Reminiscences of Formative Experiences

Tenured Radical has a very interesting and heartwarming post up concerning the formative experiences she had in college that set her on the professional academic trajectory that has led her to where she is now. Her tale is eerily parallel to my own.

I was a fuckeuppe my freshman year, ended it with a 1.58 GPA (no idea why I remember the exact number), and was placed on academic probation to start my sophomore year. I, too, wanted to be left alone by adults to get drunke, smoke weede, and chase girls at fraternity parties, but also wanted to be noticed as SPECIAL! and TALENTED!

I got my wish in the Spring of my sophomore year, when I was called in to the office of Professor ES, a huge figure in the field of physiology and a former provost of the university. He was the director of a “scholars” program I had been inducted into as part of my admission to the university, I presume based on the fact that while my high-school grades were mediocre, my list of books I had read during high-school that was part of the application to this school (no idea of universities ask for that anymore from applicants) contained hundreds of books, all of them difficult and none of them assigned.

So I go into his office, and he is this tall dude with white hair wearing a suit and bowtie. And he goes, “So! Mr. Physio! You are part of the scholars program because we have identified you as someone who should get involved with our faculty’s original research. What is you major?”

And I am just thinking, “Shitte, man. I just want to drinke beer, smoke weede, and chase girls at frat parties. What the fucke is this dude’s problem?”

So I go, “My major is {somewhat technical humanities discipline}.” And he said, “What has interested you about your courses in that major?” And I go, “Well, I like thinking about the nature of humanity and what it means to be a human being.”

So he goes, “AH!! Well, it’s very nice to think about the nature of humanity from the standpoint of {somewhat technical humanities discipline}, but if you really want to understand how and why human beings are how we are, you need to understand human PHYSIOLOGY!”

At this point, the dude has risen from his chair and is declaiming all this shitte very dramatically. And I am all thinking, “What the fucke is uppe with this lunatic? I gotta get the fucke out of here!”

So then he goes, “OK! Mr. Physio! You go see Professor AE in the biology department! You tell him I sent you, and you tell him you are going to work in his lab with Dr. JS, one of his post-docs! Now go!” And he writes down these people’s names on a piece of paper and the building and room number of Professor AE’s lab.

So I put the piece of paper in my pocket, and scurry out of there with relief, go find some of my cronies and drinke beer, smoke weede, and chase girls at fraternity parties.

A day or so later, I find this piece of paper in my pocket. And I can’t explain why, and I don’t even remember the decision itself, but I presented myself at Professor AE’s lab with the piece of paper, and explained to his secretary who I was and why I was there. So she goes, “Hmm. Wait right here.”

And she goes back into an office and I hear murmuring for a few moments, and then this dude comes out. And just like Professor ES, he’s got white hair and a bowtie, but he’s short, much shorter than ES.

And he goes, “Mr. Physio! Welcome to my lab! Let’s go introduce you to Dr. JS!”

And I thereby got drawn into the world of biomedical research, and the thing that was amazing was that within a few months of working in the lab and generating my own data, I was treated by a diverse group of faculty, post-docs, and grad students all working in this particular area of physiology as a COLLEAGUE, and not as a punkeasse undergrad who just wanted to drinke beer, smoke weede, and chase girls at fraternity parties. It was a heady experience–akin to how TR describes being given REAL RESPONSIBILITY as a writer and editor at a real publication at her university.

If not for Professors ES and AE (both, sadly, deceased, the former at a ripe old age and the latter tragically and too young), and Dr. JS, still one of my closest friends and colleagues, I would surely not be Comradde PhysioProffe today!


  1. Sxydocma1 says

    I had a similar experience too. I was a complete fucke up, and failed out of the Honors Program at my university. I was a biology major and an English minor and I thought I would give up Biology and study English instead. One of my English professors gave me an old copy of “The Lives of a Cell” by Lewis Thomas. I’ve carried it with me through college, grad school, and my post doc. I don’t know where I would be today without that book – I certainly would not have pursued Science.

  2. Isis the Scientist says

    I am sorry to hear about your mentors, but this post has reminded me of the people who helped me along. Thanks, dude.

  3. says

    What a great story. I hope I can be as inspiring to my undergrads as Dr. JS was to you. FWIW my “fuck-up” undergrad this semester is handling responsibility much better – to the point where the PI is talking about hiring her when/if the new grant goes through – than my “I always get A’s because I’m so fucking speshul, I shit rainbows” pre-med student from last term.

  4. anon says

    Canadian_Brain – Eric Kandel is not dead yet, at least not to my knowledge. CPP says both bowtie profs are now deceased.

  5. jamessweet says

    My experiences are not nearly as dramatic… but I do remember a very specific moment when I transitioned from a somewhat adversarial student/teacher relationship to a collaborative one.

    I’ve always had awful handwriting. Elementary school teachers seem to take that personally for some reason (as if I affected bad handwriting just to spite them?) and so by junior high I had developed this sort of “Fucke you, teacher, I write how I want!” mentality. It lasted all the way into college, believe it or not.

    I remember I was like in my 3rd (!) year of college or something, and a professor, when handing back my homework, complained he had trouble reading it. I adopted my standard defensive “Fucke you proffe!” posture — and then something different happened. Instead of being patronizing, he just looked confused. He’s like, “Well, I don’t actually care about your handwriting, it’s just hard to read. Could you just type it or something?”

    It sounds stupid, but it was a revelation for me. I was like, “Oh! It’s not like in high school where half the purpose of the teacher is to be there to babysit you and always tell you ur doin it rong. This guy, he and I are working together so I can learn (whatever the course was). We’re — oh my god, we’re on the same team!

    I sheepishly said that wouldn’t be a problem, and admitted it would probably be easier for me than handwriting it anyway. And my whole relationship with teachers changed after that moment.


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