Adventure in Normal Life / Journeys



It arrived.

7. Seven. S-e-v-e-n. Interviews with prominent faculty. Back to back. All day. Break for lunch, and no bathroom breaks.

The first one was seemingly terrible. Here’s why:

– She was busy working and when I got dropped off at her door, she proceeded to pound away at her keyboard and try to “fudge the data” (I hope she was joking). I told her she could take her time, attempting to be kind and considerate. In return, she was rude and abrupt.

Actually, I may have expected so much of a suffering of my vulnerable sensibilities from being in a city like NY.

– She chewed me out. Aggressively. Asked me a question, and interupted me UMPTEEN times while I tried to answer, then she got impatient, stopped me, and asked her question again.

– She belittled me and at one point, said, “How can you NOT know the answer to that question? What’s wrong with you? Are you nervous or something? I hope you find a computer and sit yourself down and find the answer to some of my questions, because everyone else is going to ask you them too, and you better know it, or this day is not going to go well. I’m not trying to be mean [uh, CLEARLY]. I don’t mind – we can just stop talking now and you can go sit at a computer and research things.”

She REALLY didn’t like me. Her husband has diabetes and she made it seem like if I didn’t have the answer to how to cure him right then and there and to test for things using my previous research, then I was a failure. Highly illogical and horrible. Another applicant, she said she walked into that professor’s office, she looked at her and said, “i like you. We don’t even have to talk about science.”


– She then proceeded (after her offer), to which I responded in a calm, logical manner (Yes, I may well be nervous. I believe I know the answers to your questions, but do consider, it is my very first Ph.D. interview I have ever had…) to ask me to ask her questions, which I was happy to do. And then, 30 minutes was over, I was rescued, and she joked heartily that I must be so happy to escape and be rid of her (I said, “Of course not,” and she said, “I know, I’m kidding.”

How on earth do I evaluate what just happened?

The second one was much, much better. I was praying so much that I would not be affected from the first one because there is NO time to review, NO time to recuperate between interviews. We’re almost running from building to building in the cold. Fortunately, someone from the staff of the program came to walk with me almost every time. I actually scared one of them who was super, super nice and worried about me when I didn’t come back on time – he was about to go out looking for me! A gentleman.

This professor was from France and gave everyone after me a really hard time and grilled them, but was very nice to me. He never smiled, except for a slight upward curve on occasion, which betrayed a tinge of friendliness. Maybe I understood him. Maybe it was because I appreciate French culture and can speak the language? Or maybe I just did a good job. He does interesting research linking bones with obesity. Go figure. I asked him why and how he came up with that connection, and it makes sense. Nutrition and metabolism have to do with growth, and what grows to support the growth of the body? Our bones. And, in the bones, it is unique in that destruction and generation go on all the time in the cell types of the marrow. I like the way he thinks.

The third one was also good. She studied a compound I used to study, and we talked about something other than science for a bit.

LUNCH! Salmon, Chicken a la francaise, Parisienne carrots, mixed greens, mixed fruit, a roll, beet salad, mashed potatoes at the Faculty Club  with grad students.

The fourth one was very pleasant. He was, true to story, like a southern grandpa. Originally from UT Southwestern in Ddallas, he studies cancer biology and gave me a powerpoint presentation of his research on BRCA, after I presented my research to him. Actually, he went and researched the FTTA and said it sounded like such a wonderful program! His wife’s Chinese and they adopted a Chinese girl. He was the first of four professors who are fascinated with my ethnic composition. Anyway, he didn’t want me to get lost, so he personally got his coat, walked me to my next appointment and we had such a pleasant chat as we walked and he earnestly encouraged me to “What a pleasure to meet you. Please, please consider Columbia seriously.”

Well, that’s nice to hear from an Ivy school…

The fifth one was delightful. She is the chair of the Ph.D. program, liked by all, around the board, and reminds me of all sorts of wonderful things. She dresses brightly and colorfully –  imagine a petite caucasian blonde – with clothes from, perhaps, India or south-east asia. She raised her kids to embrace diversity, and lived in France, sent her daughter there many times for home stays, and then to Senegal.

She was greatly interested in the FTTA as well, and in my current class, and I told her about a regular day there. She wanted to confirm that I wanted to do science and that she firmly believed (I’m slowly maybe being convinced):

that any clinician needs a solid base and foundation in molecular basis of disease before they can tell someone to eat a certain food or not eat another kind of food.

(she’s been in meetings with clinicians who have no credible, scientific idea or reason behind the recommendations (from who knows where) – which is rather scary)

I talked about research and about my interest in nutrigenomics and therapeutic applications of nutrition, and nutriceuticals and about going into translational medicine and philosophy of research and it was time to go.

The sixth one was interesting, and good, with the department and institute chair. THE man. He knew who I was from the morning presentation I am sure, because his presentation was geared at my father’s country and research he did there in my favorite subject: obesity. When I arrived to his office, he opened with my work in Bibles for Canada in Montreal and began to speak in French to me. Apparently, he is from Montreal, born and bred, has done research in Egypt, Israel, and Palestine (Health sciences for international cooperation and peace) and has a daughter who is in Brazil, fluent in Portuguese who studies and researches there. We talked the whole time through and we talked about the situation in Egypt, about me, and he basically told me that I was a very strong applicant and that he was going to support me in front of the doctoral committee. (wow…) and then he showed me a powerpoint of a few slides on health and cooperation in the middle east.

The seventh and final one was with a professor who basically wanted me to talk about myself and my research. My goals. It went fine.

It was OVER! 5 pm.

Then, came the reception with faculty and current students. Three notable things happened.

-Number 4 interviewer sought me out to specifically tell me he really enjoyed meeting me and that I should really seriously consider Columbia.

-the department chair, as I was heading out walked over to me to tell me that from what he surveyed of the other interviewers already, I had done very well and if I would be considering Columbia.

-one of the few women professors basically said it is really tough to be a woman in this field. Men, who are supposed to be professional and P.C. had made that cut-throat survival a reality to her. One P.I. told her she should stop having kids after having one and that if she had more (she was pregnant with the second one) her career would be o-v-e-r. I wanted to know why she didn’t quit. Well, she had to be driven to research and love what she does. And be willing to let go and get her kids a nanny.

Do I want that?

She relayed a story of how she was pregnant with her second son and about to burst but had a presentation to make, so she went through with it, and a male colleague canceled his presentation because he was house hunting. She said as a woman, she could NEVER cancel for househunting because people would judge and stereotype and bad-mouth her because she was a woman, and not cut out for this kind of competition. It sounds horrible. She said the only thing that made it all work was a supportive spouse.

Why are intelligent women a threat and a liability?

Dinner. We were starving but didn’t get to eat until 10 pm. WAY too late. I have been eating way too much beef.

City that never sleeps. That’s right.

A consistent question I got was: why don’t you do a M.D.? That is not the question I really want to hear at this point, almost $1K later into Ph.D. applications and after everyone I know still asks me when I’m going to med school. Is that a sign?

I could not wait to leave that restaurant. I just wanted to sleep more than anything. But, being the intimidated gal I was, did not want to venture out without anyone else to go with. Plus, I quickly reached the saturation point for answering the:

1. name?

2. from where?

3. applied to where else?

4. who work with now?

5. who’d you interview with?


It’s that anti-social coming out again.

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