Saturday, September 27, 2008

Why I don't trust the EU leadership

...wait, is that title serious? Sort of. Bear with me.

My second year in college was a busy one. The summer before my second year was spent in Maine working at a remote biological field research station. I had designed and carried out my first piece of original scientific research, and spent the next year learning how to write.
Let me tell you, scientific writing is challenging. The language used is precise and carefully devoid of any emotion or character. Papers submitted for publication follow a format unique in writing, specific to the journal where the material will be published. My research advisor and I worked on that damn paper for almost a year, him, marking the hell out of the drafts, and me, revising them once or twice a week. I learned there that actual university classes weren't the most valuable source of learning- in fact, they were a pain in the ass that took up my valuable time.
The end result of all this was that I had decided to present my paper at a small academic conference that was being hosted in Boston. This would be the candle on the cake, the litmus test that would decide if anyone gave a rat's ass about what I had done. Also, this would give outside scientists a chance to grill me and possibly tear my work apart if I had missed anything or failed to master the material. Heady stuff.
The conference went well. My research was more interesting than a lot of the other presenters, who were mostly focused on genetics and population biology... but then again, I'm biased.
There were several people from my department at the university who were also presenting reports, and those went well.
So, I went up and did my thing. Basically, my research was simple. I looked at how the environment around some creatures effected their ability to build up energy for breeding. I created a method for measuring the reproductive potential for a type of shellfish. What I also discovered was that the best places for food wasn't the best environment for breeding, although these best places did produce the most valuable individual animals (i.e, big and tasty for people to harvest), the smaller, low-quality animals in places where food was scarce so outnumbered the larger, that these poor quality animals so outnumbered the larger ones from the food-heavy areas that one could harvest at will from the big heavy individuals without approaching the maximum sustainable yield for that region.

Anyways, without boring you any further, this had a bunch of implications for fisheries science.

The thing is, I brought my 'A' game to the show. I answered questions, discussed the implications, and had the audience's attention.
This conference was also a contest. The best paper would win the Brooks award, a modest feather to be placed in the cap of a junior-level biologist. I felt like I was a contender.
Le me give you some deep background. I am NOT a genius. No surprise, right? Well, to be a biologist of note, one needs genius IQ. According to those bullshit IQ tests that we all took at school as kids, I fell 5 points short of the mark. Ah well. Anyhow, there is no doubt that at that conference, I was riding on the back of the short bus. BUT, I gave 100% for 8 months, and mastered the subject. On that day, no one could touch me, and, despite the fact that I had no Fourier transfers in my statistical battery, and my study broke no ground in genetics or biochemistry, I brought some serious meat and potatoes to the table, something that could be measured in dollars to people's lives. So I felt like I was a contender.
Anyhow, at the end of it all, there was a wine-n' dine, and it was a nice time. I was already the bull in the china shop that you all read about, so I proceeded carefully.
One of the other presenters was this Belgian girl that was in the Microbiology department at my university. We traveled in the same circles, so I knew her a little, and we were both in the same society of science geeks that infested my university. I didn't much care for her, to be honest. Loud and opinionated, looked like Olive Oyl, critical of absolutely everything, she was a classic boorish snob.
And while they're announcing the runners up for the award, she approaches me and says "Congratulations, you won. I overheard them talking a few minutes ago." Call me an asshole, but I was mad. I mean, she took away the drama, the anticipation, and the surprise, and I believe that she did it because I was the kind of guy who knew everyone, that everyone was friendly with, who never aced a thing but had to struggle to come out in the top tier, and who worked hard to excel, unlike herself, who made her way with no real friends and a trust fund.
I suppose I should be happy. I beat her ass. But I wasn't feeling very nice. So I did the mature thing. I made a face, but kept my mouth shut. Then I gave her the finger.
Anyhow, she avoided me after that, which was nice. But it put a little lead in my pencil for having dealt with that kind of superior attitude in the face of inferior talent... and that's exactly the kind of mojo that I sense whenever I hear proclamations from Brussels, the heart of the EU leadership. Loud, overly critical of things outside their purview, and, once one moves beyond a cursory examination, lacking content within their own bounds.

There, apropos of nothing, is my opinion. I hope that after this you'll have a mad-on for Belgians, too.


Bill Elms said...

F-in Belgians! They can all screw off! :) Good post man! I always envied your ability and your will to take the bull by the horns and stay true to what you know. Keep it up man!

Anonymous said...

Good story, but there is one point where I will disagree with you. A lot of the so-called "geniuses" are unable to compete with someone like you. You were successful because of your work ethic. Many of the kids at the front of the big bus (using your analogy) lack that effort. I've known many people much smarter than I who dropped out of their PhD programs for their inability to finish their contribution to the heap of knowledge.

Also, once I was able to travel amongst faculty as a "colleague" (I would say an equal, but junior faculty are not equals), I learned that many (not all) of the stars were not the so called geniuses. Rather, they were hardworkers who earned their bones.

Mike said...

I wonder what she's doing now? Relocated to another university after getting the phd, madly writing grant applications during 80% of her waking hours and trying to do research the other 20%. Oh, and eating waffles.