Was it That Long Ago?
It was one of those cool, clean April mornings in North Carolina when I was discharged from the Marines. The sun shone brightly in the clear sky as the last of the mist lingering in the shadows evaporated. A gentle wind ruffled the surface of the New River and tugged at the tops of the pine trees.
I saluted the Officer of the day who had come out of his office to admire the weather.
“Good luck, Sergeant Bear,” Said the Lieutenant (who had been my platoon commander) as he shook my hand.
“Thanks, Mister Roland,” I said, “It was a real pleasure working for you.”
“You know you’re going to miss it.”
“Not a fucking chance, sir.”
And that was that. With considerably less trouble than it had taken to enlist, I was honorably discharged. It was anti-climactic, really. Almost eight years, an eternity to a young man, at an end with a respectful salute and a friendly handshake.
Have you ever been free, my friends? I’m not talking about some unobtainable existential freedom. I had money, I had a car, I had a beautiful girlfriend, and I had nothing but time until I started classes. If that’s not freedom, then nothing is. I drove out of the main gate of Camp Lejeune and have never been back.
I started at the University of Vermont that June as a Civil Engineering major. I went to class religiously, studied, and did pretty well. A little self-discipline makes all the difference. Besides, the lifestyle of a college student is an easy one. Other than going to a few classes, your day is pretty much your own. There is plenty of time to study without turning into a jittery freak, especially if you finally see the college lifestyle for the bullshit it really is.
It’s just a job. They can dress it up, put you in a picturesque campus and you can strut around getting educated but strip away the pretensions, the inexplicable loyalty to an organization that takes your money and can cheat you out of your education if you let it, and it’s a wonder the bookstore does such a brisk business in university branded paraphernalia.
Campus politics were ridiculous. The year I returned was the year of “Diversity University,” a little shanty built on the green to protest just about everything. It was a focal point for the usual left-wing crazies making a career out of protesting. It was also the year that the usual band of idiots, in an homage to their equally idiotic parents from the sixties, stormed and, for a number of weeks, occupied the administrative offices of the President of the University…and got course credit for it. The whole scruffy, useless pack of them were eventually driven out but not before they held numerous rallies with politburo style banners of Mao and Lenin.
Nothing but the spoiled children of the elite pretending to stand for something, just like their equally spoiled baby-boomer parents. Naturally I had a lot of fun with them. I was something of a conservative political activist and even started tearing down the shanty on TV before some little tofu-eater threw himself between the shack and my sledge-hammer. I attended all the diversity meetings and agitated for conservatism, politely and in my turn, of course, until they told me that I wasn’t welcome because it’s only diversity if it is left-wing and anti-American. I got in a little trouble and had a few conservative Vermont lawyers offer to run interference for me but it never came to that. The funny thing is that many college students spend their entire four, five or six year college career doing little but political activism. They take the usual Mickey Mouse courses where one bemoans “the Man” but, other than that it’s all posturing and pontificating in the fantasy world that is Academia.
Then they spend their lives wondering why nobody takes them seriously, lamenting their glory days in college with the same intensity as the former high school jock drinking his beers of despair in some fly-blown trailer park. Or they work at Starbucks, the graveyard of liberal arrogance.
Our original plan was to wait until I graduated to get married but we decided that this made no sense and my lovely and highly intelligent wife and I were married in May of 1992. Since she was going to quit her job (in television), we looked around and realized that it made no sense to spend the kind of money demanded by UVM when Louisiana Tech could supply the same education for a fraction of the cost. I transferred and finished my degree in 1994 with decent but not spectacular grades. I did a year of graduate school because we were young and didn’t need that much money to live.
Graduate school is useless in most engineering professions if your object is to work as an engineer. It doesn’t increase your starting salary, either. I had a friend who wrote his thesis on the percolation of water through a sand bed, an important topic to be sure, but very specialized and more likely to make your prospective boss scratch his head and wonder how it’s going to help him make money off of you.
So one day I got an engineering job, started working for real money, and just lost interest in academics. I came home one day and asked my wife for permission to quit graduate school. Working and studying, not to mention grading papers and the other lame things you must do to earn your stipend was wearing me out. Graduate students, like residents, are little more than slaves. Maybe graduate students are house slaves compared to residents cutting the cane but they are slaves none the less.
Besides, I was tired of being the only guy who didn’t speak Chinese in my advanced Finite Element Design class.
I worked as an engineer for a few years. No real complaints. It’s a good career and I highly recommend it.
Why medical school? I don’t remember. That is, I remember getting the idea of being a doctor in my teeth and not being able to let it go but I don’t remember from where the idea came. I had never been to a hospital except for the birth of our first child and in no way did this spark an interest in medicine, even if I did say it did in my AMCAS personal statement.
Hey, I lied. Doesn’t everyone?
The nearest I can tell, one day I was mowing the lawn under the merciless Louisiana sun and just got sick of it. I asked my wife what it would take to hire a lawn service and she said, “Maybe if you were a rich doctor we could afford it.” This was kind of silly, of course, because I was doing pretty well as an engineer and we hired a lawn service the next week. But, like I said, I got the idea in my head and a little research revealed that it was not impossible. I don’t believe the numerous medical school discussion forums existed back then so I had very few places to turn for advice. There were a few books at Barnes and Nobles, and the head of the pre-med advisory committee at Louisiana Tech, after the obligatory “crap shoot” remarks conceded that it was possible.
More importantly, there was, as I discovered, a medical school just down the road (well, fifty miles away).
After a lot of discussion, we decided to give it a try.
Next: The Plan. MCAT Secrets.
1 thought on “Again Apropos of Nothing Part B”
“Graduate school is useless in most engineering professions if your object is to work as an engineer. It doesn’t increase your starting salary, either.”
Wow, what a bold statement. Perhaps that was true in your engineering experiences, but I disagree that it applies broadly. In my own experience in areas of the defense and semi-conductor industry (or engineering in any high-technology industry for that matter), not having the theoretical background knowledge that is the by-product of an advanced degree limits what work you’re capable of doing. Graduate school, if the studies are relevant to your work, can help increase your starting salary and raise the ceiling of your responsibilities.
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