Sunday, November 30, 2008

Off to Grandmother's House We Go

Mary Margaret is a Ph.D. student at the USC, Keck School of Medicine, located in downtown Los Angeles. For four years she's done due diligence as a teaching assistant and research assistant in brain cancer, writing her dissertation and preparing to receive her degree.

For the past year her boss has been increasingly moody and distant and dissatisfied, so much so that he did not prepare her properly for the screening exam. Mary Margaret failed. It would be a year before she could take it again. All he had to say was that he was sorry. And, he said this to the department head, not to Mary Margaret. She heard it through the grapevine.

He ignored her questions, disregarded her experiments and subsequent analysis. When he did acknowledge her or her work it was unpleasantly critical.

"I'm stuck. This is so unfair," she wailed to friends. "I've always wanted to do brain cancer research, but there's no one else in my department available to take me on. He was a great boss when we started. I don't know why he changed and now I'm at the mercy of this yahoo."

"Let's get married," her boyfriend said. "I won't have any free time for five years once I start my residency. Please marry me the week I graduate medical school."

"I will. I love you," Mary Margaret said. The ring of her dreams was designed, the date set, a stunning gown selected, the hard work and intricacies of putting on a traditional Catholic wedding unfolded. There were a few arguments with parents but everything fell into place.

Her boss rarely came to the lab now. Rumor had it he was having family problems. Mary Margaret emailed him that she wished to put her work on hold for the month of the wedding and honeymoon. She sent him a wedding invitation. He did not respond. 

The wedding was beautiful, the honeymoon delightful, and then the happy couple packed up and moved to a city half way across the country. Her husband started his residency.

Mary Margaret readied to finish her degree. She emailed her boss. "You went AWOL," he emailed back. "No degree." Her university account was discontinued. She set up a personal gmail account. "I've done all the work. I deserve my degree," she pleaded via the new account. "I was getting married. You knew that."

"I don't care," he emailed back using his personal yahoo account. "You were %^*&^." (we won't give his words dignity in print)

She contacted the department head and her other professors, she offered to return to meet with him. They agreed, he was behaving in an unprofessional manner. Under pressure, he relented. She could receive a Master's Degree, the PH.D. was history. Mary Margaret would receive this reduced degree only after an in-person transfer of papers and his final approval at a later date at his discretion. 

Exhausted and distressed, Mary Margaret and her husband drove 4 hours one holiday weekend to visit her grandmother. They looked at old family photos, ate Campbell's tomato soup with saltine crackers. Grandma listened intently to Mary Margaret's troubles.

Let's read "'Gulliver's Travels Part IV: A voyage to the county of the Houyhnhns, Chapter VII'," she said. "He meets all kinds of yahoos. Did you know the definition of the word 'yahoo' is rude, unsophisticated, and uncouth?" 

Mary Margaret's grandmother read to them until it was bedtime. "I just stumble along as best I can. You'll understand better when you get to be a poor old thing like me," her grandmother said just before they went to sleep. "That's a quote I read some where. Live and learn, tomorrow's another day, do the best you's that sort of thing. Good night. I love you." 

And that's the truth. To some extent.