When I entered the University College of Medical Sciences as a post-graduate student after a long struggle, needless to say, like all other survivors of the ghastly AIPG entrance 2012, I felt very happy. Yes we had done it!!! We felt like we were on top of the world… but for me, the enjoyment didn’t linger long. One “fine” day, our professors walked in and casually informed us that our theses guides had been allotted and we better start hunting for the topic. I was, literally, like: “What is a thesis?” Our entire medical student lives, and especially the last couple of years, the major skills we had acquired were cracking MCQs and rote-learning. Much like the hamster that thinks that the whole world is confined to its running wheel, we had a very myopic view of the world. So the business of getting started with thesis work was a nightmare… Go to the library, read journals, search PubMed, trawl through Google scholar, identify your field of interest, see the feasibility (also known as limit your ambitiousness), assess usefulness of selected topic, evaluate availability of resources to execute said topic, convenience – being a female student comes with its restraints, safety (for investigated and investigator), navigate through too much advice, which are sometimes conflicting, from department members… it was a veritable nightmare! On top of that I had my personal nemesis: language barriers! I hail from South India and hence Hindi is plain Hell-enic to me. But as a Public Health professional to be, I had (?have) to make an all out effort to overcome this barrier as well!
Although initially every topic seemed alluring and interesting, a little digging around would throw up more and more complications, until the pile of care transformed into an insurmountable mountain. However, after a number of meetings, long telephone conferences that pauperized me, running from pillar to post, I finally came up with a topic. I had designed my car and was about to embark on a road-trip, like never before, with just a bit of back-seat driving to guide me across treacherous terrains.
One would think that after all this I could claim a well-deserved rest… but alas, no… I had just been thrown from the frying pan into the fire! We had to prepare our methodology, calculate the sample size, determine our statistical analyses, conduct field visits and pilot studies – they were all foreign tasks for me. Preparing a Powerpoint presentation for the first time was also a challenge… This was then followed by the Departmental dissection of my topic. Suggestions were thrown in, and the topic and its methodology got further modified. This being the first time I had presented anything on this kind of an academic platform, the “performance anxiety” was also not to be undermined! Finally, when the last day for submission came, like all of my colleagues, I was also being run off my feet trying to tie the last bells and whistles to my protocol, getting it printed (then edited, then re-printed), photocopied, signed, stamped… and finally, with barely minutes left for the closing time to come, I managed to turn my protocol in! I guess the adrenaline rush of managing emergencies is still ingrained in me!
The first leg is done. I cut my teeth into the matter of serious research. The protocol is submitted, and there is unlikely to be any more major changes… for better or for worse. And despite all this running around, the reading, the learning, the forced-to-think-by-myself… to quote a brand much-maligned by public health specialists: “I’m loving it!”