Undergrad invasion

Another academic year, another round of giveaways

Rivka Isaacson 7 October 2007

Born to be freebied: Isaacson shows off her haul

To me, undergraduates are primarily people who crowd the lifts and clutter up the cafeteria

As freshers week takes over the Imperial College London campus, I’m forced to recall that one of the principal ideas of a University is to educate undergraduates (see the ‘almost-as-adorable-as-George-Herbert’ Cardinal John Henry Newman for further details on this). Despite my feverish attempts to get a University lectureship I have not yet even got so far as the interview stage, which is particularly galling as I’ve spent an entire year with boring brown hair (instead of pink) in order to look respectable (who am I kidding?) for said interview panels which haven’t materialised. I’m thinking if I dye my hair pink again then Sod’s Law ought to send all those academics beating a path to my door. Camden, here I come…

Anyway my point is that, in complete wastage of my pedagogical impulse, comedic disposition and arsenal of analogies for accessibly explaining complicated scientific concepts, I don’t do much teaching (though I do do a lot of research experiments and bootleg writing on the side). Therefore, to me, undergraduates are primarily people who crowd the lifts and clutter up the cafeteria – would it were not so. I must be ageing, because for the first time this year I’m considering steering clear of the freshers fair to avoid the crowds and hence forfeit my collection of ‘free stuff’. In my mind there is no point in paying money for pens, post-it notes, highlighters or beer-glasses when they can be had for free in a rare perk of the job. I don’t have much incentive to brave the scrum as I’m still well-stocked from the summer careers fair when, sporting my best smile, I approached the HBOS man (well, more like boy) and said, ‘I don’t think I’d like to work in your bank but pleeeeeze can I have one of those lovely flower-shaped highlighters?’ If only such honesty were as productive in other walks of life.

INTERVIEWER: And why, Dr Isaacson, would you like to work at the University at the Bottom of the Flyover (replace as necessary)?

ME (honest version): Because I really, really want a lectureship in the South East of England and so I’m applying to everything that’s going...

ME (pragmatic version): Well, loads of reasons, really. The well-rounded research interests of your department would nurture and complement my proposed projects. I can see potential for several new collaborations (upon which I hereby elaborate…) You are really well set up for large-scale protein expression blah de blah. It’s so ideally situated for access to the three free high-field NMR services, etc etc.

When I worked in America there were many more freebie opportunities in fulfillment of the stereotypical consumer excess. At Harvard, if you were savvy and didn’t care about your weight, you could have free pizza for almost every meal. Granted you had to sit through some seminars to get it but it wasn’t so bad – you could daydream, plan your experiments or, in extreme cases, listen and learn something. An American friend from those days visited me here recently and I noticed that she had her T-shirt on inside-out. When I pointed this out she said, ‘Oh yes, it’s on purpose because on the other side it says, ‘What is Systems Biology?’

Unfortunately I can’t give you the answer because she was wearing her T-shirt inside out but it may be worth doing your own web-based research as I believe Systems Biology is where the money is nowadays.

Last month I was privileged to experience the editor of this very web magazine performing at a London Café Scientifique (to be pronounced in dodgy French accent despite its origination in Yorkshire). I was a Café Scientifique virgin but I can’t recommend it highly enough. Participation from the drunken audience (there was lots of beer and no food – very un-Jewish) was fielded efficiently by the fabulous Dr Daniel Glaser and a wonderful time was had by scientists and artists alike. Before it started though, Jenny the Ed, in a brief moment of stage fright asked me if I had any poems to fill in time if she didn’t have enough to say.

‘Of course, of course,’ said I, but as expected my services were not required and her show was magnificent. So, in my capacity as the Poet Laureate of, I’m sharing a themed haiku trio here instead:

Haiku about free calendars

Always April here
It’s the only month with a
Decent photograph

Haiku about free T-shirts

We two can fit in
One and there’s room for yet a
Third – oo er missus

Haiku about free stress-toys

Why do bloody reps
Feel the need to fill our lives
With useless clutter????!!!!!!

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