Fast from pessimism; be an optimist
Fast from harsh judgments; think kindly thoughts
I had secured a work-study job cleaning and washing glassware for a lab in the Botany and Plant Pathology Department at
. I had changed majors from horticulture because I couldn’t keep up with the class load and work requirements. Botany and plant pathology offered me a way to continue to work with plants and incorporate a growing awareness of my being a systems type person. Michigan State University
It didn’t take long for the graduate students and professors of that floor to realize I did not fit in. I was from
, had not attended high school and did not have the necessary foundations for research. I was also not good at small talk and usually remain silent rather than bumble my way through luncheon conversations. Detroit
I was judged, at times harshly and often for good reason. I didn’t have the exposure to sciences and mathematics that the younger students, fresh from high school, had acquired. One particularly painful event took place while a graduate student was doing research utilizing dry-ice. I had never seen dry-ice before and asked about it. He did not hesitate to tell me that he thought I was being coy and my question ridiculous.
Like most people I too wanted to feel that I was contributing in some small way. I had worked within the labs for over a year and asked the professor and aforementioned grad student if I could do something besides wash…like maybe learn about their research. They decided to let me run a test of growth hormones on seedlings. I was excited and asked for instructions on how to proceed. They asked if I knew how to grow seeds, and of course as a gardener I could, and answer yes. They handed me multiple bottles with mixing directions and said “Then just go and do it.”
For months I carefully tended, measured and recorded. The morning after the study ended, I confidently turned in my results…only to be mocked during lunch. The study was flawed from the start. I was simple and ignorant of research protocol that they knew so well, and they had just proved to me and the rest of the staff how ignorant I really was.
I left the program. I was no longer optimistic about a future that would revolve around plants.
It was easy to judge them as harshly as they had judged me. It was easy to be self defeating and a pessimist. It meant I didn’t have to try anymore…failure was unavoidable so why make an effort.
I didn’t take classes during that summer’s break. As I puttered about the yard of the rental house near campus, I eventually came to realize my true nature. I was by birth a gardener with grubby hands and dirty knees, not a scientist. The Botany Department’s assessment of me was overly harsh but still contained a kernel of truth. I sincerely hoped they would succeed in their research…it would benefit so many people.
And I would succeed as a gardener, for we are optimists those of us who plant a seed.