17 July 2015

The Buffalo Surprise

Last May, I was in Buffalo for a weekend. It was a surprise; not a lot of people knew I was there. And based on what happened, it seems that the trip was overall a success.

See, one of my best friends was defending her dissertation. She was finally finished, and so she had to go in front of the public and defend what she did. Dissertation defenses are typically very stressful affairs: I remember my own dissertation defense back in 2012, and it was definitely something that was not the most pleasant thing to happen. But once one successfully defends, then one breathes a sigh of relief, as it is a mark of accomplishment, and one is therefore now known as a doctor, someone who has made a contribution in furthering the knowledge of humankind.

Back in 2010 or 2011, my best friend and I somewhat casually promised each other that we would attend each other’s dissertation defenses. We joked that we would be establishing piggy banks so that we would save money so that we have some money to spend to be able to attend each other’s defense. When I defended in 2012, she was still in Buffalo, which meant that she had it easy. All she needed to do was drive from her house to campus and attend mine.

At that time, I remember the two of us had a conversation, where she asked me, whether I would attend her dissertation when she defends either next year or the year after that. I think I remember being a jerk, and instead of saying sure I’ll attend, I simply said I might be backpacking in the Canary Islands instead. I think at that time, I meant that, and obviously, she was disappointed.

Anyway, it ended up that she needed three more years to finish after I did, and sometime in April this year, she said that she finally filed her dissertation, and it was scheduled to be defended in May. I simply said congratulations, without giving her a hint that I would be coming. But honestly, the first thing I did was check my bank account and see if I could afford flying transatlantic and attend. It seemed that it was possible. The second thing I did was contact a couple of people in Buffalo. I contacted one faculty member who I still collaborate with, and asked him to confirm if indeed the dissertation defense was indeed scheduled for that date. I also contacted another friend to ask whether I could stay with him during the weekend of the defense, so that I won’t be needing a hotel while I was there. After both of those folks responded positively, I then went ahead and booked my tickets.

I had a conference in Greece around the same time. Well, not really. The conference was the weekend before. However, I made it appear to my best friend that my conference was around that same time, so that she won’t suspect that I would be coming to town and showing up. When she told me that her defense was scheduled for May 22, I said “Oh, that’s the time when I would be in Greece!”

The defense was on a Friday, and I arrived the day before. The original plan was to simply lay low on Thursday, and then show up at the room on Friday unannounced and surprise her. However, there were already several of my other friends telling me that it probably isn’t a good idea, since given that the defense was already a stressful affair, she probably doesn’t need another stressor on top of everything, with me showing up unannounced. So we decided that we would surprise her instead by me showing up at her doorstep that evening.

I should say that the surprise went well, and even I enjoyed the fact that I was back in Buffalo for a while. Some of my other friends got the surprise too, when they saw me on campus on Friday during the defense. There were a couple of other people who showed up as well, people who already graduated, but made the point of going back to Buffalo to attend my best friend’s dissertation defense. The faculty was quite surprised at the turn out, commenting that it felt like a flashback to around 2008, when all of us were still students in the department.

I also had an impromptu meeting with my former adviser, and that went well. Now that I am not a student anymore, we seem to have a relationship where we now stand on equal footing. When I was still a student, I definitely looked up to him all the time, and the relationship was one where he knew everything and I always looked up to him for guidance. Nowadays, things are more egalitarian. He still has more experience than me, I am not denying that, but our relationship has definitely evolved from a teacher-student relationship to something that is between two collaborators.

I stayed only for three nights. I arrived in Buffalo on Thursday, and left Sunday. It was a short visit, but I was definitely glad to have been back, and have seen my good friends, even though it was just a short time. Later on, my best friend told me that my surprise was the best thing that happened that weekend.


  1. That's really cool that you did that! I'm sure it meant a lot to your friend.

    1. Isayoui,

      Thanks! It was a very short visit, but I definitely enjoyed seeing old friends again!