Archive | January, 2012

It’s not procrastination if it has a word count.

2 Jan

A couple of weeks back I got to do a really cool thing and I didn’t even have to dress as a robot or risk kidnap in a giant pink limo bus with disco lights.

I should be writing about it. The really cool thing. But not here. I interviewed someone and now I have to turn it into an article for one of Oxford’s student publications, but you can draw a reasonable conclusion about how well I’m doing from the fact that I’m writing a blog post about how I should be writing an article.

I’m not really sure how this happened. I don’t even write for this publication. Well, I didn’t think that I did. I guess I must do. I got as far as downloading an application form before deciding that I didn’t stand a chance against any of the other people who would be applying, and that my time would be better spent doing work towards my course or watching hilarious videos of ketchup-dispensing robots. Mostly watching hilarious videos of ketchup-dispensing robots. But about 2 hours before the application deadline I ran out of hilarious videos of ketchup-dispensing robots to use as a means of avoiding doing work towards my course. So I applied. And I didn’t hear anything back. Not even a polite, “thanks for your application but OH MY GOD ARE YOU SERIOUS? HAHAHAHAHA!” Just nothing at all.

Nothing at all until about two weeks later, when I got an email from the editor with the subject line “Urgent interview” asking whether I knew anything about physics because he’d booked a phone interview later that week with Professor Jeff Forshaw. Or Professor Jeff Fo’ Sho’, to give his street name. I figured it was just a generic email that had been sent to all applicants because he needed to find an interviewer at short notice. And fair enough, I thought, but it would be polite to reply. So I did, briefly and taking care not to commit myself to anything, just asking whether he’d found someone and whether the interview was about the Higgs update earlier that day (the Higgs update was earlier that day) and he responded by copying me into an email to Jeff Forshaw explaining that I’d be in touch to confirm the time of the interview and I think it was at about that point that my internal monologue started screaming.

I got a lot of nice emails and texts from people telling me not to panic. I even got these from people that I hadn’t mentioned my heightened state of panic to, which says a lot about my ability to disguise my heightened state of panic. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do it. I just didn’t think that I should. In fact, I vehemently believed that I shouldn’t. I recognised that it would be a really good thing for me to do, but also that it would be cockish to take the assignment just on that basis when there were heaps of more capable and experienced students who could do a better job. I hadn’t interviewed anyone before. I hadn’t even written anything before. Not properly. It seemed a bit unwise to interview Professor Jeff Forshaw for my first assignment instead of, like, Big Keith that owns the local kebab van or something. I felt like I was being thrown in at the deep end. With sharks for armbands.

As it turned out, the interview went better than I expected it to, in that I didn’t burst into tears or vomit or say anything overtly racist. I was nervous and awkward and I severely misjudged the timing, but I guess that knowing how to structure and pace an interview properly is something that’s learnt. I’m not sure that it was fair on Forshaw that I had to learn it in his, but he was very forgiving. Actually, he was ace; he even offered to answer some questions that I ran out of time for by email, which was dead nice of him. And despite the fact that I was wholly inept, it was one of the coolest things that I’ve ever been given the opportunity to do. I got to listen to a frickin’ professor of theoretical physics – and not just a professor of theoretical physics, but someone that became a professor theoretical physics when he was still a foetus – talk at some length and with extraordinary clarity about stuff that I only had a very rudimentary understanding of, and there is something brilliantly inspiring about hearing someone speak with raw enthusiasm about the thing that they’ve chosen to dedicate their life to. In a Wigan accent.

How I felt by the end of the interview.

So, there you go. I did a thing. I stopped telling people how incapable of doing things I was for a few minutes and actually went ahead and did a thing. And I ended up really enjoying  it, although the nerves were disproportionately intense enough for that to probably count as some kind of masochism. And now I have to go back to writing about it properly, which so far has mostly involved mashing my keyboard with my fists and crying. Happy 2012!

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