Torrey Pines, 92037
Graduate Student Rec Center Creates a New Retreat for TSRI's Ph.D. Candidates

By Jennifer O'Sullivan

It's late afternoon at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) and the mid-January sun begins to melt into the Pacific. Several graduate students disappear into a building located off the wood deck, which serves the TSRI Cafeteria and overlooks the Torrey Pines Golf Course. The chosen spot for this 5 PM break, which for some students is merely the midpoint of the day, is the new graduate student recreation center.

Referred to as the "Grad Condo," the space serves as a new retreat for the 152 Ph.D. students from TSRI's Chemistry program and its Macromolecular and Cellular Structure and Chemistry (MCSC) program.

"One of the ongoing complaints from students had been that Scripps didn't have a gathering place where students could just hang out," says Graduate Program Administrator Marylyn Rinaldi.

The bi-level Condo, which has two bedrooms, a fireplace, and a full kitchen, has become just that. One of the bedrooms has been converted to a quiet room equipped with a computer where students can read, write, or check email. Another room houses a full-sized pool table and a rack of cue sticks.

"Nobody's very good," says Chemistry program student Callie Bryan, setting up a shot as fourth-year students Chris Anderson and Jim Turner look on. "But you never know, over time..."

The presence of the pool table is credited largely to MCSC student Dwight Barnes, who procured the table, redid the felt, and plans to level it when he has a chance. "Dwight definitely did most of the work to get it here," Chemistry student Keith Wilcoxen attests. "I just drove the van."

In addition to e-mail and billiards, the recreation center also offers cable TV, a VCR, and a large, curved leather couch so that groups of students can get together to watch CNN, a movie, or perhaps the upcoming Winter Olympics. Student happy hours also take place on the outer deck twice a month. Beyond recreation and leisure activities, dinners will also be held at the Grad Condo, for example when groups of prospective students visit campus.

"It's difficult for them when they first arrive," says Rinaldi, referring to the graduate students who move to La Jolla from other states or even other countries and need to make social connections. "We've wanted something like this for a long time."

Originally intended to house visiting scientists, the condominium proved to be too isolated from residential communities for any kind of prolonged individual stay. Thus, the building remained vacant for years until Rinaldi got permission to use it as another facility for the students. (The official graduate student lounge is located in the Beckman Center for Chemical Sciences behind the fountain and is used for thesis defense receptions and small group student meetings).

The TSRI Graduate Office held a grand opening Halloween party in the new recreation center last year. Students have since been able to use the facility from noon to midnight daily and gain access with—no, not a secret knock—a code entered onto the keypad near the front door.

"It'll take a while for people to get used to using it," says third-year Chemistry student Warren Lewis, adding that because TSRI doesn't have undergraduates the Grad Condo helps create more of a campus feel and will certainly help with recruitment.

Ian Thorpe, another third-year student in the MCSC program, thinks that future classes of graduate students will use the facility more and more. He also notes that students often end up spending most of their time with people in their same year. "[The recreation center] will help integrate the classes more," he comments.

The sun has now vanished below the horizon and only empty pizza boxes and a draining cooler remain. Dwight Barnes, procurer of the pool table, wasn't able to make it to the happy hour and could not be reached to comment for this story due to a review deadline, suggesting that while TSRI's students will certainly enjoy the Grad Condo, no one's going to be bringing home any pool tournament trophies.





Spying on the new graduate student recreation center, a.k.a. the "Grad Condo." Photo by J. O'Sullivan.






2nd-year MCSC student Ted Foss enjoys a game of pool. Photo by J. O'Sullivan.