About being a Ph.D. student

One of the reasons why I started this blog was not only to share my experience about living in Israel but also to try to describe from within what it was to be a baby researcher. I didn’t succeed so much in that task so far because it was way funnier to talk about the craziness around me than the academic world (and also because I am a lazy writer…).

First thing that annoys me a lot is comments like “Oh you must really love school to study for so long.” or “How are the courses going?”. As I explained a million times, a Ph.D. is not studying per se but the conduct of researches about a problematic with the aim to write a thesis describing your findings. Of course it implies that you have to read a lot but most of the time you don’t have to pass exams.

Another thing that tends to desperate me is to talk about my research during social events. Don’t take me wrong: I love what I am doing, I am really interested in the topic, but after explaining three times per glass of wine that I’m training spitting fish to count in the middle of the desert, I tend to feel more like a door-to-door salesman than an exciting TED speaker.

Archer fish. They are super cool prankster fish that we use in our lab because we can train them to spit at targets on a monitor and thus we can conduct a lot of behavioral experiments. But then people ask “Why fishes?” (Yes, most of the non-native speakers don’t know that fish has no plural and might add “… and why not mouses?”). So why not mice? Because they are legally blind, and using them as a model to understand vision would be as rewarding as studying the impact of the Israeli shoes industry on the next Paris Spring-Summer fashion week.

Image“Shoresh Sandals” – although recommended mostly for hiking in flooded areas, worn by Israelis in every situation, occasionally with socks. White socks. I’ve been told that I won’t be a true Israeli as long as I don’t own a pair of those… I guess I’ll never be a real Israeli then.

Now an other problem arises when I attempt to describe my projects: I am not working on cancer or stem cells or any “hard science”. As mentioned earlier, I am interested in the decision making process and other ideas like Theory of Mind (I’ll try to develop it in another post I promise, but not today. Still lazy). It’s highly related to some socio-economico-philosophical questions and it seems to be accessible enough for a lot of people to bluntly tell me after five minutes “I think you are wrong.” I actually find those debates interesting and enriching but the side effect is that they tend to make me seriously question the validity of my problematic and/or entire field of research and wonder why I am trying to teach fish how to play head-or-tail in the middle of the desert…

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