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Three score and ten or more

Friday, July 30, 2010

New Post?

One of the problems with being older than dirt  and having a shaky memory is that it is difficult to be sure you haven’t “told this story” before.  I tried to go back to my archives to see , but I have too many darn archives to plow through.

I own a house which I am renting to students.  So far it has been a good experience.  I med with my renters the other day to have a “everybody sign the lease” party.  As I listened to the boys talk, my memories went back to my undergraduate period and some of the perils that lie within   For instance, I took the first course in Biology as part of my core curriculum and got an A.   On one of the last days of class, my professor took me aside and said something like:”You did so well in this course, I’m afraid you would be wasting your time in Biology II.   I have a course in Ornithology that you would really enjoy.  We have a lot of real ‘hands on’ science, and I think I can get you into it”

Now that I have forty odd years teaching on university faculties, I know that what he really said was”I am teaching a course in Ornithology which I really love to teach and I am afraid that not enough students are going to register so that it will  ’make’.  I will get down on my hands and knees and kiss your feet if you will take it, and it really ‘makes’ “.  

I was young, innocent, naive, and all those things, and I was really impressed that a well known and published scholar/professor thought that I would fit in the course, so of course I took it.

He was right about “hands on” science, and though our class was officially taught at 10:00 AM, the real work went on  in a widely varied time frame.  We were forever getting on busses at 5 or 6:00 AM and bussing out to the desert or up to a swamp to count the number of bird calls from specific birds with a specific time frame, or to identify nesting site, or examine bird corpses to see how they died or something else.  It was interesting as heck, but  put a lot of pressure on me because I was working full time as a boilermaker helper on the 4:30 PM till 12:30 AM shift at the Union Pacific Railroad.  During that semester I took naps at lunch, occasionally in classes and wherever.

I felt like I was doing well in the class, but it was hard to tell.  There were very few activities that could be specifically graded.  The real challenge of the class was that we were each to do a scientific paper involving original research in Ornithology.  First we had to learn how to write up a proposal.  (This was the one part of the course that has had real valuable usage in my life.  He was good at teaching this and good at evaluating it and I have been grateful to him every time I have written a grant proposal, a thesis proposal, a dissertation proposal etc.).

At that time, in Idaho, most fishermen felt like pelicans were competition for the fish population, and it was common for fishermen, especially those who fished in lakes to take a shotgun along  and attempt to depopulate the pelican population as much as possible.

I don’t remember exactly how my final proposal went (after many false starts) but basically what I proposed was to do a food analysis of pelicans in a variety of sites.   I had no trouble acquiring pelicans I just passed the word around that I would appreciate it if anyone who shot a pelican would bring it home where I could pick it up.  I needed the time of day, the location of the shoot and some other details that have slipped my mind. 

Once I received the dead bird I had to dissect it, examine it’s stomach contents, measure the fat of the bird, examine the craw, then, after my own analysis I packaged up the items in question and sent them off to the state fish and game department where they did a second lab analysis.  It was fascinating.  Every fish scale  in the stomach identified the genus, the size and the sex of the fish (How, I don’t know) so when I got the report back I knew everything about this pelican’s diet for a couple of days.

One thing I hadn’t anticipated was the smell.  The first pelican I dissected, I dissected in the zoology lab at about two o’clock in the afternoon.  When I opened it up it gave off the rankest odor of fish, death and corruption you could imagine.  It made my stomach turn and my eyes water.  I tied a handkerchief around my face and went about my business.  I heard sirens outside, but paid them no mind, I wanted to get this over with as soon as possible.  I heard a lot of noise of people moving around and wondered because it was the middle of the hour, not at class changing time.   Suddenly the door crashed open and guys with gas masks holding guns came rushing into the lab.  

I learned that the smell had permeated the entire Liberal Arts Building (Home of Biology, History, Chemistry, English, and most of the other “Liberal Arts” courses.  The odor had appeared to be some kind of gas, poisonous or explosive, so the building had been evacuated and some several hundreds of people were standing around outside waiting for a solution by the Emergency People that were now in the lab.  They laid hand on me somewhat roughly and asked what in the name of Hell I was doing.

I explained, and after some consultation with the powers that be my pelican specimen was place in a sealed cooler to be handled later and perhaps somewhere else.  The ruling was finally made that I could dissect specimens in the lab between 11:00 PM and 5:00 AM in the morning.  (More sleep deprivation).  Fortunately my days off at the railroad were Wednesday and Thursday so I managed to dissect about sixteen or seventeen pelicans.  (I managed a sort of breathing apparatus for my personal use and I called Plant Operations every day when I was through working so that they could air out the place before daily classes began.   I got my paper done, handed it in, and to my disgust received a C.   I got a B minus for the class into which I had been recruited.

To add insult to injury, four years later, after I had completed a Mission to Finland for the LDS church, and returned to school, when I was "clearing for graduation” a process that began at the  end of one’s Junior year, I discovered that the Biology class I had taken was a four credit course, and the Ornithology class was only a three credit course so I was short one hour in Laboratory Science.  Do you know how many Lab Science course are one hour courses?   Finally after agony and begging, and vaguely muttering about law suits, I was allowed to take a course in Scientific Terminology for one credit and was cleared for graduation.

To add further insult to injury, after graduation, marriage and all that stuff I was sitting in a doctor’s office and picked up an old edition of  Scientific American (I think that was the title,) and browsing through it I found my paper, for which I had received a C. (and with more polished writing)  under the name of my former professor and one other name (probably the guy at State Fish and Game who did the lab analysis of the stomach contents).   I wouldn’t have minded if he had given me an A.

By the way, the results of the research showed that most of the fish that the Pelicans ate were trash fish, of fish that were injured or sick.  Very few were good game fish.  (Since I am three score and ten or more years old, and my professor was probably in his early forties when I took the course and has probably passed to the other side,  I see no sense in identifying him).

 

 

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6 Comments:

At 6:20 AM, Blogger Ed said...

Had I been deep into a project when the door suddenly crashed in by people with guns in gas masks, I probably would have had to gone home to change my pants.

Too bad you didn't get credit for your research.

 
At 8:52 AM, Blogger Barry the Barbarian said...

I had no idea what the outcome of your post was going to be. I was stunned that a professor could plagiarize back in those days. Of course it's par for the course nowadays.

 
At 9:21 PM, Blogger Darlene said...

What a jerk this prof was. I can't believe you didn't rant and rave to his face (or maybe you did and just didn't mention it) It would be good to know if you did let him know just what you thought of him.

 
At 5:12 PM, Blogger Three Score and Ten or more said...

No rant and rave, I had long since graduated. In seven odd years of graduate school I have learned that very few professors let good research go to waste, (although some of them ask permission and give acknowledgments, when they use it. During my doctoral studies I wrote two or three papers in Rhetoric that my professors suggested that I publish. Since rhetoric was not my central focus, I didn't, and two of those professors (with my permission) used my papers as a part of a longer one.

 
At 5:13 PM, Blogger Three Score and Ten or more said...

No rant and rave, I had long since graduated. In seven odd years of graduate school I have learned that very few professors let good research go to waste, (although some of them ask permission and give acknowledgments, when they use it. During my doctoral studies I wrote two or three papers in Rhetoric that my professors suggested that I publish. Since rhetoric was not my central focus, I didn't, and two of those professors (with my permission) used my papers as a part of a longer one.

 
At 5:13 PM, Blogger Three Score and Ten or more said...

No rant and rave, I had long since graduated. In seven odd years of graduate school I have learned that very few professors let good research go to waste, (although some of them ask permission and give acknowledgments, when they use it. During my doctoral studies I wrote two or three papers in Rhetoric that my professors suggested that I publish. Since rhetoric was not my central focus, I didn't, and two of those professors (with my permission) used my papers as a part of a longer one.

 

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