So, how are your studies going?
I recently bumped into the parents of an old friend on the street, I hadn't spoken to them in years. I broke out in cold sweat and I looked back to see if I could escape this social interaction unnoticed. I knew that a horrible topic of conversation was guaranteed to come up, besides corona (‘what a madness, right?’): ‘So, how are your studies going?’
In the wild - outside the university campus - you may get asked about ‘your studies’. Sometimes this question is part of an interesting conversation, where both people are genuinely interested in each other. It's nice to see how someone's face lights up when you mention all the ‘cool things’ you learn.
However, the question is often part of the checklist of discussion topics that has to be ticked in conversation. If you can’t visualize this, think back to the last typical Dutch birthday, chairs in a circuit arrangement with your uncle or aunt sitting there, or your last spontaneous conversation on the street with a vague acquaintance.
‘Your studies’ is probably one of the least mutually satisfying topics to talk about. The one who asks gets an answer with which he cannot do anything: much of the TU's teaching material is far from the everyday world, or not sexy/concrete enough to be shared in a ready-made way. At the same time, the speaker - who is probably eager to sell science - cannot express himself satisfactorily.
I sometimes even notice this communication problem between people in the same program. I recently spoke to a friend about her graduation project - she seemed to speak in a weird coded language, even though we have been in the same program and taking the subjects for five years. If two graduation projects of nine months on different topics create such a communication barrier, what chance will you have when talking about your graduation work with your grandma?
So, I had to explain to my childhood friend's parents that I study ‘biomedical engineering’. Faces frowned.
"Uhm, MRI, CT, ultrasound, things like that."
'Oh yeah! My brother-in-law recently had a CAT scan for a tumor.
"Oh, I’m sorry to hear. But indeed, you can see that on there."
And I quickly changed the topic of conversation.