Research — Chapter 2

IMG_0604I no longer had to think about acquiring experience to get accepted into veterinary medicine, so I focused the next summer on getting a job in town. I could save a lot of money by simply not having to pay rent in two places. I liked my apartment, it was close to down town, walking distance to the university and there was a farmer’s market, grocery store, fast food and a laundromat all close by.

I realized that I might qualify for a Natural Science and Engineering Research Council or NSERC award, so I applied and was awarded a scholarship. This money allowed me to shop around the university, with my pay cheque already covered, and see whom I wanted to do research with. I interviewed three professors. One was doing research on cancer, or rather was doing research on fruit flies but had recognized that there was more research money for cancer than there was for fruit flies and had learned to word the research in terms of cancer.

Another professor worked with lizards and other cold-blooded animals and had made the same funding discovery. If there was a mechanism for cold-blooded animals to grow back a leg that had been cut off, it might in some way provide clues as to why tumours grow. It is possible.

The third professor was doing anatomy, congenital defects and sex differentiation. The research did not seem to be any more interesting but I appreciated his enthusiasm for having a student during the summer and, let’s face it, his honesty. He was not pretending to be trying to solve some puzzle that would get him funding.

What I experienced that summer was the end of a research era. I did not know it at the time. I guess you never do. The mundane, the normal, the everyday soon becomes the past and quite irretrievable. The lab that I was working in was staffed by several professors, technicians and students. These professionals had been trained in the traditional fashion.

Coffee and tea were made on a schedule and everyone sat together to have it. This occurred every morning and served the purpose of bringing everyone together to get to know one another while they shared a break in the middle of their work day. When you are working on research and you pull yourself away to have coffee, you talk about your research.

The importance of this did not become apparent until I was doing research again, much later in my life, and this did not occur. Without this morning coffee, where you could address the smallest, simplest question immediately, there was always a delay. More than there being a delay, there was a requirement to set up an appointment with the professor that you were working with and prioritize your questions so that the most important ones got discussed first.

The secondary thing was that unlike having a formal appointment with someone, these coffees were casual so the conversation ebbed and flowed with what was going on in the outside world as well as within the lab. Great discussions and insights were possible because focusing on answers and solutions was not the point. Anyhow, I only recognized the value of these unstructured discussions in hindsight.

I tried to “break-in” to the social life in town. I found out that their softball teams were structured very differently from my hometown. I went out to one of the first meetings of a couple of teams that were looking for players and I was totally unknown. I don’t know if I came across as bookish or simply unfamiliar. I know that I went out to a couple of games but I was never played more than the minimum and never actually got the chance to show these women that I could actually play ball. So, I just stopped going.

Most of my friends were also university students so they had all gone home for the summer. I met a couple of nice people in the lab and I met one guy at a professor’s birthday party on campus.

This professor learned that he was revered simply because he was the teacher. He had used this to his advantage in order to impress the students. He was naturally entertaining and regaled us with stories more than presented material. He had managed to flawlessly combine the material with the stories, so you came away from his lectures both entertained and informed.

He had announced that he would be celebrating his birthday at the one bar on campus and I had made note of this and taken the time to show up at the bar. There were several other students there and through a series of car-pooling arrangements we headed off to his house for his party.

He lived in a house that overlooked a man made lake in town. This particular town had no natural bodies of water and someone decided that damming up a river until a muddy lake formed was a good idea. Even now, the occasional person dies by jumping off of a boat, getting their feet stuck in the mud and drowning, but I digress.

Read the entire book, now available
Read the entire book, now available

Keep Reading: The Professor’s Party

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