“Did Mendel Eat His Peas?” and Other Questions Biologists Ask Historians
Well, it’s over. Sapphire, Fritz, Junhi, Bill and I have finished our finals for the week. Fritz only has one to go. Sapphire has left town, and those of us who remain are camped out in the Fritz/Finn/Bill/Junhi residence (I will refer to it henceforth as “500,” I think), draped over pieces of furniture with Shaq sodas and various video game consoles, playing Pokemon to our hearts’ content. It has been a stressful week of studying, second-guessing study guides, eating breakfast at 3 am and performing gymnastics of social diplomacy, but it is over now. There is nothing more to be done.
What should you get from this? Well, although I cannot promise that my posts here will become any more devoted (I have noticed that most of them look like Tumblr text posts), I can promise that I will have more time with which to attempt writing more interesting posts. In the meantime, I wish all college students a relaxing winter break, plenty of good food, and several nights’ sleep. For the rest of you, I hope your weeks are lovely, as well.
I’m going to rearrange my playlists and write blog posts for my characters now. Yeah, I know I could spend that time here instead of on fiction—whatever, I do what I want.
Lab Report: AHAHA! IT IS I, STUPID ORGANIC CHEMISTRY LAB REPORT! I WILL KICK JUNE AND SAPPHIRE’S BUTTS LOOOOOOL
June and Sapphire: NO PLS
June and Sapphire: AHAHA, WE HAVE CONQUERED THE THING
Lab Report: whatever
Yesterday, Sapphire, Finn and I went to listen to the Dalai Lama and several neuroscientists talk about neuroplasticity. It was an interesting few hours (that involved several jokes and Bill, who was randomly assigned to the seat beside me, studying for the MCAT), but because it was so early in the morning, we spent the rest of the day, essentially, like zombies.
Photographic proof that we were indeed present and somewhat awake. (If you’re good at I-spy, you’ll be able to spot Finn down several rows in a grey cardigan. Sapphire wasn’t yet present, but she ended up on the other side of that general area.)
Afterward, we met up with Scout (who was here for Friday and Saturday), Junhi, Scout’s friend and Scout’s friend’s friends and went to get a late lunch at Chik-fil-a. Our Chik-fil-a, with its bizarre architecture, has what I assume is a “conference room,” and Sapphire, Finn, Fritz and I normally steal it to eat in despite the fact that we barely fill it. This time, we took up every chair. I took a picture and promptly had to explain myself.
All of us in the Chik-fil-a introvert room. Finn is in the front, Scout is to the left, Sapphire is hiding behind Scout, Amelia (Scout’s friend) is in the back, one of Amelia’s friends is beside her, and Junhi and the other are hidden behind Finn’s head.
Afterward, Scout, Finn and I drove around town causing antics and shenanigans. We went to a local nerd shop (card, tabletop RPG, video game and thrift shop in one), and then we milled about a Whole Foods while Scout searched for vegan Cheez-its. While there, we found an olive bar.
Eventually, though, Scout returned to her college, and Finn and I (as well as Sapphire) went to sleep and didn’t awake until late this morning/early this afternoon.
I awoke and studied animal taxonomy, and then Sapphire, Fritz and I went to get lunch. After returning, I sought the third floor whiteboard and wrote all of the taxonomical information I’ll have to know for Wednesday’s lab test.
After writing this, I added, “Future Bio students, good luck.” Sapphire laughed and added, “Past students, congratulations!” Then Sapphire and I returned to our room, where we ate giant marshmallows, studied chemistry, and watched The Mentalist.
All that, and it’s not even midnight yet.
(Watching TV and studying together is a bad idea, you say? Whatever, we do what we want!)
After a classmate asked for someone to send him the notes for one of the classes I am taking, I got the idea of taking notes using Google Docs. Google Docs are easily shared with other people on the internet, and you can easily decide how much power to give to the people reading them.
It was while I was taking notes during Organic Chemistry, writing things that my professor was saying in quotes and reminding myself to blog some of them, that it occurred to me that it would save a lot of time and effort to simply publish the links to my notes here.
I am not so naiive to think that these will be of interest to most people, but, I don’t know, perhaps there is an aspiring chemistry student out there (ahem, I’m looking at you, Natalia) or someone who is interested in my professor’s antics that might find these mildly amusing.
What’s more, you’ll get to see my and Sapphire’s commentary in real-time if you happen to be looking at them while I’m in class.
Without further ado, I give you a window into the lives of Chem and Bio students at the University of Nerds and Premeds.
Use this power wisely.
Who am I kidding? You guys will do whatever you want.
“Look at me still talking when there’s science to do.”
When I look out there, it makes me wish I was you.
“Monosomy X, let’s goooo!”
Yesterday Sapphire and I were in chemistry when our professor started talking about catalysts. He gestured at the notes he’d projected on the whiteboard and said, “Enzymes make the best catalysts, because they are heterogenized homogenous catalysts. Chemists have to try to copy their example when they’re designing new ones.”
Wait, hold up, Dr. Chemistry Professor.
Did you just say a biological component does a better job of something than its purely chemical equivalent?
Did you just say biology got something better than chemistry?
[Sapphire laughing hysterically, probably]
At the University of Nerds and Premeds, most of the people you run into are science majors. A casual sampling (by asking everyone you encountered what their major was) would show you that our university is made up primarily of chemistry, biology, psychology, mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering and physics majors. The occasions that you run across someone not in the science/medical field, the next question you think to ask is where they’re from. (“Oh, you’re a Spanish major? Cool! Where are you from?” “About fifteen minutes north of here.”) It seems that most of the humanities/not-science majors are locals.
At the same time, UNP is a big proponent of multiculturalism and well-roundedness (like, erm, most colleges these days, I guess). Thus, there are language classes offered here that other colleges in the state could only dream of having (*ahem* Japanese not 101), events that you’ve only heard about taking place minutes from campus, and a stiff humanities/fine arts/social sciences core requirement that all majors have to meet. The diversity of campus outside of this, too, is astounding—it’s hard to walk across campus and not encounter someone who is bilingual. For someone who loves people and language, it’s extremely interesting.
Yet, you sometimes get the impression, talking to many people in science or its related fields, that humanities majors are foolish, largely useless or less intelligent. A lot of artists/humanities majors seem to think scientists are overly-analytical, exclusive and cold. I’ve witnessed it first-hand in the person who casually flaps their hand at high marks in Spanish and literature but praises good grades in math or science, and second-hand in stories of Finn’s professors who grade their science-students-turned-obligatory-humanities-students with a vengeance. There seems to be a noticeable divide between the two fields, and it makes anyone proficient in both feel a little out-of-place, no matter where they go.
To use myself as an example, I’ve been writing since I was five or six years old. (I have every notebook that I wrote in from age six to age fifteen, when I got my computer, and there are enough of them to fill two dresser drawers.) I took years of Spanish in elementary, middle and high school, and loved every minute of it. I’ve been studying Japanese on my own since I was about sixteen. I draw, play instruments, and love colors, books, and people. Yet I’m here at UNP as a chemistry major with a concentration in biochemistry.
People here who know me think that’s… well, weird. My fellow natural science majors, for the most part, hate writing, would rather not have to take enough foreign language to fulfill the core requirement, and are appalled when I forget a decimal point or doodle a picture of a molecule in the corner of my lab notebook.
Yet, having strengths outside of math and science has put me at what seems to me to be an unbelievable advantage. I have no qualms with giving presentations, writing essays for chemistry, answering word problems, visualizing molecular geometries or hybrid orbitals, understanding three-dimensional calculus concepts, naming alkanes, understanding comparative biology or drawing things seen under a microscope. Because I like writing, drawing, communicating, and language, I’m better at the things that a lot of other people in my major have trouble with. It’s not because I’m particularly skilled in either realm, either—it’s just that they cross over in ways that I didn’t anticipate, and those points of intersection are where I take a breath and enjoy doing exactly what I’m good at.
I know other students who have noticed a similar pattern in their academic lives. Most of us who are humanities-people-turned-scientists are doing a lot better overall than we thought because our interests and proficiencies aren’t confined to one subject. This is the primary reason I favor well-roundedness and requiring science majors to take some humanities (and humanities majors to take some science)—it really does help you out a lot.
In light of this, I’m a lot more secure in my major than I was at the beginning of the semester. I’ve learned to stop thinking of subjects as confined in little boxes and to think of them, instead, as woven into a tapestry of connections. Biologists don’t pretend not to need chemistry, and chemists don’t pretend not to need physics, but if you think about it, calculus and biology need visualizers, chemists need conceptualizers, and all scientists working in labs need communicators and writers.
Yet, a lot of humanities draws off of science and technology, too. As Finn said, “There’s no use teaching people how to use [insert film-related technology here], because it’ll improve by next year.” It helps a writer to be able to navigate a word-processor and computer, a film student to know that the sun freakin’ changes position in the sky during the day *ahem*, and artists to know anatomy. On a less obvious level, writers can’t write accurate fiction without knowing how the human body works to at least an extent (try writing a chase scene without understanding how adrenaline affects the body) or without understanding basic scientific concepts specific to the genre (SciFi writers, obviously, should understand whatever scientific principals they employ, but writing a post-apocalyptic novel is difficult without knowledge of nuclear fallout, viruses, etc.). Artists, too, benefit from brushing up on their science for the same reasons, and need geometry to draw things with depth. Translators become much more marketable with knowledge in another field, such as science or math.
That’s not to say that there’s not an obvious difference between the two fields, but rather, to say that it’s surprising how often the same principals or skills are employed in both fields. I can’t imagine taking calculus II without being able to visualize vectors and three-dimensional space the way I visualize a sketch before I draw it, nor can I imagine writing persuasive English papers without the analytical skill to pull apart a subject and sew it back together that I use when reading scientific papers. People skills are unbelievably handy in chemistry lab (“Hey, would you mind grabbing me a graduated cylinder while I get the hydrochloric acid? Awesome, thanks!”) as well as in Spanish class. Rational pattern-seeking is exceptionally useful in Japanese (She said that word in this context, then in that context—by process of elimination, it probably means this) and mathematics in general.
I suppose the point I’m trying to make is simple—science and humanities are more interdependent than proponents of either subject seem to realize. The thought that Sapphire and I articulated about biology and chemistry applies to the rest of the academic realm, I think. “They need you, but they make what you do meaningful, and vice versa.”
From a chemistry major who’s been told by many people to change majors because I don’t belong where I am, Science and Art, “Please stahp fighting.” Can’t you two just admit that you love each other and move on with your lives?
I think that would make every student a little bit happier. ^^