The last laugh


With my old mentor, who passed away too young during the last July, we kept a shared email folder. We called "Structure vs Structure", and it contains the autoimmune diseases of the beautiful elephant which is the university. In other words, sometimes the bureaucratic complexity and clashing interests that constitute a university backfire on the university itself, often with hilarious results.

Today was such a day. After pitching the concept for a course and being met with overwhelmingly positive reactions, I was encouraged by one of the professors to whom I presented the course to write a short document and a syllabus to start sharing something more concrete.

I sent a first draft to the professor, and a couple hours later, during dinner with another close colleague and mentor, I get back a very angry email. The professor totally crushed my work, calling me incompetent and maybe attacking ad hominem my PhD advisor.

At first, my blood went boiling. I just needed to reply. I finished my dinner in a rush, opened my laptop, and drafted an answer. Satisfied, I decided to let it "rest" there to let my head cool down a bit rather than send it immediately.

With a clearer mind, I started chatting again with my mentor, and I told her about the "Structure vs Structure" folder. Despite the three of us working very closely for over two years, she didn't know of it. We then spent half an hour laughing over this collection of emails that are indecipherable, bureaucratic, obscure, funny, raging, nasty, nonsensical or just plain dumb.

In the end I can again do nothing but marvel at the strange beauty of the university elephant. My work was crushed, I was called names, and a potentially awesome project was shut down (or will it be?). However, though, I cannot help but acknowledge the great work of the man who taught me not only how to start being a better researcher, but also to enjoy the odd hardships of university life.

I miss him.

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