The weather in Arizona gets so hot that birds burst into flame in mid-flight and nuns walk the streets openly cursing about how hot it is, yet some people choose to live there. Full time, even. One of those people is named Ashley and she’s put her primary calling as a professional television watcher on hold to attend graduate school for awhile. She brought up the idea of asking each other a few questions about our current vocations and I felt that it might be a good idea for the sake of educating the masses on the finer points of self-immolation. So, here goes:
1. Being from a different planet called English Lit, I am unfamiliar with this thing called “science.” What is it exactly that you do?
Basically, I play with puzzles. The difference between myself and the other puzzle-playing masses is that the puzzles I play with have confounded smart people for, hell, like forever or something. Also, sometimes the puzzles kill. So, it’s kind of exciting. Biochemistry and molecular biology describe how people work at the molecular level. Understanding this is necessary in order to really discern the ways in which things kill people. The ability to grasp the mechanisms of both life and death, then, is the key to curing things that cause the untimely death of people who want to live a little longer. I play with the things that make people work and try to find ways to fix them when they stop working.
2. What do you want to be when you grow up, also known as, what are you planning to do one hundred billion years from now when you have your Ph.D.?
I had to write an essay answering basically this question for a seminar that we all had to suffer through for two hours on Friday afternoons the first year. I should go ahead and post it. I’m not not copping out on your question, though. I will never work for any corporate or government entity. Period. I’ll only teach at VMI, which is a real possibility. Ideally, I’d like to end up a post-doctoral researcher in a well-funded lab for the rest of whatever, publishing paper after paper, ultimately resulting in a few patents, a cure for something, and my purchase of an island. Another possibility is to become a science writer and translate supposedly unattainable concepts for lay-people. Either way, as long as I can pay the mortgage and feed the dogs, I’ll be fine. Ambition is no longer an issue.
3. Does playing with molecular stuff in labs make you feel powerful? And if you turn into a mad scientist, can I be your henchman?
Y’know, it really doesn’t. It actually makes you feel a little insignificant, because you work with things on such a small scale that it brings into focus how much of a miracle it is that we don’t all just drop over dead. Constantly. For example, the experimental platform of choice for a lot of scientific whatnot involves using e. coli for one thing or another. That’s some nasty shit, yo. The strain that’s used has been ‘bent’ to our will, though, which means that it has all the qualities that make it useful without the pesky side effect of killing everyone around it. Still. Nasty. As for personal power trips, I do manipulate DNA to do my bidding, but it’s not like I’m cloning sheep or cyborgs (yet). If that ever happens, you can have the henchman gig.
4. What is the thing you hate the most about graduate school?
Instructors who assume that your knowledge is on par with their own, insist on teaching to that level, and become impatient when seemingly simple questions are asked.
5. Name two other things you hate (I know you’ve got it in you).
While I no longer deal with undergraduates, there were few things more infuriating than running into those who refuse to put forth any effort at all. I had a ‘No Whining’ policy that bothered some of them, as they felt that if their parents were willing to pay ~$40K/year, they were somehow entitled to be spoon-fed answers and automatically A’d. I disagreed. Also, the relentless piling on of everything, which you can supposedly handle by virtue of being a graduate student. This is primarily a first-year thing, I think.
6. Here’s a tough one: why do you like grad school? I mean it: why? I don’t understand.
I get to learn stuff for a living. In the sciences, they actually PAY you to learn stuff, too. Not well, but it usually covers the tuition and whatever food you need. Also, if you enjoy learning and doing whatever it is you’re doing, I gauran-damn-tee that you’re far and away happier than a majority of the workforce in the rest of the world.
7. Don’t you think it’s slightly unfair that bachelor’s degrees are the new GEDs so now all the smart people have to get masters and doctorates degrees because all the dumb people are going to college now, too, and dammit, hierarchy is important? Does asking this question make me an asshole? And if you agree with me, does it make you an asshole, too?
Sure, you’re an asshole, but that doesn’t mean you’re wrong. I’m an asshole, too, but mostly because I hate our society with the burning intensity of a thousand suns due to its insistence on an ‘Everyone Wins!’ mentality, ironically accompanied by an over-crowded and poorly-administered prison system. All kids get trophies. No one is special. No one loses, until you become an adult and you do from time to time. You can get any degree you want, including PhDs online in a year or two, because who wants to do the work when you don’t have to? I don’t think it’s a bad thing to make a quality education available to everyone, but BUT BUT BUT not everyone is equipped to take advantage of this and the answer to that sad fact is NOT to push them along and hand them a diploma anyhow in the spirit of fair play. A perfectly level playing field is how economies end up in the shitter. Well, one of the ways, anyhow.
Sir @ May 12, 2009