Twist the burette, open the tap with your non-dominant hand, swirl the flask and voila! A quick and easy titration,” my chemistry lab professor said. He had been watching me do the lab and stepped up to teach me his titration technique. I observed with awe as he transformed a 10-second process into a one-second feat.
“I’ve done quite a few titrations. Easily in the thousands,” he said, while smiling. As he walked away, I felt inspired. It was clear that he had spent years becoming a master in his field. I was grateful for the opportunity to learn from someone with so much experience.
It called to mind another time when I felt that same feeling of talking to someone who was years above me in experience. My friend and I were working with an orthopedic surgical resident at a hackathon. He made a statement, wanting to confirm that everyone was committed to the project.
“There is not one thing I have done without having completed it in some way, whether the result was a patent or a research publication. I don’t waste time on things I don’t care about,” the resident responded. His assertiveness impressed me. His words have become a mantra for me, emphasizing the importance of dedication and focus.
I was also reminded of another moment when I went to my writing professor’s office hours to get feedback on a rough draft of an assignment, and she told me, “I have high expectations for this essay, since your last one was so good.”
I expressed concern; I thought that her heightened expectations would make it harder for me to do well. She said, “How is that a bad thing? My expecting more from you will ensure that you get the best education possible.”
Her excitement about advancing my education was impressive and even motivated me to work harder. I appreciated having an instructor who felt so strongly about her job as a teacher.
It might not be what you’d expect, but I even thought of a scene from The CW’s The Flash. Barry Allen, the Flash himself, tells his mentee, “Having the ability to help someone, but do nothing... that is a far worse death than anything [a villain] has for you. But rising above that fear [of death] and saving those lives... that’s a greater life. Alright, so rise up.”
Even though I’m not a superhero (although sometimes I wish), Barry’s words on overcoming your fears have inspired me to tackle challenging situations, even in the face of probable failure.
Reflecting on these moments, I realized that these individuals, real or fictional, all shared one thing. They talked about their lab techniques, values, expectations and superhero-ing with a scary level of confidence, power and wisdom. They had years of experiences that left them with the ability to guide and inspire younger individuals.
I feel humbled to be able to talk to or learn from them. I hope that I can reach to their level in my field one day and perhaps even mentor young people.
But it also got me thinking, “What about all the professors who I haven’t felt inspired by?” I’ve been in a few big lecture-style courses where the teacher is talking to a room of 300 students.
It’s not that these professors don’t have any words of wisdom to offer; rather, it’s just hard to connect with them on a personal level or to learn much other than some biology or chemistry facts given that they’re teaching so many students.
I’ve since promised myself that I will go to office hours for my bigger, less interactive courses so that I could talk with those professors on a personal level and hear their advice based on their experiences.
More broadly I’ve promised myself that I will make the effort to talk to experienced people whenever I get the chance, instead of just gawking at the presence of a prestigious person. In doing so, I expect I’ll uncover the trove of knowledge that those that have been out in the world have to offer.