O me. Thou art such a neglectful bastard! In my defense, the brain is being ground into mush by a combination of firehose-style learnin’ and numbing boredom during the aforementioned administration of the firehose.
Worried about the prospect of not being able to match OSHA’s thunder during the first week, Biochemistry faculty spend the second and third weeks of orientation giving new graduate students a ‘survey’ of biochemical techniques they may need over the next rest of their lives. In the last three days, this has consisted of nearly 400 slides over 10 hours and will continue for the next 7 days at a similar clip in an effort to crush our collective will. Only two people have run out of the auditorium screaming, which appears to be low compared to previous years, so apparently we’re a very hardcore group.
The new students consist of varying disciplines ranging from Molecular Genetics to Pharmacology, but a common theme for all is that they’re required to take at least one semester of Biochemistry. To my surprise, this is proving daunting to a large number of these brilliant folks, a surprising number of whom have managed to have not only navigated their undergraduate majors without having ever taken such a class, but also to have been accepted into a top biomedical program without the distinction. So, irony has reared its ugly head a few times when they, upon learning that I’m entering the evil Biochemistry program itself, remark on their dread of the coming academic onslaught and inquire about my background in the hopes that I’ll be able to impart some sort of magical elixir of success. You’ve never seen faces droop or confusion reign supreme over given countenances like those of my inquisitors upon my answering, ‘I was a computer science major’. Once they finish asking the usual questions of, ‘Huh?’, and ‘What?’, and ‘WHY?’, or just simply backing away from me very slowly, I explain things, including my having taken biochemistry and biophysics and that, yes, they were difficult, but if I could do it, then surely they….and this is when they usually interrupt and start formulating reasons about how their failure is inevitable and blah blah blah.
Now, listen. I am not an academic decathalete by any stretch of the imagination and I know starting a PhD program is intimidating and must be significantly more so for people aged 22-25 than it evidently is for grizzled 35-year old professional cynics, but come ON. For a few, it seems as though disaster is a foregone conclusion. I can’t help but wonder where such smart kids who obviously excelled in their undergraduate education came up with such a flawed line of thinking. I remember having similar thoughts at 33 regarding graduate school, but, hell, I was 12 years separated from my last undergraduate chemistry class, 8 from academia, in general, and was still relearning how to study. Also, 33? One foot in the grave? The reaper following me around waiting for me to fall and break my hip? Hello?! Pressure, anyone?!?
I’m not narrow-minded enough to believe that everyone works as well on a dare as I appear to, but I’m also willing to consider that maybe some do. So, from now on whenever asked, I’ve decided to start answering people’s worry with something along the lines of, ‘Yep. Not easy.’ It seems to me that their self-doubt will only be remedied by their proving themselves wrong and that anyone else assuring them that everything will be fine may be doing as much to set them up for failure as they seem determined to do on their own. Also, WTF am I supposed to say?! Mammals are complicated!! FUCK!!!!
Also, nothing can make me go from ‘sympathetic’ to ‘annoyed’ in 4.8 seconds or less like relentless ‘poor me’-flavored self-pity, easily the most effective destroyer of potential and hope.
Sir @ August 13, 2008