“Did Mendel Eat His Peas?” and Other Questions Biologists Ask Historians
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.
Today, Sapphire and I officially started classes.
It started with an early-morning wake-up time of 8:30 (I know, not early at all, thank you) following a late night spent watching “Trouble With A Curve” with the four of us squished into Sapphire’s matchbox bedroom. I groggily got dressed and packed my bag with things that I had told my phone to remind me of late at night, then banged on Sapphire’s door to ensure she was doing the same. A long walk from our new residence hall to the biology building later, we’re situating ourselves in our organic chemistry classroom.
Sapphire recognized many people from classes she had last year. I recognized most of last year’s chemistry people, but that was it. We compared notes about a very specific recommendation we’d gotten from an advisor in the honors college concerning our professor, who was supposed to be, for lack of a better word, awesome.
I wasn’t sure, but both of us agreed that she must be something to invoke the kind of praise that she’d gotten.
This idea was cemented when she appeared.
“Have any of you ever had class in this room before?” she asked calmly.
After listening to students’ responses, she added, “Then do you know how to get the d*** screen down?”
Needless to say, it was an entertaining class period. At one point Sapphire and I both answered her question of, “Why did you take this class? [This is Honor’s Orgo, so this is suicide.]” My answer was something along the lines of, “I really liked Honors Gen Chem,” and her response was, “Oh, I’ll tell Dr. [my and Sapphire’s Gen Chem professor] that you said that. It’ll warm his little heart.”
After Sapphire and I were released from Organic, I sprinted from the biology building to the education building, where I’m taking Japanese 102. That misadventure involved following a group of familiar faces and traipsing through the labyrinthine halls of the run-down building in a desperate attempt to find our classroom. Finally, we managed, and I took a seat by two friends, two 101 students I sat close to last semester, as class commenced essentially as usual.
In yet another desperate attempt to get to class on time, I ran, again, from my Japanese class and back to the biology building for honors psychology. The classroom is slightly too small for the number of students in it, with not quite enough table space for all students. I somehow managed a chair that actually was close to a table, although not the same table that everyone else was at, and I bit into a piece of caffeinated chocolate as I pulled out stuff to take notes with. I ended up sitting by a girl I knew from last semester, and we swapped information and chatted before our professor introduced herself to us. We spent the next hour of the class period introducing ourselves to her.
We were released early, at 1:30 or so, and I then ran for the cafeteria.
Sadly, this is not the end of the day. Sapphire is in class (or goes to class soon, I think—she’s not here, is all I know), and I still have Bio II to suffer through. Hopefully that will be a little less painful with my professor, who I know to be good-natured and funny, before me and the past three days of studying plant evolution (alternation of generations is a thing, people) and phyla (bryophyta, hepatophyta, anthocerophyta… ) behind me.
[chugs water, plays loud music, shakes self roughly]
Here’s hoping I can fit a nap in afterwards.
Maybe I shouldn’t have stayed up late last night socializing anyway.
Eeeeh, whatever. My friends and I, for better or worse, seem to do what we want!
“Look at me still talking when there’s science to do.”
When I look out there, it makes me wish I was you.
And now, a word from our easily-distracted and often-absent writer, June Watson.
People say you shouldn’t change to please others. “Adults” of ages nineteen and twenty are the world’s champions of individuality. Permutations and translations of the phrases, “Stick it to the man!” and “I do what I want!” echo throughout young adult culture. Freshmen biology students would rather argue with their professors (all with doctorates or masters) than sit silent as their ideals or opinions are attacked. Sophomores, barely grown, contradict historical statements made by those old enough to have lived through it. Anyone whose opinion coincides with popular opinion is branded a hypocrite.
I’m certainly one of the most guilty when it comes to championing individuality. I sing in Japanese in public, wear my pajamas into fancy restaurants, design languages in my spare time and play Pathfinder (basically Dungeons & Dragons) into the wee hours of the morning on the weekends. Yet, those things say little about my personality; all that can really be deduced from these things is that I don’t really care if people think that I’m a nerd, and I am, in fact, a very nerdy individual.
No, I believe one of the most defining characteristics of my personality is that I can be a bit of a doormat. My friends tease me about not standing up for myself, and, in fact, being pretty stubborn about it—just yesterday, as my roommate and I walked toward chemistry while I was limping with a sharp stitch in my side, she said, “You wouldn’t tell me if you weren’t fine, would you? Nope. Didn’t think so.” I don’t like to put my needs above others, not out of selflessness or benevolence, but because I’m too stubborn to admit when I want or need help.
Perhaps the strongest element of my personality, however, is one that I’m not sure is readily visible to people that don’t know me—I want to please people. I want to entertain people. I want to make people happy.
“People-pleaser,” my classmates call me when I take every word of my professor’s advice. They say that I’m betraying my own morals to make others happy. They say I should stand up for myself.
Yet, they don’t seem to understand something central to who I am—one belief central to my personality is that making others happy is possibly one of the best things a person can do. My friends, the introverts, don’t quite understand, and I don’t blame them. I live in a different world than most other, more realistic, people, an extroverted and idealistic world where every person is worth putting effort into. I realize that there are plenty of terrible people in the world, but, in my experience, it is extremely difficult to separate the good from the bad until you give a person a chance.
I want to change for others. Changing to please others is part of who I am. I want to be the “Hey, I just met you, but—” in a crowd of uninterested students that makes a person feel noticed. I want to be the vague acquaintance who buys a lab partner coffee and ends up helping them work through a problem that’s been weighing on their mind. I want to be the stranger who says something so unexpectedly kind that it’s carried with a person for months or years afterwards. I want to be the friend who says, “You are so entirely, unbearably weird, but I’m cool with it.”
I want to be all of the people who’ve done kind things for me.
There are plenty of things about myself that I refuse to change for other people. My personal beliefs (exceptionally hard beliefs to have in the field of biological sciences, turns out). My interests (Japanese video games, anyone?). My aspirations. But as far as my manner of interacting with other people, I’d gladly change that any day of the week.
Call me a people-pleaser if you must—I usually take it as a compliment.
Sorry for the weird rant about making people happy. This week many lovely people have helped me and encouraged me in unexpected ways, and I guess I was thinking about how much I’d like to be like them. Also, I’m baaaaaack!
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. ^^
In the two weeks I’ve been on campus, I’ve heard some interesting statements from fellow classmates, friends and college professors alike. Here is a collection of a few one-liners that have been heard here at Uni.
Finn [about tea sweetened with Nutella]: This is nasty.
Biology Professor: This next chapter is called “Chemistry Will Hunt You Down.”
Finn: You pepper spray him, then I’ll punch him out.
Sapphire: Boys are trouble, but trouble is fun.
Chemistry Professor [final line of a story about putting Nitrogen Triiodide under a toilet seat]: The first person to sit down the next morning literally gets the s*** scared out of him.
Finn: Man, we’re going to get RIIIIIPPED~!
Guy Behind Me in Calculus: Life is boring. Then you turn 21. Then it’s not as boring.
FYE Professor: Go to Birmingham. That’s where the wizard lives. He’ll fix you.
Chemistry Professor [about speaking the language of Chemical formulas]: We’re going to start with baby talk and work our way up to elegant eighteenth century English—Emily Austin or something.
Papillon [about Finn]: We should just get him a key made.
Anri [shouting]: … and then Ed Sheeran ******* comes on stage!
Finn: I’ve got a hankerin’ for Sammy’s Speedy Subs that only Sammy’s Speedy Subs can satisfy.
Sherly [over iMessage]: What is life.
Chemistry Professor: … if you want to become a terrorist.
Boy Behind Me In Line At An Ambassador Young Event: I would go talk to her, but it’s not the time! It ain’t the season!
Chemistry Professor: If the first job everybody had was working on a farm, we’d have a lot more people graduating college.
Sapphire [flopped over on her bed]: **** my life.
Finn: You are a free human being! You can do what you want!