Saturday, January 08, 2011

There will be Food!

I don't know what it is about graduate students and free food. Wherever there are grad students, there will be free food. And, wherever there is free food, rest assured, grad students will be there.

Student-event organizers around the world, when they are sitting in their small committee rooms, planning for events, and asking themselves- how do we make sure people attend the event, come up with the same answer over and over again: advertise free-food!

Even if you plan a free food event in utter secrecy, and only one person is involved in the planning, and print only one flyer advertising it and put it in a box, and bury the box in a secret location in the woods, grad students will come to know about it. And they will be there for the event!

I was a grad student not too long ago. And, I should know. Various student organizations around the university, flush with cash (this was pre-recession US, you see), and not having any great ideas about how to spend the money, will announce a couple of "free-food" events per semester, in the pretense of the "meet your fellow graduate students and network" cloak.

Actually, no grad student is interested in meeting other grad students. That is why they are grad students in the first place. So that they can get cooped up in a small lab or office somewhere and put up with their advisor's tantrums and unreasonable demands, and browse the inner most recesses of the internet, and get solace from those inner-sanctums. If they were the social beings that the "networking" poster would want you to believe, they would have known better and avoided grad school altogether.

At this point you might wonder, this can't be true and there must be guy-grad students who must be interested in meeting gal-grad-students and vice-versa and such events should be considered as a personal, hand-delivered blessing from God. You are right, but grad school is the wrong place for that. Particularly if you are in the science/engg stream - you will learn this pretty quickly. Students who walk into these departments hoping to meet their Madam Curies and Pierre Curies to become the ideal couple and clank test tubes instead of champagne glasses are in for a rude shock. (The quality of romantic material will most probably be like the quality of paperbacks you find in a waste paper shop- that is a separate story, to be ruminated later!)

The grad networking events, promote only one kind of networking- students networking with food! And most of these events will be held at an ungodly hour. Have you ever heard of a 5.00 pm dinner buffet! You have if you are a grad student. And the best part is when you turn up for this 5.00 pm dinner at 4.45pm (thinking you have outsmarted the smart crowd), and find an already-formed queue that's at least as long as Hanuman's tail. And you join the queue, and slowly move towards the food tent.

And the closer you move to the tent, the more nervous you feel. You see these grad student turned goblins stacking their plastic plates with so much food, and fleeing the crime scene before someone can catch up with them and claim the food back. Have you ever seen a hamburger patty sandwiched between two other hamburger patties? - grad students are smart cookies you see- why waste precious real estate on your plate by putting something as ordinary as a bun on it. Instead stock it with brownies and cookies that you can actually use as snacks for the next two centuries. And forget about seconds. If you are lucky enough to get into the tent once, you should consider yourself lucky. And even luckier if by the time you enter, there is actually some reasonable speck of food in the trays, and not just some ketchup and mayo packets and some cookie crumbs.

While the haves sit around and gorge (what looks like) their last supper, the have-nots try to save face by holding a plate with something resembling food on it, and holding a paper cup with water in it, and pretending to drink fruit-punch or iced-tea, and stylishly tossing the cup in the already exploding waste-bins and walking into what is clearly not a sunset for at least the next 2 hours.

P.S.: UN food managers who will be delivering supplies to calamity-hit regions, should consider training as volunteers in such grad events. They might not be able to take the pressure - but, hey, that is what training is all about!


GB said...

Temples are great attractions for grad students abroad, more for prasadam-eating than anything else! It's not different for the Arts stream either...I remember how the 'breakfast experiments' conducted by the psychology department were always full of Indian/Pakistani volunteers.

The ending, especially, was a funnimals :D

Anonymous said...

Plenty of quotable lines there as well as themes to remember (in particular the paragraph where you say Grad School is not the place for one to find's one's Madam and Pierre Curies :D; realised that quite a while ago althouugh I wasn't particularly interested if I may add :D)

And as regards the main theme of the post, I tend to agree. I guess it is the same all round the world and all streams of study!

magesh said...

@GB - Temple prasadams had the same effect on me - starting from my school days (Nanganallur Anjeneyar temple dolled out the best tasting prasadams in 101 pincodes). It was more so true in grad school.

@ Srini: But remember, generally speaking the material in a waste paper shop is uninspiring, until you find the right paperback for you...may be...:-)

Anonymous said...

As food is the most primitive form of comfort and since there is no love sincerer than the love of food, discretion should not be the better part of valor during a buffet dinner, free or not.Instead of being a sorry sight with a lean and hungry look, one must find a method in this madness, no trusting in the tameness of a wolf here.And it doesn't matter if one has seen better days.
The vale of misery of meeting paperback quality romantic materials can be compensated to an extent by this all-consuming project or passion,a universal experience where the strangest bedfellows find a common ground.
yep, when one sees 'the precious real estate' being used optimally,we do wonder " what a piece of work is man"indeed!

magesh said...

@ Anon- "one must find a method in this madness, no trusting in the tameness of a wolf here" - words to frame and put in all buffet counters.