Monday, April 23, 2007

Crushing the Dreams of Budding Medical Scientists

A few months ago, my classmate Albert received a call from the UCSF MSTP office regarding a young student in middle school who was interested in writing a career report on being a "medical scientist." It was yet another reincarnation of that annoying report in junior high school that forces you to think of a random occupation and to interview a reluctant role model to get the "inside scoop" on being a puppeteer or a test pilot.

Anyway, it was obvious to Albert that the young boy was not particularly interested in being a medical scientist; he was probably encouraged by some well-meaning adults into contacting the MSTP office, which took pity on the boy and forwarded his information to Albert, a nice person. The boy asked Albert a few rote questions that were clearly being cribbed from a piece of paper, such as "What special skills are necessary for your job?" To which Albert responded, "JOB? I don't have a job, I'm a student." The boy asked a few more questions, and Albert later swore to me that for some reason, he received the impression that the boy was Asian. Later on, the boy sent Albert a "thank you" card, but Albert discarded it and forgot the boy's name.

Flash forward a few more months, until a few weeks ago when Albert received a message titled, "JohnnyIsAzn (name changed) has sent you a Hallmark eCard." Of course, Albert thought that it was spam and automatically sent it to the trash box, but since he rarely receives junk mail, he decided to risk the safety and security of his computer by opening the card. A colorful website popped out with the following message:

"Thank you for your time and cooperation during my interview with you, i have learned a lot more than i expected. Due to your knowledge of this career, i have earned a B- on my project."

Several minutes passed before Albert could figure out what this card was referring to, but by then the damage was done.

Our conclusions:
The boy is either...

a) genuinely happy with his project grade, it was well-deserved and an improvement over his previous work. We entertained the remote possibility that he may not be "the sharpest stick in the pile."

b) a junior high school genius with a refined literary wit to rival Jane Austen, whose nuanced expression of sarcasm and irony seeks to rebuke Albert for his lackluster interview.

Whatever the case, this short e-mail message is a masterpiece in its own right. The short, obligatory pleasantries, leading up to the witty and caustic phrase, "DUE TO YOUR KNOWLEDGE OF THIS CAREER," which seems to emphatically place the credit/blame on Albert's shoulders, collides at just the right moment with "earned a B-" The deliberate ambiguity of this boy's gratitude and satisfaction is the greatest punchline to a story that has spanned months.

What also makes me laugh is Albert's exceptional mentoring capabilities and his memory of the whole incident. It's heart-warming to consider that Albert's inspirational interview may have launched the academic career of yet another budding "medical scientist" at UCSF (class of 2034).

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