First, I have a rough idea of what my female lead would look like, although physical appearance would be inconsequential to the plot or to character development at best. She ruled out chemistry as a major due to a failed question in a chemistry final in high school, of which she will have a flashback after her tenure as a PhD student at Columbia is over. That, despite soft condensed matter being really close to chemistry in a lot of respects, and that it might be best not to go in-depth about how soft CM is similar to chemistry. I would like to say that I have a rather elaborate character history in mind for my female lead, which comprises the following elements, all of which will be touched upon, if only briefly (in chronological order): Pre-grad school: - Swears an oath that she will not attend grad school in her home country as a protest measure (alongside a few characters whose roles are inconsequential except for one who will resurface after her tenure at Columbia is over) - Applies to foreign physics grad programs with a ~3.9 (her undergrad having A+s worth 4.3) - Settles into soft condensed matter as a research area - Gets into Georgetown (and commits to Georgetown on April 15) - Gets into Columbia off the waitlist PhD (Columbia): - Implicitly treats her PhD as a six-year-long study abroad - Gets a course waiver for the first graduate-level quantum mechanics - Signs the Faustian deal - Gets all As for her first year in grad school - Explicitly treats her remaining time as a study abroad - "Masters out" of Columbia 0L: - Finds some work as a substitute teacher - Gets a 173 on the LSAT - Decides against returning to Columbia, this time for law school, due to insufficient financial aid (half-tuition scholarship) - Decides against law school altogether The trick is that one major plot point would involve making the Faustian deal of perfect grades in coursework for the rest of her life (however, that does not extend to standardized tests) in exchange of which she loses all ability to do research at some still-undecided point of her PhD program and decides to move on after fulfilling all the requirements of a terminal MA. She signs the deal out of despair in the coursework (and my character is probably impulsive)... and she makes no attempt at breaking her contract; in fact, the main condition is that the deal would hold for as long as she would not try to earn a research-based degree after "mastering out" of Columbia or stay in the PhD program for the start of year 3. I know that the most unrealistic part would be that she got into Columbia for her physics PhD off the waitlist a mere week before the semester starts (a real-world version of that character with the exact same pre-grad school fate would attend Georgetown instead, because getting a new I-20 and a new SEVIS record on such short notice, let alone graduate housing at Columbia, would be impossible) Then again, I probably know better than many what the actual rigors of scientific research are like, or the process of grad school applications. But how would I convey the student's despair leading up to the signature of the Faustian contract? Have her get stuck in some QFT problems (or some other advanced physics problem that I could otherwise solve)?