Thursday, December 20, 2012

Life as a PhD student in the USA


A full post after a loong time. Why, you may ask? How did I get the time to sit and think about actually writing a post? Because this is winter break and I'm in Pakistaaaaannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn.

Unfortunately, my reaction towards being here usually elicits the response, "Beta, you're so happy about being here because you know you're going back in a few weeks."

Maybe, but I don't care at the moment. I love each and everything about this country which I've been missing for a total of five months in the USA. Lemme list them down:

1. Any time you feel hungry, stroll a few minutes and you'll spot a shop selling tasty bun kebabs, shwarma, chola chaat, broast, sandwiches, etc etc. ALL HALAL!!!!!

(Zabiha Halal!)

2. Anytime you feel lonely and want to talk to somebody, scroll down your contact list and send a text, or call up somebody (without a fear that they may be "busy"), or go to the next room and have a chat with mum ... etc. And if you send a text, they DON'T CUT OFF 20 CENTS PER MESSAGE WITHOUT INFORMING YOU.

3. Driving. Driving on the roads here is yes, very blood pressure-raising activity, but you know, it's at least not as boring as over there. Where if you're talking to somebody, the aunty's voice interrupts you (rather rudely):  Go 7 point 6 miles and then exit to the right to blah road, north west, then continue.


Enough to really adore this country, yeah? But yes, on the downside, since I left, the security situation has worsened considerably. I wasn't expecting it but even my family folks now encourage that we kids don't stay here and find our fortunes somewhere else (some other Muslim country maybe).

Anyway, the title of this post is life as a PhD student in the US. Where do I begin.

The very first thing that HITS you when you start grad studies is that you're not really a PhD student :p. They SAY you are. But you're not. You're a grad student. Equivalent to Master's students. Only when you pass your comprehensive exam (or qualifier) in the second year, will you be a proper doctoral student.

Secondly, if you've studied from around where I've studied, there are high chances you will feel pretty inadequate at first. My problem was that the subjects that are highly relevant in my university now, were taught to me a long time back. This entailed that I felt lost in places where others would be nodding their heads intelligently. Sigh.

Thirdly, you realize that obtaining a PhD here is no...

piece of cake! I mean, I was astounded to learn that 5 years is the normal time period for obtaining a PhD here. Not only that, I know somebody who is so smart that he got hired by Google during his PhD and is working for them even now - in his 5th year, and it's not over yet for him.

[Like I can hope to be this smart.. so how long will I take..? 10 years?]

I shiver to think of how long this stint is going to take. I know we shouldn't think about durations and all where research is concerned, etc. But hello, UK students manage it in 3 years! Sometimes 4.

Never 5-or more! *miserable*

Another facet of being a PhD student here is that you figure out pretty soon what are the top priorities on which you should spend your time. And what aren't. Playing ZUMA on the phone... isn't. Reading random blogs.. isn't. Posting everyday about mundane stuff...isn't. It's a 100% commitment to  your studies and your home and your family. Everything else is secondary. Life can get so busy that you wouldn't know where the hours fly off. I'm amazed at how quickly Friday comes in the week.

You know that if you're not studying your ... head off, then you should be in the kitchen (I should be in the kitchen, not you). If you're not in the kitchen, you should probably be doing laundry. Or if not that, then cleaning and vacuuming, and if not, then lol, sleeping like a log.

When it's this kind of a life, guess what's the major difficult thing to handle and to balance?

Your deeny responsibilities of course. I'm not talking about the fardh, like salah and all. That's easily manageable, no matter where you are and what you're doing. I'm talking about actively engaging with the Quran and learning it and spending time on it and obtaining Islamic knowledge and stuff. This is the thing which gets compromised on. And this is where I've been struggling and trying to fit in everything perfectly.

May Allah Help me in this regard, Ameen. (and all of us).

The advantages of this kind of a life are quite a few. I get to interact with some of the brightest minds in the world, take a look at some of the hottest research going on in the world, partake in discussions which are held between them, and listen to the flow of ideas and questions. It's exhilarating, this learning experience. Alhamdulillah.

But it's not easy. Juggling home responsibilities, cooking, cleaning with academic responsibilities, courses and assignments etc. It's not at all easy. But that's what makes it so much fun.


May it complete quickly, though. Ameen summa Ameen!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

This little guy...

is so happy to have bread to feed himself and probably his family. This is Syria, where kids like him and standing in lines for food - something we so take for granted. Something I can get up and get out of the fridge, right now!

Sigh. Please remember Syria in your dua'as. Furthermore (and this is to myself first), try to find out everything you can about the Syrian crisis. Don't ignore it as "just another Muslim country in turmoil".

So long!