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They say that college is where you find your passion and purpose in life. Or at least that’s what every adult told me when I was in high school. But the reality is far from the truth. As the dutiful daughter of Indian immigrants, I have signed up for compulsory science classes. And I tried. I really try to enjoy the material. I went to class. I even avoided the meeting while on the Ferreira campus in America so I wouldn’t miss a lecture. I tried to take care of the Krebs cycle and the Nobel gas.
And while I learned a thing or two about science and was still deeply fascinated by it, I couldn’t find my passion for it in college. As always, I found it in books after graduation.
In college my science class had an average of 150 students. If memory serves me well, my biggest class was genetics with over 200 students. The professor never knew my name and did not read the poorly edited PowerPoint presentations during the lecture. My professor of cellular biology was old-fashioned and used to conduct his entire lecture through chalkboard. Not the whiteboard. Chalkboard. You try to share information about the power house of the cell through the chalky dusty gut and tell me you like cellular biology.
As smart and even well-meaning as my professors were, they had no passion for teaching undergraduates who just wanted to pass grades. And their speeches reflect that. It’s really that word though: speech. A speech means correcting a mistake and placing the lecturer on one foot. This is not something that anyone should be waiting for.
But a few years later when I started to see science differently I started to enjoy it. And surprisingly, it wasn’t just non-fiction books that sparked my interest. In fact, the first is Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars. Although it is a mixture of poetry and science fiction, Smith reminds me of the existence of humans in Smith’s space because I loved science so much as a child. College lectures left me emotionally exhausted where I became obsessed with something related to science. The notes and lab felt so impersonal and instructive. I also liked how Smith explored so many things in his collection of poems, which was an added benefit to show me that science does not exist only within the regimental range of academia protected by doormen who are the only ones who understand it.
Curious about my curiosity, I started reading more books that address various topics in science and medicine. I actually decided to read a book on a topic that aroused my interest in my evolution class: the Red Queen Hypothesis, which suggests that species need to adapt and reproduce in order to compete with other species for things like land and resources. It was proposed by the evolutionary biologist Leigh van Valen, who named it after the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass.
According to Van Vallen’s theory, species have to expend a ton of energy to evolve in order to stay in the same place. This feeling is perfectly captured Through the mirror When the Red Queen tells Alice that “now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep it in the same place.” Another great example of literature for me to be a better teacher.
I decided to read Matt Ridley’s The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature, which I would say proposed by my evolution professor. Although I found it reprehensible, it certainly put into practice some of the theories I learned (and still remember) in college. Ridley discusses why sexuality is a survival strategy for humanity and even tries to use its acceptance of evolution to explain why humans have such complex values for beauty.
Don’t get me wrong. There were highlights in my biology lectures and I learned a lot. However, the limitations of PowerPoint and the multiple choice tests did not encourage me to apply the knowledge I had in the real world. I was just asked to memorize a set of information and answer the canned question correctly. So now I’m in the process of re-learning much of what I learned in college through books that actually make knowledge relevant and examine the real-world impact of everything from evolution to surgical procedures.