Free food in graduate school and what I learned from it

In graduate school, my office was on the third floor of the physics research building.

There was a big atrium in the middle of the building on the ground floor. 

There was a seminar room adjacent to it - this was where many events took place.

Events that generated FREE FOOD.

picture of plate of food by oindree banerjee for blog how to phd free food in graduate school and what I learned from it
No, this is NOT free food, just a pic I took and decided to use for this post

Seminars, colloquiums, conferences, reviews, outreach events - all have one thing in common.


Graduate students DEPEND on leftovers.

Of course, I would not take food at an event where I was not directly involved or invited.


There were leftovers.

And the administration had sent out an email asking us to help them by helping ourselves to the leftovers.

On such occasions, one would realize just how many people there were in the department.

Just when I would hope, for a change, that I was alone, I would find that I certainly was not.

People would appear from all directions, filling the atrium, and intersecting at the FREE FOOD.

Lecturers who usually inhabit other buildings would get the email and appear at once.

Not just graduate students, EVERYONE likes free food.

People are willing to eat anything if it is free.

Ask me if I like Qdoba? I will say no.

Ask me again when it's free.

The great thing about morning events is that leftovers usually appear conveniently at lunchtime.

So if I forgot to bring lunch - or more likely, did not have time to make one - leftovers are like a godsend. 

Suddenly my day is better.

Suddenly I have food, YES!


Everyone feels this way, so there is competition.

This is where it mattered so greatly that I was on the third floor.

I was much farther away from the food than people on the ground floor!

Talk about unfair advantage.

This was really very annoying.

Folks from the ground floor would casually stroll towards the free food as though they only cared a little and exercise first dibs.

By the time I got to it from the THIRD floor, there would only be some LETTUCE left.

Yuck. I hate lettuce. 

But of course, I will take free lettuce.

After this happened a few times, I realized some things.

I realized I can't WALK towards the free food.

I must RUN.

I can't make my way to it as if I only sort of care.

As if it is totally optional and I'll be lucky if I get some.

It was embarrassing to acknowledge how much I depended on the free food.

But feeling shy about it, even pretending that I was just in the area and stopping by for some totally optional free food was in direct CONFLICT with actually acquiring the same.

When you really want something, you have to mean it.

There can be no pretense about it.

You want it, so acknowledge it, and let everyone know that you want it.

Own it.

I got in the habit of running to the stairs, then down the several flights of stairs, then towards the food at TOP SPEED.

Without break, without stopping to chat with anyone.

There was no hiding that I wanted to get to that free food before it was gone.

I did not look cool, I looked determined.

I was a woman on a mission and that is the ONLY way I know to get what I want.


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  2. Yes, clarifying your purpose makes it easy for everyone around you to know your motivations and decide how they should act. If they are helpers, they will find ways to help. If they are obstacle throwers, your clarity of purpose will help YOU recognize who those folks are. I love how you brought the food analogy and it makes so much sense!

    1. Thank you!! Great to hear from you!

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