26 January 2010

You know you are a scientist when you have no frikkin clue of what you are doing!

Back in college, I was privileged to meet a bunch of ignorant, scientifically illiterate, uninformed, unqualified, under-performing, unarguably un-apt and yet unimaginably beautiful acquaintances who called themselves our teachers. They haven't had the experiences of reading even a single scientific journal in their lifetime and yet they assertively describe every physiological process of the human body in a single breath.

However, America was different. You couldn't mess with these folks. They knew their Sciences. When a researcher who has perhaps spent his entire professional lifetime in cancer biology authoritatively describes a cellular phenomenon to you, you need to think twice before questioning his conviction.

My teachers back in India almost fell into a similar category - they were feminine, they were short, almost all were cute to look at, and could give a tough competition to digital voice recorders when it came to remembering and recalling comprehensive information from a textbook.

Researchers here fell into several categories. It needs no mention that most are, in their own individual respects, fairly intelligent. They have set up home in one of the top medical schools in the US - they gotta know their Science. And know it well. However, in my last almost-2 years spent in the University amidst these varied species of researchers, I discovered categories - just like how bacteria and viruses can be of a variety of types based on their natures.

There are the dorks - textbook scientists, lots of facial hair, no specific hairstyle, soda glasses falling on their noses all the time, they wear their pants up till their tummies, they burp, they snore, they make crude noises each time they laugh; their sense of dressing is humongously dismal; and they know all the biochemical pathways that exist on this earth BY-HEART!

And then there are the studs - a cross-breed between Tom Cruise and Keanu Reeves, they make the chicks go crazy! They are charismatic, elegance defines their outlook, they make the best jokes on the planet and they don't worry about not bragging about their work. Their research may not be necessarily worth description, but they know to use the right words to attract gullible cheap-maintenance graduate students into their deceptive laboratories.

There also are the third world professors - they are marvelously a wonder in their own little way. Chinese and Indians predominate this clan. Even God has his own difficulties in understanding the Chinglish (Chinese English) these guys speak - you wonder if they are choking or speaking actual sentences. They are slave drivers and do not understand the concept of holidays or vacations. The Indian counterparts carry a whip too and use them quite frequently to drive slogging graduate students out of their homes into their labs. They use the students for a variety of purposes - from accomplishing endless goals in their never-ending projects to getting coffee with '2 tea spoons sugar' whenever they are tired of making the students slog. Professors from both these clans are undoubtedly intelligent; they manage to get publications within their first year of induction itself and it does not take them much time to elevate from assistant to associate professors. Its another issue that they stand on the necks of wailing graduate students to reach greater heights.

And then there are the sweet start-ups. They are professors coming from various parts of the world who survive on the university's start up money. Their dreams are big and they actually find solace and satisfaction in being scientists. They are super nice to you, more so because they are fresh out of labs themselves and they still manage to understand that students who eat macaroni and cheese for lunch and dinner need to be treated with respect and love. Its another issue that both respect and love vanish once they get tenured; then the lynching starts.

There could potentially be various other forms of professors - their list grows by the day. There are hard-core business types, there are those who have been wedded to Science for eternity, there are those who work on application-driven research, there are those who work on the trivialest, mega-useless projects which does not mean a damn to anybody in this universe; some are on the verge of great discoveries and line up to win the big moolah like the Dickson and the Nobel prizes; some are already there gloating over their industrious past.

Its funny how taxonomists all over the world are always busy classifying organisms into hundreds of different varieties but fail to classify themselves - mine is a humble attempt at discerning the strange 'scientist' species.

Failure is good. It shows your worthiness. It tells you where you went wrong. It leads you to unconventional paths. It lets you start again. It teaches you valid lessons. It hits your head with a brick and wakes you up.

Failure is good. It tells you who your true friends are. It helps you distinguish between those who are curious to those who are concerned. It builds bonds. It builds better friendships.

Failure is good. It destroys your pride. It shatters your vanity. It brings you back on the earth. It tells you how vulnerable you are. It gives you humility. It instills in you a drive to perform.

Never be afraid to fail. Success doesn't teach much - an excess of it can be detrimental. Success might build your character, but failure reveals it. Failure is the only opportunity to begin again more intelligently (Henry Ford)