Academic Playgirl

During the third year of my BSc, I took a class in advanced biochemistry. The course was absorbing – in big part because the professor was a brilliant and charismatic lecturer. He took complex concepts and broke them down into manageable bites. He highlighted both the theory and the application, with a significant portion of the lectures focused on cancer gene therapy. After each lecture, my brain felt a little stretched. In a good way.

At some point during the course, the professor had each student write an essay on their education and future plans. Then, one-on-one, we met with the professor to discuss what we’d written.

When I walked into my meeting, he smiled. Asked me to read my essay out loud.

And I did. I described my tough science and psychology courses, said I was doing well. In addition, I had taken Calculus, English, Philosophy, Physical Anthropology, and Accounting. Hey, shouldn’t everyone know a little something about accounting? I planned to become a pediatrician and a mom. I wanted to continue exploring forensics. I loved studying bones, and dreamt of one day working on an archaeological dig. I enjoyed making my own bread. Finally, in my spare time, I planned to do some writing. A book, maybe.

I dare say there was a hint of pride in my voice as I finished. I was so well-rounded, if someone dropped me, I’d bounce.

I looked up at the professor as he paced back and forth. A tall whippet of a man with hollow cheeks. His pants were always too short.

He rolled up his sleeves, cleared his throat, and turned to face me. Then he asked, “Who’s paying your tuition?”

“My father,” I replied.

“Well,” he continued. “You should call him and tell him he’s wasting his money.”

My heart started to beat, and sweat sprung up on my palms. I stared at the door, the long glass panel, saw students milling around outside. Another girl stood there, waiting for her turn to discuss her essay. This was not the response I’d expected. At. All.

“You know what I call a girl like you?” he said.

I shook my head.

“An academic playgirl.”

I nearly choked on my own saliva. The pride, perched on my shoulders only moments earlier, was long gone.

“You’ve got no focus. You’re all over the place. You shouldn’t be in my class.”

Somehow I managed to mutter, “But I like Arts too.”

“Perhaps that’s where you belong. Over there. With them.”

When I think back on this encounter, I like to imagine myself as a stronger twenty year old. In those ripped jeans and plaid shirt, I could have jumped out of the chair, responded with conviction, “Perhaps I do!” But no, I said “Thank-you,” politely and walked away on shaky legs. Found a bathroom stall, locked the door, and although I hate to admit it, I cried.

Final Outcome… Advanced Biochemistry: A- Not too shabby for an academic playgirl.