Thursday, January 3, 2013

What if I call you

It's grad school interview season, so here is a story from my first interview at the University of Pennsylvania.

I quickly fell in love with Penn. The campus was urban, like Case, but had some Ivy-status je ne sais quoi. I took an evening to see a game at the Palestra, a temple of college basketball. Ate oily cheese-steaks and gawked at medical curiosities at the Mutter Museum. Philly was perfectly grungy.

The interview was not perfect. In undergrad, I modeled intracellular calcium dynamics. Kwabena Boahen asked me what the shortcomings of my model were, and I had no good answer. I have no doubt that I was an arrogant know-it-all, too, like many young scientists.

In general, though, things went well from my perspective.

At the goodbye party, I ran into Mikey Nusbaum, the director of graduate studies. Nusbaum, by all accounts, was a phenomenal DGS, and genuinely interested in student welfare. He was also something of an eccentric scientist, wearing an earring, raising horses, and letting people call him Mikey.

Like Nusbaum, some of my friends call me Mikey, which led to this exchange:

Me: "I noticed people call you Mikey. My friends call me Mikey too."

Nusbaum: "Oh, I really don't care what people call me."

Flash to freshman year of college, when there were two Steves in my suite, and I was trying to figure out what to call them. One of the Steves said the same thing as Nusbaum, "I don't care what you call me." And I responded the same way at Penn as I did as a freshman.

Me: "What if I call you jackass?"

I didn't get in.

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