually convince you of the opposite, that graduate school does in fact drive graduate students off the deep end. So, throwing caution to the wind, I am sharing two tales of the silly, the frivolous, and the fun that I’ve experienced this summer.
Once upon a time, when I was a wee lass — a high-schooler — I used to dance. I would feel the music fill me up from the tips of my toes to the ends of my fingers to the peak of my nose. I would move to the music and everything would be forgotten as I danced and sweated all my worries away. Once I started graduate school, I reasoned that I needed a good athletic activity to keep the endorphins flowing and my brain functioning at top capacity.
What I found after taking classes at the New England Ballet Theatre is that the free, happy feeling I used to get while dancing still fills me instantaneously when I dance, and I can’t help but smile while I twirl around the room. I also found out how great it is to be a part of another community and to interact with people who don’t necessarily love science like I do; we get to share our ideas and passions and learn from each other.
The exciting part of this story is that I get to pretend I’m 18 or 5 or 10 again and dance my heart out in our spring recital, The Wizard of Oz. While I get to live up to my nickname of Big Emily (the younger, and much taller Emily, had claimed Little Emily already) as Auntie Em, I also get to be an evil, flying monkey who dances her evil heart out with joy at getting to deliver the nasty Dorothy to her beloved Wicked Witch (I try to stay in character as much as possible). When I leave rehearsals, I am a gross, sweaty mess, and I feel so pumped and ready to re-tackle my research. While there, I get to be a part of another family — not my MIT family, not my lab family, not my biological family, not my undergraduate family — but my ballet family. Sometimes I get to share with them the science that I love; a few weeks ago I explained how pressure works and how being on pointe increases the pressure on your toes relative to that felt while walking. Sometimes they teach me that I should be trying harder or that I should laugh more often. I take these lessons back with me to work and I think it’s made me a better researcher and happier human being.
There once was a graduate student who moved to Cape Cod who wanted a new friend. So she adopted a pet hedgehog, who turned out to be a princess (seriously, she refuses to eat food that has crumbled at all and makes huffing noises if you don’t move out of her way — and she always want to move in the direction that you’re in). This hedgehog filled a tiny, prickly void in her heart that she never knew existed. The graduate student got lots of (slightly spiky) cuddles, several overloads of cuteness, and a prickly pal. In return, this student has showered her hedgehog with fun toys: a ball pit, a mini-garden, and lots of games of hide-and-seek and dead crickets (her favorite snack). But on her first birthday, she got a special surprise — her very own castle! Her castle is made of pink fleece (her favorite fabric) with six stories that she can climb between (because climbing in fabric is a natural hedgehog instinct).
Surprise: this story is about me and my beloved Amelia Rose. For her birthday, I had a tea party, replete with human and hedgie cake (hers was make of chicken and crickets) and lots of fancy teas. While she spent most of her time in her new castle, I got to spend some time sampling fancy teas and enjoying my friends’ company and complaints that I fed them too many cupcakes and cookies (“Is it even safe to drive with this much sugar in my system!?!”). It was a nice reminder that we graduate students can be frivolous, be silly, and above all, never abandon our snobbery for our tea and coffee. It was also nice to know that my obsession with my hedgehog hasn’t escalated to the point where I can no longer talk to non-spiked creatures.
I hope this doesn’t totally destroy your vision of graduate students working late at night, burning the midnight oil to further the noble cause of science and discovery; we do that too. It’s just that sometimes we act like little kids on the side.