Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Protozoology class and my Superhero Name

I've picked my superhero name: Mister Impossible!

It is no idle boast that I can be reliably counted on to complain angrily at any time, and the more petty and random the offense, the better. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've ranted on several fairly innocuous topics already today, and its only 10am. But now that I'm writing my first blog entry, I have "gripers' block" and can't think of much to complain about. I will say that I am hopped up on Adderal (prescription amphetamine) and coffee, and so I am jittery, anxious, and have uneasy bowels, but that is my own fault. I also have a wicked dry-mouth going on, but that's a side-effect of the speed.

I'm pretty angry about my Protozoology class, which is structured and present in a very unscientific way. [the rest of this paragraph is pretty much grad-school nerd ranting, and can be skipped if that doesn't excite you] Protozoa, first of all, are not a taxonomically meaningful group, and that makes me dismiss them as a subject of study. It's just a catch-all group that includes some algae and some fungi and who knows what else, so there is no defining characteristic of what a "protozoan" actually is, other than the meaningless and circular definition of "it's an organism that we decided to call a protozoan." Second, out of all the kinds protozoa in the world (and there are literally DOZENS), we are only taught about the ones which happen to infect humans, which is a very scattershot approach and gives no indication of the actual biological relationships between the different organisms we're learning. Third, we aren't even being given a comprehensive presentation of the protozoa that cause human disease, though that claim was made. It turns out that there are tons of very common protozoa that cause mouth diseases and we haven't heard ANYTHING about those. We're also being taught very little "science" about the organisms that are included in the class. It is just a series of facts, diagnostic traits, and drug therapies, well and good for the medical doctors in the class, but I'm not going to be a damn person-mechanic, I'm going to be a researcher, and I want to know how these facts were unearthed, and what is truly known, and what "facts" are just the most recent guesses. The lab portion consists of learning how to identify certain protozoa under a microscope, which is an UTTERLY meaningless task, since they are practically indistinguishable. Focusing only on the test, we're memorizing things like...ok, if it's under a round coverslip, it's Giardia, since that's the only one we've been shown that isn't under a square coverslip. If the stain is pink and blue, it's Cyclospora, since that's the only one that used that stain. Learning that kind of shit is the worst type of cramming, since it has no use after you take the test. It would be great to learn some actual lab techniques for working with protozoa, but if we did that, we wouldn't have time to memorize 90 fucking microscope slides. Finally, much of the information we're being given is out of date, which I've learned through some cursory scanning of some recent literature.

But today is the final exam, and I am cheered at the prospect that it will be over soon, and that I managed to scrape through another class with minimal effort. I also have the bizarrely elitist satisfaction of having done almost no work to get an adequate grade, while everyone else either studied their ass off (if smart) for a good grade, or studied their ass off (if unsmart) for an adequate grade. That said, I've been unusually motivated to prepare for this final exam.

I've taken the drastic step of studying more than two hours in advance for two reasons. First, I bombed my first two lab practicals, leading me to conclude that cramming for lab exams takes more than two hours, and requires actually looking at fecal smears under a microscope instead of skimming notes. Second, the TA for the class is my officemate, is pretty, and is someone I actually like and respect. So the fact that I bombed my first lab practicals makes me paranoid that she either thinks I'm a slack-ass (which is true) or that I'm stupid (not true, and the source of my motivation) or a stupid slack-ass (half-true). So out of a vague desire to impress her, and a vague desire to get a respectable grade, I've done an unusual amount of studying. We'll see how it works out. The payoff better be big, because its taken two whole days away from working on my house.

My final assertion for the day is that a good secretary/office-manager-type is like a precious jewel. A solid 90% of the people I interact with are just out there generating hassles for me to deal with. This includes my family, my friends, my girlfriend, etc. Another 9.9% are neutral, with regard to me and hassles, and .1% of the people I encounter actually lessen hassle in my life. Our department's administrative guy is in that awesome .1%, and he deserves this tribute that he'll never see. I constantly bring him tuition bills, paycheck fuckups, registration fuckups, and begin with "I'm sorry to keep bringing you nightmarish bureaucratic snarl-ups, but I wonder if you could take a look at..." He always replies with "No problem, just put it on the pile, I'll get it taken care of." Even more amazingly, he eventually does get it taken care of, though that isn't as important as the fact that he takes the onus of resolving some seriously Kafka-esque errands off of me.

Just yesterday I brought him a tuition bill that was retroactive for a class I took in the spring but didn't register for until this fall. Not only did he take that on, he also said he'd try to zero out all the other charges on the bill, including my $1500 health insurance payment. I didn't even think to ask him to do that. I was so pumped up, that I voluntarily told him not to pay for my pharmacy bill, though I'm pretty sure he would have. So weighed against all the things that infuriate me and pile shitty obligations on my plate, there are a few superheroes out there actually doing something about all the problems. I've been meaning to buy him a beer or something but I keep forgetting. I need some gum, my roof of my mouth feels like its covered in masking tape.