Our story: “Coffees”


An open hand appeared, stopping people from crossing the street. Green circles let cars moving on, red ones blocked them behind the line. Finally I could reach the other side.

On my way to a café where a friend of mine was hopefully waiting for me, hopefully not drinking coffee already, not feeling too nervous for the conversation that was about to start. Just thinking of her was too overwhelming for my nerves. Bright sun in the sky, someone shouting and cursing invisible friends. Windy though, illegal wafts of eau des herbes coming from people sitting on the grass, the same man who was shouting smiling now for having received a one-dollar coin. The door of the café.

Her. This friend of mine, graduate student since she can remember. She is talking about how many coffees she has drunk in the last x-extending-to-the-infinite years.

– Five a day for three hundred and sixty five days for x years. It gives 1825x, a very banal function isn’t it? How can we make it more complicated? Let’s say that these years are a peak or something similar, than I’d need a parabola to describe the trend, arising more slowly before it and then hopefully falling down but not necessarily…

I am lost after five of her words. I loved math (I still love it). Yet, what is the point of quantifying yourself like that? Do you need an explanation and have you lost the instruction booklet for the toy called Graduate Life? She keeps talking…

– …I am lost. Definitely. Do you know that according to a study published on Science about 33% of graduate students are at risk of having or developing mental health problems? And…
– No, I do not.
– …this happens all over the world! I was talking…
– You talking? I cannot believe that.
– …to a friend of mine last week and she told me that many PhD students she knows have started hating their subject because of their PhD experience. Bunches of them leave academia, decide to work for private companies, open a restaurant or go back to the countryside and start a farm…

My grandfather’s plantation of olive trees. Smell of scorched earth in the summer, green shades and silence in the winter. A house, solitude and peace, only interrupted by lonely footsteps or screaming TV sets invading the streets. Books. The contemporary blue definition of locus amoenus. Dante’s Inferno Virgil’s Tytire tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi.

– …I don’t even know how to plant a flower, I should google it.
I resuscitate
– What do you mean by mental health problems?
– Many things, my dear. Something like “Hey honey, how are you? Know what? Yesterday I went to my therapist to talk about how to talk to my supervisor…”
– Quite a self-reflexive one. Shall we consider this “something like” an autopoietic system? Ok, I blame myself because I am smiling, anyway, serious problems. I have read something about that.
– Thank God there are people that can help us a lot
– Us? Indeed, but I think that these numbers should make people think more broadly. Indeed, thank God there are clinics and offices that support people that have this kind of problems. Yet, what is the cause of the problem? Should we take the idea of graduate students having mental health problems for granted?
– What do you mean? – she asks, ordering the third americano of the day.
– I mean… if there are so many students with problems, is there not something that needs to be changed at the source? There are too many people talking about how they are not happy while they are doing their PhDs. My question is…WHY? Is it only a subjective complaint? I do not think so…
– Here it is, lovely and killing americano…why don’t you order an espresso? An americano is usually double-shot… maybe I could calculate my consumption of coffees in shots so that…

She keeps talking. I sip my black tea. The noise of her words outside, the noise of my words inside my head.


Banner Image by @fanniedee // @gradlifemcgill

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