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Homage to a cook

Have you guys ever realized how important a cook's habiities are in a canteen? What happens when suddenly a good cook is replaced by a bad one? I have had the chance to observe the process first hand in my own canteen. Till about three weeks ago, we had a good cook. Maybe she didn't prepare fanciful meals, but they were more than edible. I actually liked to sometimes just eat there as it saved me the effort of cooking myself and I knew that, no matter the day, I would find something I would like waiting for me.
Now, three weeks ago, for some unknown reason, the cook was changed. For about the first week, everyone was still going on as normal, except for the comments on the food: "this is burned", "this is cold", "this doesn't taste as it should", and so on. Sadly I wasn't able to observe people's reaction the second week, as I was involved in a course and, since meals were paid, I just ate in the canteen before most people even came. Now, this week started with one of the waitresses commenting that the week before the money they get from meals had gone down noticeably. She said it was because of the course, but, having actually eaten there for a week, I didn't really share her opinion. So, I set out to observe and wasn't really surprised to see that the number of people who bought their meals in the canteen had been reduced significantly. Before, at two o'clock, there was always someone buying their meal there. Now you could easily wait 20 minutes before anyone had the courage to approach the place where the food is displayed. If I had doubts about what I was seeing, I only needed to look at the table I was sitting in. Usually, the number of people who buy their meals in the canteen is clearly higher than the people who bring their food from home. This whole week this hasn't been true, as most people have preferred to just bring their food, since they know it will be edible.
A second, unexpected, effect is that sandwiches have suddenly become very poplular (after all there are not many ways in which you can mess up making a sandwich... although my breakfast tasted funny this morning). The problem is that, if before this week you had to wait about 15 minutes before you had your sandwich, now you have to wait about half an hour... if you're lucky.
It will be amusing to see what will happen next week. Will people start to really complain? Will they get used to the food? Or will we be lucky enough to have our own cook back. Well, until there is a change, I will certainly keep bringing my own food. No sense in wasting money if you don't even get to enjoy a good paella.


Why do people never listen?

That is something I have been wondering for a long while now. So many things would go much easier if people (myself included) took the time to listen to what someone else is saying. Last week I went to talk to the woman who takes care of arranging trips and the like for the people in the department. I'm going to Vienna for three weeks in July and I really need to book my flight now. Before going to her, I had already checked and seen that leaving from Valencia is a pain. There is no direct flight so you need to go to somewhere else first, which means it can take you a lot of time to get to Vienna and that it is much more expensive. So, I decided that I could take a flight from Barcelona, which takes you directly to Vienna. The problem of that is that the flight leaves at 9 am so it's impossible to travel from Valencia to Barcelona on the same day. So, the solution in my mind was rather easy. I go to Barcelona the day before, stay the night at my relatives' place and in the morning I go to the airport. With the added bonus that when I get back I will be able to go to Reus without having to worry about trains and the like. So, with all that information, I went to talk to the woman. She barely allowed me to utter three words. Just enough to tell her where I was going and when, and then she told me she would arrange it. When I started talking about Barcelona she could me off and told me she would arrange it. Today, I got the list of possible flights I can choose from, and of course there is none from Barcelona there. She choose Valencia - Madrid and Madrid - Vienna (could have been worse) and even so now I'll have to go tell her that I'm not interested in her choices and that I want to go through Barcelona, something she would have known if she had taken a minute to listen to me.



Everyone who knows me personally will know that I don't drink coffee. I can actually count in one hand the times I have drunk it. So, I found what happened last week quite ironic. About a year ago, our department decided that while holding courses and the like, it would be much easier (and cheaper) if we took care of the coffee breaks ourselves instead of paying the catering company to do it. Once that was decided it was just a matter of buying two large coffee machines and then each time a course took place the people responsible just had to buy sweets and... set the coffee. So this week one such course took place and I was part of it. The man organizing everything made a very nice calendar of who had to set the coffee every day. Of course, such a thing is doomed to fail from the beginning. Some people never remember when its their turn (coincidence?), others don't understand that after everyone has had they break you're also supposed to clean everything up. Anyway, I had the privilege (yeah, right) of taking care of the coffee the first day. The second day I helped because one of the two that were supposed to set the coffee was not there. And so it went on, for one reason or the other I always ended up taking care of the coffee for one reason or the other. The day I decided that it was enough and refused to set it was the day after the gala dinner. When my boss, who had been explaining bayesian inference, went to make a break, he looked at me (I was the only one awake that morning) and asked: "How about a break now?" and I said: "There's no coffee, so no break now." If looks could kill, I would be dead a hundred times over, and of course, I bowed to the inevitable and ended up putting the coffee. Anyway, at the end of the course the organizer will be remember by his knowledge on phylogeny. My boss will be remembered by his nice personality and sense of humor. And me? I will be remembered as the girl who put the coffee, even though it was the first time I actually did something like that!!

Everyone can more or less safely say that they like being on holiday, whether it is to take a fancy trip to a foreign country or to just laze around your own home. But every holiday comes to an end and then the problem is going back to work.

The first signs that the holiday is coming to an end are the small, flighty, thoughts of: just one more week left. Those are easy to ignore as a week is quite a long time. The problem is that as the days pass these thoughts grow more pronounced. The crisis reaches its peak just the day before you need to return to your own home. You hope and hope that the day won't pass, but sadly it does and you feel yourself enjoying your last minutes of freedom before reality comes to reassert itself. Making your way back is not much of a problem, after all you are kept busy, but once you are at home, you wonder: Ok, and now what? If you're lucky you'll have arrived at night and will just go to bed and try to forget that the next day you'll have to get up at some ungodly hour and go to work. If you're unlucky, you'll have to look for something to do till the time comes to go sleep. That night you actually realize you're back "home" because the neighbors keep you up with their incessant ramblings, they wake you up at 4 in the morning with their shouting, and then, when it's finally time to get up, you are greeted by a freezing shower, because the water refuses to come out warmer, and you wonder once again when your next holiday will come up because you seriously need a break.

Of course, if that is bad, the return to work is usually even worse. The five minutes you spend asking everyone about their own holidays are fine, but they pass quickly enough. Getting through the rest of the day is the problem. You either have been left with so many problems to solve that you don't know where to start and end up doing nothing or you had left everything done and don't know what you're supposed to do now, so you also end up doing nothing. All this makes the hours pass sloooooowly, and in the end you look back and think, just to do this I could have had one more day of holiday.

As you can guess my return to reality has been quite a shock to the system and I'm really looking forward to the two free days we'll have in two weeks. On the other hand, I really, really, really, need a new place to live *glares at her sister* but it'll have to wait till someone has her own apartment *sighs*

To those, like me, who just returned from holiday, good luck. To those who couldn't take a holiday... well, look at it this way, you didn't need to go through all the going back trauma.


Happy New Year!!!!!

Happy new year to everyone!!!!!!

I hope that this new year will bring you all lots of happiness, joy and good luck.

And the second one reaches the end

It's been quite some time since I last posted... and I'm afraid that's going to be a recurring theme as I have never been good at keeping journals, not even as a young child, when you have those nice, usually pink journals and you try to write nightly in them... but well that's a matter for another time. 

Last week the second one of my friends reached the end of her pre-doctoral research, in a beautiful presentation she achieved her PhD degree, which I have to add was more than deserved. She was already in the lab when I started with my own PhD, always ready to help even though our work was not even remotely similar. Santi, my ex-supervisor, nearly brought the whole room to tears while singing her praises, luckily he added a small joke at the end, stating she had been the one to bring some common sense into the lab, no one could contradict him, whether it was because of the fact that Montserrat is a wonderful person or because she really did reign everyone in when it was necessary (which, believe me, happened more often than not). I hope she will have lots of luck in whatever it is that she decides to do now and from here I give her my most sincere congratulations on her PhD.

The celebration of her achievements was mingled with the Christmas dinner (I still think we should have done it in two separate dinners, I mean, her thesis was barely mentioned at the dinner, at least at my side of the table). Anyway Christmas dinner was very enjoyable, I had to miss my dinner with my colleagues from the Cipf, but that's a decision I don't regret making, this will probably be the last time I have the chance to have a Christmas dinner with my old friends and it was something I wanted to enjoy. And enjoy it I did, the dinner was nice, except for the fact that a bit of sand kept falling from the ceiling (which in the end was quite annoying) I was seated in front of Eduard, who I hadn't seen in months, and who is usually a good conversationalist (meaning he talks and you can get away with just nodding from time to time, which for me is ideal).

Of course, the best part of dinner were the presents (less than one euro each one) and the rimes that accompanied them this time. In fact, I think everyone was more intend to try and resolve the different riddles than in seeing what the person had received as present. All in all, we had a very enjoyable night, even though it was raining when we finally left (it was nearly two in the morning!!!)



Why is it that the stupid trains never work as they should? I mean, about a month ago a part from the rails were damaged so that no trains could go through, it took them more than a month to solve the problem and till then the travel from Barcelona to Tarragona had to be done by bus, which caused hours of delay until you finally got where you were supposed to go. The situation was doubly annoying because the damage done to the train rail was because of the ave, whose construction is frowned upon a lot of people, and for good reason, they want it to pass right next to the Sagrada Familia, if something happens to that church there will be hell to pay (some of us would like to see it finished... unlikely as it is).

Anyway, last saturday the trains returned to normal, which was wonderful since I was at my parents' and I needed to get back to Valencia. So, I happily took the train which was more or less on time (meaning it was five minutes late, but that's to be expected) and surprise, there was a woman on my seat. Not only that, but she also had exactly the same ticked as I did!! When we asked the conductor, he checked it out (which we already had done) called someone in Barcelona (I don't know for which purpose since it didn't help a bit, and told me to sit down in another seat till Castellon, where he would look for somewhere else for me to sit. By the look on his face I knew damned well I would not be sitting for the last part of the trip. It's not like it was a disaster, but if you pay more than 40€ for a train place, it's annoying as hell to do the trip standing. Not only that. I think that the thing that annoyed me the most were the man's words: "You know, there is a new rule that says that the one that bought the ticked last has to pay once again." Which is utterly ridiculous, if they sell the same ticked twice why on earth should we pay for it again?? (especially considering the price of such tickets). I hope they solve the matter of double tickets quickly, as I really have no wish to be in that situation again.


Research in Spain

With the new method to publish thesis based on papers, writing a thesis has become fairly easy, you just need to put all papers together, write an introduction to the whole work and put some conclusions in the end, and voila: you've got your thesis. Of course you need to have a number of papers in order to be able to write your thesis that way, and depending on the area you're working in you will need more or less papers. But what happens when you've got enough papers, are really ready to put it all together and finish, and then your boss doesn't want you to? Because of course he will lose a worker, not only that, but he will lose a free worker, because when you reach that point you usually are at the end of your study grant.

Sadly this happens often enough, why allow one of your students to finish their thesis when you can keep them working for you? Without even paying them? I think that is a really big problem that should be solved, `cause there are some people who will not be able to fight against that kind of authority abuse. The worst part of the whole thing is that young scientists, who love they work and would continue working in the field, often become so tired of the lack of help in their phD studies that they finish and then promptly give up. Either that or they just pick up their things and leave the country. Because why should you stay here in Spain, earning just enough to survive, and finding problems at every step when you can go somewhere else where your work will be appreciated and you will earn at least trice what you do here?

Maybe someone should take a closer look at the people working at Universities, who are not only teaching students but also doing research and just kick out those that are not able to do it anymore (assuming they could in the first place), because in the end the university becomes just a place in which former researchers can order a few phD students around, get them to publish for them, and just wait till it's time to retire. The situation is quite sad and it's a wonder that researchers ever come back to Spain (and that's probably more because of the clima than because of the good conditions they can find here!). Well, if there is something I know is that I'll be leaving Spain when I get my phD, I'm sure there has to be a better place to work at. And will I ever return? Well, who knows?


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May 2008