Time flies over us but leaves its shadow behind. It’s been five months since I came to Paris, but I feel like I arrived here yesterday. However, when I looked back to my last 150 days, I saw (so many) interesting and significant events in my memory. Some of those were smooth, some were painful, some were hard to catch up with, yet at the end of every event, I felt nothing but a gentle bridge of pleasure in my back. Last week, I completed my first semester (Finally!), which was as intense and crazy as any semester a student could have experienced in their graduate life.
Among the eight different courses I took in my first semester, two of them were most interesting–Masterial and Transversal project –and completely unique in terms of style and study patterns. In these two courses, the respective professors judged my ability to brainstorm in a short period of time and how efficient I am in a group environment. Between these two courses, in this write-up, I want to look back and reflect on my experience while I was involved in Masterial. Maybe at the end of this reflective journey, I will find some lessons for myself –that’s the ultimate and wise goal of this blog.
Masterial: A Shock or an Opportunity?
13th of September 2021, my first day in Up-Saclay. Early in the morning, I woke up, felt lovely yet disturbed by the first-ever jet lag in my life. Anyway, I took my shower, had my breakfast, and went to the class. I was pumped up since serotonin and dopamine secreted high in proportion. As soon as I reached the nicely decorated conference room of the famous MiSS building, I met my new classmates by default. Our program coordinator introduced herself, her country food, and French coffee, like my Spanish classmate introduced me with the long European bread. Just like the stunning spring of Paris, everything seemed super new to me.
We are in total 10 students in our program, coming from 8 different parts of the world. So, I felt that suddenly someone threw me inside a cultural hub. I felt really weird –surely in a positive sense. After a joyous morning, we navigated together via the evergreen google map and found a CROUSE restaurant (Student Restaurant in French called CROUSE). We took our lunch there as we were still continuing our introduction to each other. While we were laughing and trying to understand each other feelings, I saw a raw emotion on the chin and forehead of my classmates. I sensed that everyone is super nervous and excited at the same time, but nobody wanted to express it fully.
After a fabulous lunch, when we were going back to our classroom, one of the professors greeted us while we were entering the first door of the MiSS building, ‘Hello! I am Sylvian. Professor of Immunology. I will be your main jury for the course you have all taken –Masterial. You are all formally welcome to the University of Paris-Saclay.’ We all greeted back to him and said ‘Hello’ with a gentle smile. Finally, when we reached the conference room, our program coordinator and Sylvian introduced us to the Masterial course.
In a simpler language, Masterial is a 48 hours’ long program where students split into a group of four and they have to design an innovative research project. After 48 hours, they have to present their ideas, and within a week of presentation, they are obliged to submit a report which must alike to a proper research grand, and it should contain a putative collaboration contract with a laboratory or industry (It could be from anywhere in the world). Seems fun! Right? It was actually fun, but with a little more pain than I was expected.
After their introductory session, according to our own will, we formed three groups in total. The group I was involved in had 4 people. Among the four students, three of us from Biology background –more specifically Biotechnology, Biochemistry, and Endocrinology, respectively –and one from the Computer Science background. After forming the group, they gave us a separate room with a couple of whiteboards and markers to brainstorm and enough computers for all of us to write and do whatever we want to do. We entered our respective room and looked at each other faces with a parodic smile (We thought: what a first day we are all passing!).
Brainstorming in the highest time pressure
At first, we didn’t understand how should we start our brainstorming. Also, we were not even friendly with each other, hesitate to talk frankly since we met only 4-5 hours ago. But what could we do? We had to start anyway. Therefore, we started our brainstorming session by writing a block of ideas on the whiteboard from each of the group members. In the first hour, we were all struggling, and I felt the total situation very uncomfortable, but I know if we crack this session, it will produce great pleasure. So, our primary target was to present our very first draft of the project to the respective professor with a simple sketch at 5 PM.
In the 2nd hour, however, I proposed to the team that we should design our project something around neurodegenerative diseases (because I am comfortable with that) and my other groupmates were agreed to that. Later, my friend from CSE’s background proposed that what if we could design an interface where stem cells will be our primary bullet to produce neurogenesis in the hippocampus where neuronal connection died out by the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. We all respond positively to his proposal, and we started our elongation phase of brainstorming. So, after 2 hours of intense thinking and writing, finally, we believed that we found something. Now, it’s time to connect the missing dots.
In the final hour of our brainstorming session, we connected our missing dots as much as possible and presented our first draft of the project to the respective professors. After our small presentation, they said, ‘It’s okay as a first draft, but it requires huge improvement if you guys want to present it as a final product.’ We felt a little relaxed after getting their feedback –at least we were able to set up a base for our research project. Later in the evening, we worked a little more –what should be the task for each of our group members at night and what do we want to complete before tomorrow morning –and came back home. At night we worked as much as possible individually and made a to-do list for the next day. When I went to bed, I had no energy to think about anything. I realized that only deep sleep can remove my tiredness.
Organizing our thoughts is harder than brainstorming
14th September 2021, I woke up early, finished my breakfast, and made some personal proposals for our team. Around 8.00 AM, we met again at the MiSS building. We have only 24 hours left to present our Masterial –the final version. So, we discussed half an hour regarding our working approach for the next 24 hours. After our mini discussion, we finalized that we have three things to complete: (1) Finish the missing dots and merge with previous literature; (2) Prepare our presentation file and draw some images; (3) Looking for a collaboration (if possible).
As soon as we figured out our task to accomplish, we divided our group into three. From that time to evening, I was involved in illustration for our presentation and reduced the missing dots for our project. During that process, when me and my friend organized our primitive thoughts, we felt that it’s damn hard to organize human thoughts into a formal shape than generating some random ideas. From time to time, we had to question our own proposition and when we felt we might get a putative question from a particular position from professors, we had to figure out the answer. However, we did our job quite well –we managed one international collaboration, and our presentation was 60% done when we left the MiSS building at night.
The final touch and nervy presentation
Throughout the second day, we worked as hard and efficiently as possible –we did not even take our proper lunch, ate some dry food and bitter French coffee instead. After a crazy 30 hours of thinking, writing, discussing, drawing, finally, around 1 AM of 15th September, we completed our presentation. Now, our only goal was to present our dream project as elegantly as possible to the juries. With that thought in mind, I went to bed while meditating on my presentation part.
The next morning, I woke up slightly late, finished my breakfast, practiced my part of the presentation one last time before going to the class. When we met at the conference hall, we all were very nervous–I saw that in our faces. But we tried to cheer up each other during our final team meeting, ‘We did all the hard work we could possibly do. So, it’s time to deliver guys.’
Finally, around 8.45 AM, we presented our Masterial project in front of three professors and my other classmates (The other two teams also played a role as the additional jury. All juries are supposed to give marks in ten different criteria. Each criterion has 1 point). Anyway, after finishing our presentation, I felt relieved. My mind told me that oxygen is really sweet to absorb through the nostril.
At the end of all group’s presentations, Sylvian –the principal jury of our Masterial course –said, ‘Welcome to Up-Saclay! You all did a great job within a short span of time. Think about how much can you guys do if you have 6 months.’ We congratulate each other and left the conference room with hunger in our stomachs and tiredness in our eyes. However, at that very moment, I felt a different kind of pleasure in my back –very unique and worthy enough to strive for. My unconscious became conscious and told me that ‘You have the capability and mindset to sacrifice anything to get this unique pleasure. So, work hard and appreciate your ability.’
Next week we finished our formal report on our project, which seemed really easy since we finished our hardest part. A few weeks back, we got our final grade for the Masterial, and Alhamdulillah! It’s pleasure to share that we passed that course with distinction. Above all, the Masterial was once in a lifetime experience for me – will remember the rest of my life.