You all know that I'm back in college. Again. For the second time. Soon to be in graduate school in some official capacity. Anyhow...
I am scavenging various and sundry requirements that have cropped up in the sfiahefieuhf years since I graduated the first time and one or two prerequisites that I do not yet have and in the mean time marvelling at how things have changed. For one thing...all my profs speak English. Clearly. Distinctly. Sometimes this fact alone makes me dissolve in hysterical fits of giggles. It's a luxury. A luxury I say!
Today, I was sitting in the hall...again...because now they lock everything up tight for our protection. We are so much safer sitting in large packs in the hallway should some rampaging half- (or fully-) crazed student barge in and try to shoot us all. Now we are fairly lined up like a shooting gallery with no doors to protect us. I'm off topic here, but since you aren't supposed to carry concealed on campus, well...I digress.
Where was I? I was sitting in the hall with the others marked for death. And they were discussing various professors they were going to have for next semester. Horrifying people those professors! One of them used TWO TEXTBOOKS! Another actually expected that you memorize all the metabolic reactions verbatim for the biochemistry section...of ...something. I lost interest at that point because I took not one, but two classes entitled Metabolism (I and II) where it was nothing but memorization of reactions and energy consumed or generated and the byproducts, etc. yada, yada, yada and had to keep track of the electrons much less the molecules...and I started to giggle. It was ok because they sort of expect this of me. Several of us study together and they often like to hear horror stories of the dark ages of the late eighties and early nineties before state mandates forced requirements on professors, etc.
Seriously, though. My first irrational professor really didn't speak English. At. All. Dr. Chen. The man most likely to be found napping in his office. His only coherent question was asked the first day. It was: "What is a function?" After many clear and logical answers including one read from the text, we found that the answer he required was: "An apple." There you have it. A function is an apple. And later he gifted us with the information that, "An apple is a machine." Right. This was Calc-based Physics I. I made a 57. Highest grade in the class. It took me no less that four or five hours a day of studying (one fax machine and a family physicist) to accomplish that. It ended up being the only A. Thanks be to God that they curved "back then." More about apples than you ever cared to know and then some. The tests were a bitch.
Botany, of all things, ate my lunch and gave me a life-long hatred of anything that manages to sprout from the dirt. I've since gotten over it, but it's been a tough row to hoe so-to-speak. It was a required biology credit when I was in the Biology/Chemistry dual major program at OBU and the instructor, Dr. Hurley, used it as a weed-out class. Pun most definitely intended. Part of my difficulty with the class was my problem. I couldn't stand the arrogance of the good doctor. Inevitably, at student-faculty outings we seemed to get paired up for croquet (this was a small Bible-belt University...and I am not, how to say this, croquet-capable). Football, basketball, frisbee, or anything else, but no-go on the croquet. We lost outright, much to his chagrin, and I believe it spilled over into the class. The pinnacle of the course was the plant collection. It required 1000 different plant samples. 25 families had to be represented and just to make it interesting 25 of your samples had to be unique from the rest of the class. The class size was 15. Big enough to make life difficult. Just prior to that semester, the good doctor broke his ankle when he slipped on some ice on the loading dock out back and so we also had to push him in his wheelchair to and fro throughout the following semester as he healed. Most of the students had a head start on the collection, but I came into it when I got the syllabus. Late bloomer. Uggghhhh. Long story short, we all worked our asses off and did unspeakable things including mouth pipetting salmonella (yes, I did that and acquired immunity along the way--go figure). Hours of work was spent driving all over Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, and Louisiana looking for plant samples and in the end every single student was awarded a C. Yes, a C. One of the two C's I have ever "earned?" Whatever.
Then I transferred to University of Houston and the Biochemistry and Biophysics programs. Same song, different verse.
Biochem I and II weren't so bad once I figured out that the instructors were actually pulling from about three texts. So after acquiring all three and reading and studying all three I was golden. A's all around.
Biophysics was another story. It was like a no rules collegiate course. Three texts were recommended. That meant "buy them or else!" The first came in two volumes, the second came in three volumes, the third came in a three-inch (mercifully) single text. All of them were almost unintelligible to an undergraduate given the level of mathematics required to understand much of what was being discussed. I can understand them now that my mathematics education has caught up, but then, I was in Calc III...so... The instructor, Horace Gray (really the name should have flagged me off), had a fondness for Schrodinger's wave equation and used it in its entirety whenever possible. Ditto for other long and pretty much unsolvable equations. He also liked to invent words like "sereptation" to describe the movement of DNA molecules through a packed chromatography column...and the like. But he wouldn't define them as such. You just had to get the gist of things. My Chem prof from OBU and my father had long ago indoctrinated me in the ways of solving problems using dimensional analysis. If the units on both sides of the equation work out, you're golden. That saved my cookies in this class.
Taking tests in Dr. Gray's class was a campus-wide phenomenon. ANYTHING was allowed. He would reserve a room from 7:30 am until, well...until the janitors locked up the building and afterward. We were allowed to bring any and all resources (computers, calculators, texts, notes, other people's notes, other tests, etc. no limits) We could collaborate with other students and even collaborate as a class, but I soon found out that wasn't always a good idea. There was NO time limit. If his office building was locked, we could turn it in the next day. Do you know why? BECAUSE IT DIDN'T MATTER. Those were the hardest damned tests I'd ever taken. Ever. We'd bring coolers full of drinks and food and spend all day and into the night working on them. We'd skip what classes we had to skip (our other profs knew what was up and excused it), we'd miss work, we'd neglect everything just to work on those damned things in hopes of some inspiration or finding some little tidbit of knowledge in a source we'd brought with us. They were murder. In the end we knew it was every man for himself. I made a B in Biophysics I and a C in Biophysics II. Together with my C in Botany, those were my only non-A's in my collegiate history. Apparently I set a record for the highest grades in those classes.
One day I ran into him in the elevator. He greeted me by saying, "You made the highest grades ever in my biophysics classes! Anyone in their right mind would hire you on the spot!" If I had even an inkling of the presence of mind I have now, I'd have asked for a letter of recommendation to that effect. But I was shocked and mumbled a thank you and was rather mystified that he even knew my name much less my grades given his general absent-mindedness and tendency to wear the same outfit day after day. Teal-colored Sans-a-belt pants and matching plaid short-sleeved shirt. Ghastly.
So, to today's students who get a list of things they should know at the beginning of every topic and notes on PowerPoint that correspond to their one or two textbook(s) from their professor who speaks clear and understandable English and have available to them free tutors at a learning center that also offers a writing center to help them with papers and other written assignments, I say...COUNT YOUR FRICKIN' LUCKY STARS!