The making of an American Dream

Aditya P. Singh
8133/5 Stadium Road, Opposite YPS
Patiala-147001 Punjab (India)

There have been many debates on the issue of 'brain-drain'. Likewise, in spite of so many odds, thousands to tens of thousands struggling actors try to make it big in Hollywood and our very own Bollywood each year. I try and present to you the little nuances and nooks and corners I encountered when I first visited the USA as a graduate student in 2001.

My high school and senior secondary education were at Patiala- my hometown and I excelled in both these ventures with support from family and friends. IIT Bombay and IIT-JEE were different ballgames altogether with my being one of many and trying to carve out a niche for myself. Two thoughts stand out in my memory from my IIT days. One was the utter disdain in which undergraduates held 'Research' at IIT and the relative awe which 'money, MBA, the USA' commanded. I was also enamored at the prospect of earning in dollars. At the end of five years of undergraduate and graduate training, I had a job with one of the Information Technology firms and one scholarship- graduate studies at the University of Delaware.

Landing at Philadelphia International saw us take a shuttle service to Newark, Delaware. Interstate 95 with its long, winding lanes running alongside the Delaware River and the speed at which our driver changed lanes, together with the jet lag made our heads swim. We were the second or third ones to get down at our seniors' apartment. When we got down we lifted our own bags and took them to the apartment. As for tipping we presented a dollar apiece, much to the resentment and chagrin of the lady cab driver who told us of the new customs and culture which we must imbibe quickly.

Our seniors at Delaware took good care of us; two or three days after our arrival we bought sleeping bags and bicycles for each of us. Within a week, we had signed a yearly lease at our apartment community. For the next year or so, most of our groceries were done with our seniors when they went out in their car or when we pushed the loaded supermarket carts all the way from the shopping plaza to our apartment and back.

My first meeting with my doctoral advisor stands out in my memory: at first instance it appeared that he was everything I was not. Perhaps our crew-cut hairstyles were the only thing common. Gradually as I came to know him better, I learnt that he was as big a struggler and academic as I was. For the first meeting of our group we went to an Indian Restaurant for a buffet- a pattern which was to continue for almost three years.

Usually every department has an examination called the qualifier to ascertain whether the student intake is good enough to be allowed to continue in a doctoral program. Starting from our class onwards, the qualifiers were discontinued and in their place the faculty decided to divide themselves into two groups of biology related and not biology related research faculty. The students were to undertake the task of defending their proposal in front of the faculty groups.

My proposal, 'Quantification of Cancer pathways' managed to pass the selection criteria with a slightly below average rating. Thus, my American Dream and Journey did not come to an abrupt end and the discussion, of which I hope, will be another entertaining story.


  Published on 21/10/2011

  Source: E-mail 21/10/2011

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