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My Thesis or My Life
Anthony Choe, Alum
School of Public Health 1997

During graduate school, I lived on the 29th floor of Haven Tower 2 at the Health Sciences campus. One winter morning, around 4am, one of my three apartment-mates burst into my bedroom and told me that there was a fire.

Still groggy, I walked into the hallway of our apartment unit and saw thick smoke streaming under the door that led to the public hallway. After checking that the door was cool, I entered the main hallway to see that the smoke was coming from the fire escape - the irony.

In an instant, hundreds of thoughts entered my mind. First, wake other roommates. Second, figure out how to get off the 29th floor when the fire escape is the source of the smoke. Third, get a jacket because it's cold outside.

As the list grew, I remembered my thesis project - files and files of research data, analysis, and typos. I realized that the months of effort that I had spent on my thesis - the key to my future - could be lost to the approaching flames. However, my files were trapped as bits of binary code on my computer's hard drive. I pondered whether I had time to download the files to a disk. I even thought about throwing my computer out the window with the hope that the hard drive would survive the fall.

As I stood helplessly weighing my future with and without a thesis, firefighters emerged from the elevators. They told us that a homeless person in the parking garage beneath the building had lit a fire to keep warm. Because of its lower air pressure, the fire escape acted like a chimney sucking the smoke into the building above.

I felt immediate relief that I didn't run down 29 flights of smoke-filled stairs - as many had done - for nothing. Life would go on and I would always carry a zip disk backup of my thesis files.

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