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LJ Idol - DW - 12: MacGuffin (~700 words)

A MacGuffin is a term for a motivating element in a story that is used to drive the plot. It serves no further purpose. It won't pop up again later, it won't explain the ending, it won't do anything except possibly distract you while you try to figure out its significance. In some cases, it won't even be shown. It is usually a mysterious package/artifact/superweapon that everyone in the story is chasing..

In Russia, neither the undergraduate nor graduate educations are considered "true" scientific degrees. Until the 2010s, we did not even have Bachelors or Masters programs, but single 4–5.5 year long "specialization" programs that made you a "diplomized specialist" or "specialist with a higher education".

Specialists could later obtain two scientific degrees, first becoming a Candidate of (Chemical, Biological, Technical, Physical and Mathematical, etc) Sciences after solving a task set by a scientific advisor, and then a Doctor of Sciences by finding a solution of a larger scientific problem.

These days, our higher education is divided into the Bachelors and Masters programs, the same as in the West, but these degrees are looked down upon by old-school scientists.

In 1979, my mother, who was then 37 years old, entered a PhD (Candidate) program. My favourite story about her time there is the one where in her study group, there was a girl whose surname was the same as my mother's maiden name. At the time, my mother had been married for two years, but because she'd not expected to marry or change her surname at all (she only did the latter because it was important to my future father), she often tried to answer in class both when she herself and that other girl were called upon by their professors.

I entered my PhD program in 2015, when I was 34. The most important non-PhD-related change in my life since then was becoming the scientific secretary of our department at work two years later. When my thesis advisor, who is also my colleague, heard that I'd agreed to take on that extra job, she asked if I was sure I could manage the workload, because in a position such as this, sometimes you have to put everything on hold and do something importantly irrelevant for the higher-ups as urgently as yesterday. (On one notable occasion, I had to gather 30 signatures in less than two days.)—I answered, "Yes", and never regretted it.

Entering a Candidate program in your late thirties is, well, late. Most people who wish to do it finish their first degree before turning 30. A few rare ones, lucky sods who know what they want, or unlucky old souls who remember too much, already have their second, Doctor of Sciences, degree before turning 35.

My mother entered her program because she needed a big project to fill her life after my elder brother Sergey, whom I never met, died of a childhood illness before he turned two. She finished the course but did not get the degree, because just as her research was completed in late 1980, the State decided that the field she'd been working in was no longer important, and her topic was closed. She could have obtained the degree still, by jumping beaurocratic hoops and altering and expanding her work to suit another topic, but she got pregnant with me and decided against it.

I entered my second Master's program and following it, the Candidate one because I needed the challenge of brainwork to beat the remnants of my years-long simmering depression, which was triggered by the stagnation I felt at work. I have already mostly achieved my goal of 'rebooting' my brain, which I never again intend to allow to grow as rusty and cobwebbed as it did a decade ago.

In living memory, the only person in our family with a scientific degree, that of a Doctor of Technical Sciences, was my mother's uncle, who paid for it by growing estranged from his two sisters, one who whom was my grandmother, and their mum, but this is a sad story for another day.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 16th, 2019 09:12 pm (UTC)
Well, this was fun. I have never before deliberately tried to follow any sort of trope, especially one where the narrative is supposed to be plot-holey.

How is it? Not too holey, I hope.
Jan. 17th, 2019 05:14 pm (UTC)
Congratulations on such achievements. I love the idea of rebooting the brain when it becomes rusty and slow.
Jan. 17th, 2019 10:29 pm (UTC)
Ah, Ph.Ds. My husband worked towards one in biochemistry for seven years, but then determined that the prior research he was basing his own work upon was faulty and made the decision to walk away from it. He ended with a "Candidate of Philosophy" degree rather than the doctorate. He immediately enrolled in an MBA program, and within two years had that degree and pursued his career in business. (MBA= masters of business administration) At many job interviews he did he was asked what biochemistry had to do with finance, but he always claimed that they were both quantitative and required problem-solving.
Jan. 18th, 2019 06:48 am (UTC)
I think you did wonderfully! Having the pursuit of higher degrees as your MacGuffin is really creative and perceptive. (At least that's what I think you've done. Sorry if I'm wrong. The whole MacGuffin thing is a bit beyond me.) However, I enjoy your entries so much because for the duration of the read I get to be in a far off place learning marvelous things. I thoroughly enjoyed this!
Jan. 18th, 2019 02:32 pm (UTC)
I started on a higher degree once and lost motivation. The state keeps changing their requirements and I got tired of trying to constantly play catch up and spend all my money.
Jan. 18th, 2019 03:47 pm (UTC)
viiy from dreamwidth
I loved this - it was a very interesting and creative entry!
Jan. 18th, 2019 06:35 pm (UTC)
Education as a MacGuffin is a great idea. When the names of degrees were Westernized (masters, doctorate) did the requirements change, or was this simply a re-naming? This was interesting, as always.
Jan. 18th, 2019 06:39 pm (UTC)
Now that I'm logged in to LJ, I'll add to my previous anonymous posting. It must have been so frustrating for your mother's program was closed.
Jan. 18th, 2019 09:52 pm (UTC)
I wish you all the best! I didn't know how long or hard it was to earn a higher education there. It's no surprise to me that the 'cobwebs' have been cleared! 🎀✌🐭🐁❄⛄
Jan. 19th, 2019 07:55 am (UTC)
It's very unfortunate that one is asked to sacrifice everything for the degree. Still, your path is one to be very proud of.
Jan. 19th, 2019 09:32 pm (UTC)
I hadn't thought about how higher education might be handled in other Western countries. I expect many of them skip the step of a Master's degree, but I never considered not really having a Bachelor's degree as a possibility either! It sounds as if a well-rounded breadth of knowledge with some degree of special focus is not valued as much in Russia as having deep knowledge in one particular area? I can understand that. We have many people (including undergrads) who would prefer the latter as well!

Immersing yourself in learning and knowledge can be a really good and useful way to help get through depression or other difficulty. I'm glad it's helped you, and I imagine it helped your mother as well despite the unfairness of having the degree withheld after completing it.
Jan. 20th, 2019 03:23 am (UTC)
Not knowing very much about Russian culture, this was really informative. How awful for your mom to go through all that and then not be able to finish through no fault of her own. I'm glad your own quest, though, is helping you. It sounds like it's quite the achievement, and that is really admirable!
Jan. 21st, 2019 08:32 pm (UTC)
She finished the course but did not get the degree, because just as her research was completed in late 1980, the State decided that the field she'd been working in was no longer important, and her topic was closed.
That's so messed up :(
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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