Somtimes I feel like a geek, sometimes I don’t…

20 08 2007

This may shock some of you, but there was a time, not too long ago, when I didn’t read many books at all. I just wasn’t interested. I would pick up a novel every now and then (usually something by Peter Benchley) to read for fun, but filling my head with facts and figures wasn’t exactly my favored pastime for a bit. Within the last year that has drastically changed, and I spend most of my nights and weekends reading, usually at least 4 hours a day during the week and 8 hours on a weekend-day. My compulsive reading habit, however, has somewhat put me at odds with other people and makes it very difficult to make new friends at times.

Talking to a new acquaintance last night, I was run through the usual gamut of questions (“Where are you from? What’s your job? etc.), and the person who I was talking to was a bit shocked that I didn’t “go out” more. I like to take in a movie now and then, go for a drive, have dinner when it’s financially possible, but heading out to the bar and having a few drinks isn’t exactly my idea of a good time, especially when I’d have to do it alone (most of my friends live far away or are busy). Rather than blow $20 or so on drinks that I don’t really care for the taste of anyway, I’d rather sit at home, pour myself a glass of iced tea, and read until I start to go cross-eyed from fatigue. Thus, it’s hard to make new friends, or even to make “small talk.” Indeed, it’s hard to talk about the “big game” when I don’t care a whit for sports, nor do I feel that discussing what happened on last night’s episode of Lost at length is especially productive. While everyone else was doing that, I was reading about whether three-wattled bellbirds learn or inherit their impressive songs, or what E.D. Cope thought about evolution at the turn of the last century. Such topics are not easily injected into everyday conversation, and even when I do, I get tagged as a know-it-all or egghead.

All this isn’t to say I don’t enjoy a good time out with friends, or even just ordering some pizza and playing XBOX until 2 AM, but it’s definitely hard to connect with people who have no real interest in nature or science in general. When I learn something new, I find it exciting and want to share that with everyone, but to most people it’s equivalent to useless trivia that only ivory-tower academic types care about. I seriously am grateful that I have the wife that I do, a wife that I can argue about the mating/nesting/display habits of bowerbirds with over dinner and actually takes an interest when I try to convey a new idea, as I have no idea who else on this earth would take me (not to mention that my wife is a gorgeous, kind, and has just about every other type of virtue you’d care to name).

This may seem like an odd time to broach such a topic, but I guess I worry sometimes that I am a bit of a social shut-in. Rather than being anti-social, it’s just hard to connect with others my own age who don’t share the same interests, especially when I’m headed back for another semester of college and I’m 6 years older than the incoming class. Speaking of school, I’ve been playing around with my class schedule and I finally was able to fit in a “fun” course I wanted on living primates. Looking at the anthropology course listing, I actually have been starting to contemplate switching majors (yet again) as ecology & evolution has been a struggle and a disappointment, and there appears to be no room in it for a vertebrate zoologist. After looking through the whole course catalog I was able to find no course on vertebrate zoology, evolution, or even basic skeletal anatomy, the anthropology department being that only one (as far as I could tell) that connects different sciences in the way I’m interested in. The only problem is I have no idea what I’d do with a B.S. in human evolutionary science, but I have to say that at this point it holds much more appeal for me than “fundamentals of ecological/environmental modeling.” Don’t get me wrong, I still love ecology and would love to be a conservation biologist, but the Rutgers department doesn’t seem the place to go if you’re interested in vertebrates.

Anyway, I have also received some “good” news about an idea that I had involving hadrosaur crests. The only problem is that I’ll probably have to learn German and/or Russian to understand the best work done on the subject, but I have received a fair amount of encouragement on the subject, and if things work out I think I could definitely get a PhD trying to combine paleontology with physiology. We’ll have to see. In any case, this is incredibly sappy, but I do want to thank all my readers here for assuring me that I am not (as yet) entirely mad and for sharing ideas and helping me learn. Without this blog as an outlet, all my thoughts would be rattling around in my head and no one would really care what I had to say on the topic. Even though I’m writing this blog for myself primarily (it’s sort of a journal of my intellectual journey), without the constant kind comments and corrections I wouldn’t get as much out of it as I have, and I certainly appreciate all the discussions and help other more-experienced bloggers and scientists have offered me since I started writing here.


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11 responses

20 08 2007
RedMolly

The thing to do is find drinking buddies who also like science, history, arguing about ideas or what-have-you. (Sadly, a roomful of undergrads is probably the least likely place to find such folks.)

I had a lovely time out the other night drinking Cuba Libres with a friend who was helping me tease out some ideas about the social impact of the invention of the printing press. The process wouldn’t have been nearly as fun without either the topic of conversation or the cocktails.

20 08 2007
laelaps

Very true; I’ll keep my eye out for cool grad students, and perhaps I should try dropping by New Jersey’s chapter of drinking liberally (it’s just a bit far). Things will get better once I get out of the undergrad funk I’m in, I’m sure, it’s just making it through the next year. The more the think about it the more I’m considering switching to anthropology, too, which might even get me out of school faster since I’ve filled so many requirements already (and I wouldn’t need more math!). I’ve got 121 credits to my name, so I figure I should be able to graduate with something, although I’ve got to boost up my GPA a bit first.

20 08 2007
Uschi

I’m not sure if this is any help to you, especially since the Hungarian higher education system is probably somewhat different from yours, but when I was in my third year of biology studies I was really considering switching to medical studies, because the physiology and human molecular biology classes were so much better. I gave the idea a lot of thought, but in the end, I decided not to, because I realized there probably is no ideal “undergrad” program. As long as you get a degree in something more or less related with what you want to do no-one really cares what it says on your degree. The only thing that matters is that you can show you’ve got the know-how on the topic you’re applying for. So finally, I attended the courses at the medical uni “for fun”, without changing uni. This way I was able to finish my biology course in 5 years (which is the standard in Hungary) – and am now starting my phd on a topic I am really interested in. And doing a phd just gives me so much more freedom that I feel it was worth it not wasting my time on medical studies. But then I guess these experiences are different for everyone…

20 08 2007
laelaps

Thanks for the suggestion! I’m starting to lean more towards changing my major at the moment, but I still would have to talk to an adviser to see if I could do it at all. Normally I would just stay where I am and take some classes on the side, but I’m so close to finishing that I don’t want to put myself back another year. The problem with staying where I am now is that I still would have a year of chemistry and physics ahead of me, as well as some other courses, so it’d be a hard push for something I don’t really want. Like you said, it seems that what you get your bachelor’s degree in doesn’t matter as much, but if at all possible I’d like to be able to take some courses I’ll actually enjoy and graduate on time. I guess I should go knock on some doors…

20 08 2007
Chris Harrison

I can relate a bit to your social disconnect Brian.
I do enjoy sports, drinks and general asshattery, but I’m not really one to go seek out the upcoming parties in gleelful anticipation. Plus, I don’t wear expensive enough jeans to be that cool.

I’m usually found reading in my room, or cruising the net for unhealthy periods of time. Classes start in about a week, so since I’ll be living much closer to campus this semester, hopefully I can turn myself around and become more social.

20 08 2007
laelaps

I’m going to try my best to be sociable too, Chris. If things go badly, I can just break into the “Wink, wink, say-no-more” sketch from Monty Python’s Flying Circus and have fun with it. Given the amount of work I’ve piled up for myself though, I don’t know how much free time I’ll have anyway.

20 08 2007
Julia

Oooh your wife, is she a bit of a goer? 😉

Socialising on the level you’re interested in is definitely much easier to do once you’re a grad student. It will come more naturally, not least because most of your social events will centre around accompanying visiting speakers to dinner (free food + science talk = happy Brian). And Professor X from Top University isn’t going to want to talk about the football (with some possible exceptions from University of Texas).

20 08 2007
Zach Miller

I too, am an introvert who prefers the Blogosphere to people (crowds tire me out). That’s not to say I’ll occassionally have people over to ROCK OUT with Guitar Hero, but you know. I like doing stuff on my own just as much if not more. It’s a wonder I don’t blog more than I do…

Lambeosaur crests = display structures analogous to antelope horns. That’s my take.

20 08 2007
h3nry

Brian, I wouldn’t call you exactly anti-social, because you still have friends and you do go out… as long as you keep your life balanced.

Interestingly enough ever I am going through the same phase as you. I didn’t read much at all (partly because English is my second language), so it takes some effort to read. However for some reason I have started to read lots – not just on the whole atheism-theism and evolution-creationism materials but also on software development too.

Well at least you are married, so this whole staying-at-home-and-read habit can be excused… 🙂

21 08 2007
Jeremy Bruno

I think we all go through phases, Brian. You and I have had similar experiences in generally being older than our classmates and it is alienating at times. I made friends and connected with people through the student newspaper, but I was 10 years older than the incoming freshmen at the time, and none of my coworkers were into science. It can be extremely frustrating.

In my senior year, I really began to pull in, I think, reading more, craving time alone, or only with family and my fiancé. When you spend 5 years crammed in little rooms with dozens of [usually] obnoxious students, I think this is a natural tendency not just for thinkers or introverts, but for writers. I think that before bloggers refer to themselves as such, they need to realize that what they do primarily is writing, and that requires a space where nothing and no one can have access to you.

This is an interesting topic. I’ll write more about it tomorrow at TVG.

21 08 2007
laelaps

Thanks for the comment Jeremy, and I’m looking forward to your take on it over at TVG. I agree with the concept of no one being able to have “access” while writing; as much as I love my wife when I’m blogging she knows that she’s likely to just get answers of “Uh-huh” unless the house is burning down or some such thing. Not to say I ignore her outright, but when the wheels get turning I’d prefer them to keep going until I’m finished rather than have to stop and pick up again (I usually do my best writing when I can just go from start to finish without too much of a break in-between).

Part of this probably stems from the fact that I’m at the point now where what I want to learn generally isn’t being taught in my classes, so to learn more about topics I’m interested in I need to pour more time and effort into reading and writing on my own time. That’s partially why I’m trying to switch majors (yet again), as I’m reading enough about evolution (and lately human evolution) on my own time that I don’t know why I just didn’t try to find a program that deals with my interests.

At any rate, the whole issue I have can best be summed up by a comment a friend made while hanging out at his place with a few other friends. I had gotten into a discussion about politics and evolution and our host said “Come on guys, it’s Friday, enough with the science and politics.” That’s part of the stigma that science seems to have; it’s not something that is enjoyable to learn about, and as interesting as it may be it can never compete with diversions that have been socially “approved” for after-work fun.

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