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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Lot About Little

I peaked in graduate school.

My major adviser told me that. He said on graduation, I wouldn't get any smarter. That was it. After 7 years of college, my intelligence had peaked. I was 25. All the chemistry, all the research and statistics was still fresh. From that day forward, its color would pale in the unforgiving grind of time.

He was right.

I found my research journal from those days. It was 20+ years old, an old style notebook with faded blue lines and endless numbers and words scrawled in blue ink. I recognized the handwriting. It was mine. What I didn't recognize was anything it said. Not the math or the conclusions or one goddamn formula. There was even metrics.

Metrics!

It may as well have been another life, another person. Those days in the lab were some of the most gratifying. There was no social life. I drank my fill in undergraduate, crashed parties and closed just as many bars. I stopped drinking in grad school. Never saw the dank interior of one single club. Spent my mornings in the lab, afternoons in class and nights studying. I had my own desk in a big room with other grad students. Most of them had come from other countries. Stanley was from China. His name wasn't really Stanley, but that's what he used. Thailand was there. Japan and Kuwait. There were a couple guys from Pakistan, too. Those dudes seemed a little tense.

Han San Wook was South Korean. He and I had the same major adviser. A foreigner that spoke easily the best broken English in the room, he had something the others didn't. A damn fine sense of humor. While most the others only wanted the facts, San Wook laughed a lot. The night before an exam, I would find him sleeping on his desk in the morning. He would eat kimchi and laugh with his mouth open.

Super wide open.

I toured the USDA Vegetable Lab in Charleston today. That's where geniuses like my former classmates work for a living. Their published works were on the wall outside their labs. They were written in English but no one understood a word of it. Unlike me, these people didn't peek at graduation. They were still climbing. They likely have no idea how brilliant they are.

A professor that taught me Plant Membrane Transport (yeah, 14 weeks of the plant membrane, wrap your mind around that) was a former surfer. This guy was cool but so brilliant that he had no clue the rest of us were dummies. When the surf was flat, he said he'd read research journals and find errors in methods and materials. Weird shit like that. I'd stop by his office with a question and he'd answer with some kind of Einsteinian-level math like we were both on the same page. I would nod until he got tired and leave dumber than when I entered.

The aforementioned major adviser that informed me of my impending intellectual decline also told me I had arrived a fork. One path would lead me to know a lot about a little. The other would lead to knowing a little about a lot. At that moment, I was thinking Which one is easier? 

But I still geek out over research stuff, listening to the brilliant minds talk about plant breeding and development. Those people know a lot about a lot. This time I left a little smarter. I think.

I don't remember.



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