Friday, December 29, 2017

Choosing the graduate school

Recently, I interviewed a student. He gave me a clear answer, 'if MIT gives me Offer, then I will go to MIT. Otherwise, I will come to Umich'.  I recalled when I had interview many years ago, I  said something similar, 'if Harvard gives me an offer, I would go to Harvard. If not, I would go to Princeton'. Look backing today, how ignorant I was!

The choices made by 20-year-olds are often blind. They do not know what exactly they want. If it is just for a Ph.D title from a famous school, then five years of life is too long.

I think most of the students who choose to do a PhD have some kind of dreams, or illusions, about science and technology, at least when they begin. Then the most important thing is to find a mentor that share the same dream with you. When you get into graduate school, you will soon find out, many people are here, not because they love science or love to profess, but because they love the title of professor. Or it is because they are in a major where there is no job market, and after doing many years of postdoctoral, they lost the opportunity to change to another major.  Some of the professors, they hate research. In my discipline, bioinformatics, it is reflected by that they don't want to touch a single line of code; and when talking about programming, a look of contempt appears on their face and it looks as if they want to stay away it as far as possible. The day they become independent, is the same day their scientific life ends, because they would never do or even care about any experiment any more. Of course, they would still claim that 'I am interested in the XXX problem'; however, this "interested in" is nothing more than saying 'without this research topic, I would have to go on the street'. They care about papers and funding, but only because these are a way to make a living.  They can be very successful in other people's eyes. But, living such a life is pathetic. And when you find out that the professors you have long admired are no more than just struggling for a living, pursuing for some ridiculous 'reputation' or 'recognition', your value system will ​​collapse.

I think a happy life is that one can do what s/he loves to do everyday, while getting paid.   Ever since my Ph.D., I have seen numerous unfairness, lies and manipulations.  In a short summary, it is like Lu Xun said, humanity is depicted as the true, the good and the beautiful, but between the lines, there is only one word --- 'cannibalism’. The only thing that supported me to go this far is that I have an irreplaceable interests in studying various kinds of data. Even if I am doing other jobs now, I would spend all my spare time looking at these data. Everyone who chooses to work in academia will have to go through many things that are quite opposite to their initial imaginations.  If there is not a true attachment to science or technology, this road will be very painful, and not worth to follow. On the other hands, if one has this attachment, it is easier for her to detach from the many of the unfairness or cruelness in this world. 

However, to be able to do what you like, is a luxury. For most people, there is no such choice. To have this choice, I think there are two ways: First, to be born with a silver spoon in the mouth.  Rich people have many choices.  Second, you need to have certain technique that only a few people possess, and there are ones who are willing to pay for your technique. I think a shortcut is through 5 years of doctoral training, to acquire the technique you want. This technique is not only your hobby, but also your job. So this is my second suggestion: find a mentor who is capable to teach you hand-by-hand the techniques you need.

One big difference between PhD and undergraduate is that you do not have a lot opportunities to experience the so-called 'campus culture', or get to know many professors. Instead, It is like getting married, you need to stay with someone for five or six years.  When I chose my advisor, people all said I was not wise. Because my advisor was just an assistant professor at that time, and bioinformatics was a new discipline and was not favored by some traditional molecular biologists. I chose my advisor among my three rotation labs not because I thought she was able to help me in the future, or that I foresight to the future of bioinformatics. But because I was a bit scared to talk to the other two. I just want to live a nice life for 5 years. So my last suggestion is to find an advisor who you feel you like to stay with for a very long time.

择校

我最近面试一个学生,他非常明确的回答,如果有MIT的Offer,就去MIT。如果没有,就来Umich。我想起我当年面试的时候也说过类似的话,如果哈佛给我Offer我就去哈佛,如果没有,就去普林。现在再回头看起来,当时的想法是多么的幼稚可笑。

20岁出头的孩子们选择是非常盲目的。并不知道自己想要什么。如果只是为了一个名校的学位,那么5年的生命太长了。也太虚荣了!

我觉得大多数选择读博士的同学,至少在开始的时候,对科学或者技术多多少少还是有一些理想或者幻想的。那么最重要的,就是找一个同样,还有一些追求的导师。很多人做教授,爱的并不是科研,而是教授这个头衔。或者是阴错阳差,进了火坑专业,做了很多年博士后,失去了跳出火坑的机会。 在我工作之后接触的一部分教授,当然也包括一些我工作之前接触的,他们其实是非常痛恨科研的。在我的学科,信息生物,就表现在一行代码也不想碰;提到编程序,一脸鄙夷或者近而远之的表情。在他们独立实验室的那一天,也就是科研生命的结束的那一天,因为他们再也不会去做甚至实质上的关心任何一个实验了。当然他们还会说,我们实验室对XX问题非常感兴趣;但是,这个‘非常感兴趣’,不过是在说,没有这个问题,我就只好要饭啦。他们还会关心文章和资金,但那些不过是讨生活的资本。这样的人还是可以成为在别人眼里非常成功的人,但这样的人生是非常可悲的。而当你发现你曾经憧憬的那些名校教授也不过是在为了讨生活苦苦挣扎,为了可笑又可悲的名誉玩弄权术,你的价值观是会崩塌的。

我认为一个幸福的人生,应该是每天起来,可以去做自己喜欢的东西,同时有人给你发工资,其实我自从读博士开始到现在吧,经历过无数狗血的事情。简而言之,就是鲁迅说过的那句话,这个世界,满纸写的是仁义道德,字里行间都是吃人。唯一支持我走下去的,就是对看各种数据有着不可替代的兴趣。我想,即便现在在做别的工作,我也会把所有业余的时间用来看数据的。每一个选择在学术界工作的人,都要经历很多不公平或者狗血的事情。如果不是真正热爱科研,这条路是会走得很痛苦的。但是如果有自己追求的梦想,就可以慢慢用一种比较超然世外的眼光,看待很多事情。

但是,可以做自己喜欢的事,是一种奢侈品。绝大部分的人生,并没有这个选择。要想有这种选择,有两条路:第一,李刚是你爸。有些人是喊着金钥匙出生的,他们就可以选择自己喜欢做的事。第二,你需要有一样只有很少人有的本事,而且有人愿意付钱让你做这件事。我觉得一条捷径,就是通过5年博士的训练,得到一项你想要的技术:这项技术既是你的爱好,又是你的饭碗。 所以我的第二个建议是,找一个有能力手把手教给你这些技术的导师。

读博士和读本科非常不同的一点,就是你不会有很多的机会去体会校园文化,接触很多很多的老师。而是像结婚一样,需要跟一个人在一起5,6年。我选择我的导师的时候,当时反对声一片,包括父母,也包括系里一些其他的前辈。因为我的导师当时只是一个助理教授,而生物信息,当时是新兴学科,并不被一些传统的分子生物学看好。我在三个rotation的实验室中选择我的导师,并不是因为她有能力怎样帮到我,或者我怎样有远见看到生物信息的发展。而是因为,其他两个我都很怕跟他们说话。我只是希望能够舒舒服服的过5年,5年是一个很长的时间。所以我的最后一个建议是,要找一个和自己气味相投的导师。

Monday, December 18, 2017

An Unpleasant Conversation

(My students asked me to translate the things I write into English, so that all of them can read).

Today at my daughters' Chinese school, I heard a conversation between two parents.

A middle-aged woman, with her teen-aged daughter, asked aloud, "why was your daughter rejected (by colleges)?"

Everyone's eyes turned towards a gray-haired man, whose looked down to the floor. He stammered that it was just 'defer' from the early-admission school, and that there are other schools pending. He explained that an admission may be followed by the deferring school.

The woman went on simpering, "Oh, I thought there was no school admitting her. So there is still chance.  I was wondering why you got all the decisions so early....".

The man's face turned purple and nodded "Yes, yes, there is still chance".

At that moment, I wanted to stand up and help the poor dad to explain.

Everyone has emotion: everyone can feel happy and sad, and has joy and anger. Yet, not everyone has compassion. Compassion is an ability, a quality, that some, or most, people do not possess. The suffering of others, to those who do not have this ability, is nothing more than a conversation piece.

For the kids, college admission is the end result of years of hard work. Being deferred in EA, their whole Christmas will be filled with sadness.  But, to this mother, obviously, the hard works of other kids, the failure of other kids and the pain that other kids have to go through, are merely talking pieces!

Will she laugh and talk so easily when her own daughter gets deferred?

Throughout my life, I have seen numerous people who lack compassion -- sometimes as the sufferer, more times as a bystander. The more I see such people, the deeper is my sympathy towards them.

I have a colleague, who came back from an NIH study section, announced loudly from the other end of the hallway across the entire department:'Yuanfang, your proposal was in the not-discussed pile'.

Some of our professors, when giving students qualifying exam, put their feet on the table and speak out 'makes no sense', like a king sentencing a prisoner to death. And when the poor students try to explain, they shrug.

A daycare teacher, picked up a little child who cried for his mother, threw him onto the floor, shouting out 'Stop! What is the matter with you?'.

Why? Life is bitter to them. Life is ruthless and harsh to them, so they are ruthless to the ones who are more wretched than themselves. They themselves are struggling to live, so when seeing others' struggle, they are comforted, pacified and numbed for a moment. And, when they become accustomed to the numbness, their hearts are gradually hardened, and lose the ability of compassion forever.

I am sorry, for these hearts of stone.



一段刺耳的对话

今天在中文学校偶然听到两个家长的对话。

一个中年妇女,带着她十岁左右的女儿,大声问,你女儿怎么被拒了呢?

一个头发花白的男人,在众目睽睽之下,尴尬的解释,只是Early Admission 一所学校被defer,还有别的学校,也有可能后面再被这所defer的学校录取。

那个女人继续旁若无人的大声笑着说:“呦,我还以为就没有学校了呢。原来只是一个学校没给。我还奇怪怎么这么早就知道结果了呢”。

男人的脸涨的通红,点着头“还有,还有,后面还有”。

那一刻,我好像站起来帮着那个可怜的爸爸解释。

同情同情,compassion。喜怒哀乐,人人都会有。但是compassion,是一种能力,是一种素质,有些人是没有的。 他人的痛苦,对于没有这种能力的人来说,不过是幸灾乐祸的材料。

对于很多孩子来说,大学录取在哪里,是他们几年努力的最终结果。EA defer之后,整个圣诞节都过不好。但是,对于这位妈妈,别人孩子的努力,别人孩子的失败,别人孩子的痛苦,不过是谈资!

难道当她自己女儿被defer的时候,她也会如此轻松愉快的谈笑么?

我见过许许多多没有同情心的人。有时是当事人,有时是旁观者。见的越多,我反而对他们的同情更深。

我有一个同事,一次从NIH的一个study section回来。他在楼道那头,大声的说,远芳,你的项目没有被讨论。

我们有些老师,在学生考qualify的时候,好像是国王在决定犯人的生死。他们把脚放在桌上,嘴里说出来‘makes no sense'。可怜的学生紧张局促的解释,他们只是耸耸肩。

一个幼儿园的老师,抱起可怜巴巴,哭着找妈妈的孩子,摔到地上,大叫着‘Stop'。

为什么?因为他们自己的生活太苦了。生活对他们残酷,他们就会利用一切机会,对比他们更可怜的人残酷无情。他们自己在苦苦挣扎,所以只有在享受别人的苦苦挣扎中,才能得到片刻的安慰。而当他们慢慢习惯了这种麻木的生活之后,心就会变硬,永远失去了同情的能力。

我同情这样的人。










Saturday, November 25, 2017

释怀之难

上一篇我写‘这么多年,为何不忘’,写的是小时的故事,心最痛之处,却是这些年发生的一件事情。这次去开会,讲到情绪激动之处,竟然又热泪盈眶。

有的事情,在别人眼里可以是微不足道的小事,可是对于受伤的人来说,可以是几年,几十年,甚至是一辈子走不出来。已经过去两年多了,这件事情却一直纠缠在我心里。多少个夜晚,那一幕重现,泪水慢慢浸透枕头。 即便当着人,我也要咬住嘴唇,才能忍住眼泪。并不是那么一点得失真的会对我有什么影响;后来,我又赢了无数的比赛,发了许许多多的文章。只是那种无助,绝望的感觉,曾在我心里戳下深深的一刀,每当我想揭掉那层痂的时候,血就会淌出来,痛就会刺进心肺。当我需要帮助的时候,没有人站出来帮我。我多么希望,时间可以倒流,让现在的我可以抱抱那个可怜的孩子。

当事人都已经签了字,要把这件事带进坟墓。有人说时间可以治愈一切伤痕,如果有一天,我可以坦然面对发生的一切,我会写出来,对自己有个交代。

Saturday, October 14, 2017

这么多年,为何不忘

前不久妈妈来美国,聊起来我上小学总被班里几个霸道的同学欺负的事情。说到激动的时候,又忍不住泪水。妈妈奇怪的问:“我特别不能理解,为什么过了快三十年,你自己都已经是四个孩子的妈妈,你怎么还是这样耿耿于怀?”

其实小时候受欺负那些事,我在blog里都写过好几次,简直有点儿祥林嫂。我自己也常常问自己为何不忘,好像除了跟自己过不去,并没有其他任何用处。我还有一个恶癖好,就是在网上搜那些人的信息。总不甘心这世上恶没有恶报。

究其原因,我觉得是一个人在弱势的时候,会对别人对自己怎样特别敏感。滴水之恩,或是一个鄙视的眼神,都会终身难忘。何况那时候我受到的是身体和精神上的巨大而长久的折磨。

有的时候我会问自己,那些欺负人的孩子,长大后会后悔么?也是这两年,我才找到了答案。华人上有个人发帖,说她小时候喜欢欺负人,因为那些小孩就是欠揍的样子。语气中没有任何惭愧或是后悔。

我此生,最恨的就是欺负弱者的人。也不光是那种小孩子间揍你一顿,也包括工作中,种族间各种或大或小的欺侮。特别是那种一个小团体联合起来挤兑一个人。

早年的我特别崇尚隐匿,魏晋之风。觉得只要躲着,随它去,就可以真的不在乎。但是这一年多来经历了一些事,得了书经和前辈的指引,思想发生了很大的变化。如果真的只是躲着,那就只有任人宰割。现在的我向往入世。入世不是为了欺负别人,而是在别人欺负自己的时候有还击之力,在看到世事不公的时候有资本挺身而出。

Sunday, October 8, 2017

收获的喜悦

今年没有特意种菜。到了这个季节,各种蔬菜还是存了百斤。全靠一老一小浇水捉虫。