By Richard E. Bleil, Ph.D.
Apparently, so far I have written over eighty blogs. If you read just one blog a day it would take eighty days to read them all.
Funny how that works out.
Although it might seem a little bit arrogant to do so, it occurs to me that perhaps somebody might be wondering just who this Bleil character is, so, here’s a brief autobiography.
I was born in a log cabin that I had to build with my own two hands. With no tools. In eight foot of snow.
Honestly, there was no snow around that day. It was in the sixties (which sounds pretty good right about now) in Cincinnati, Ohio when I was born on April 22, 1963, weighing in at all of four pounds and five ounces. My mother told me that she wasn’t allowed to hold me until I was five pounds, which she describes as the happiest two days since I was born. And although I was alive at the time, let me state categorically that, no, I was not in the grassy knoll with a rifle.
Too soon? Okay, too soon.
I had one sister, two years my elder, in a struggling lower middle class family, but fortunately my father knew how to budget, so I never really knew it. We had clothes, heat, a roof and food, and that was plenty.
I never really grew into an athletic build. I was slow, weak, and small. As I was never athletic, I believe that my father, who boasted of his days in football with his high school team the Bulldogs, never really connected with me. My mom was okay, but apparently, she and my sister had a fabulous relationship, which I learned about many years later. I was pretty much left on my own, and was painfully shy. I believe I also suffered from depression. My parents loved the effects of this, as I spent quietly in my room with myself. They used to brag about how quiet I was, and probably never realized the reason why this might be the case.
Growing up with a gentle spirit, I tended to cry pretty easily. I was the kid being bullied in school, but seemed to be wiling to stand up for others. I clearly remember inserting myself between a bully on the schoolyard and the girl he was choking, only to get in trouble for “playing with girls” because i had done so. I guess that getting into trouble for trying to protect others would be a pattern that repeats itself even into today.
For as long as I can remember, people have accused me of being intelligent. I can’t imagine how anybody can be all that smart if they find themselves in the situation I’m in today, but when I was still in elementary school, my parents decided to foster that. They bought me a set of science encyclopedias for “young people”, and when I was in my room alone I would read those end to end. I was fascinated by science and decided in middle school to pursue a career in science.
I was, and still am, interested in all disciplines of math and science. In seventh grade, though, I remember a quiz on the anatomy of a frog, wherein a dissected frog had pins with flagged numbers on various organs. We had to name the ten organs, and I managed to get nine of them correct. The one that I missed however, was “fatty body”, for which I had simply written “fat”. Seriously, if there are any middle school teachers out there, might I suggest that you give kids a little bit of a break in middle school science, because that was when I had written off biology as the specific science that I would pursue.
So, instead, I settled on chemistry, and I never looked back. A lot of people have gauged my intelligence by my knowledge of chemistry, but I don’t think that’s really valid. After all, if you do anything for forty years, you had better be good at it. Besides that, it is my passion. That means I never looked at learning chemistry as work. It was just fun.
I attended a state college and studied chemistry (although I was briefly a double major in physics). While in college, I was an apheresis donor. This is a process wherein they draw blood from one arm, put it through a separation instrument (a centrifuge, to be specific), keep the half that they need (platelets or plasma) and return the blood to the other arm. It was a long process, taking about an hour and a half (back then), and a forty minute walk to and from campus to do so. I’ve donated many gallons over the years, although my health precludes me from continuing the practice today. During the walk to the donor center one day, I distinctly recall the black wrought iron fence I was walking past when I realized that having a focus on one subject, as I did with chemistry, was not necessarily a good thing. I was a senior in college, with a few months left before graduation, and I realized that I knew more about chemistry than anybody had a right to, but knew nothing of life. I was a workaholic, never partied, never built relationships, never paid attention to art, or literature, or history, and in fact would graduate without even knowing a woman’s touch. That was when I started paying more attention to the arts, and made an effort to teach myself those things I had missed out on. As for a woman, I wouldn’t have that experience for a couple of years after graduation. I had my chances, but allowed my fears to keep me chaste.
After college, I went to work as an analytical chemist, working with environmental samples to search for pesticides, herbicides, and PCB’s in oil. It was not as satisfying as I had hoped, since I was primarily working as a laboratory technician. It was redundant and not very challenging, so I decided to continue my educational pursuit. At this point, I had my eye on teaching in higher education, where I could pursue my own research. I joined an ivy league college for graduate school, and focused on Theoretical Chemistry. As an undergraduate, I worked on a senior project in physical chemistry, and felt like it was more of a struggle than I had hoped. I felt strong in experimental chemistry, so I chose to pursue my weakest area of thermodynamics.
Yes, I’m that kind of person.
Specifically I did research in statistical thermodynamics. I loved classical thermodynamics and the laws that guide everything that happens every day, and quantum mechanics which was the underpinning of physics and chemistry. Statistical thermodynamics is the discipline that bridges the two allowing me to study all three simultaneously. I was still too engrossed in my studies to build a social life, though. My family seemed to be distancing themselves from me during this time, talking with me less and less as I pursued academic levels that I don’t believe they ever really understood or appreciated. I still remember visiting my parents just a few weeks before finishing my graduate studies. My thesis had been written and submitted, and my final defense was scheduled (a step advisers don’t allow if you’re not truly ready) for just a few weeks after the visit. My mother had asked me to stand for a portrait, and my father drove me to the appointment. While there, I had a strong desire to have a father/son photo taken. I asked him to stand in for a few photos, and he turned me down. I then checked with the photographer, who assured me it would cost no more, and again I asked him for a father/son portrait. His response to me was, “maybe…after you’re a doctor.”
It was at that moment that I realized that my father was never proud of me, and never would be. That was the day that I stopped trying to build that relationship. I had made my effort, and failed.
My career path followed the standard way after that. I did research at two a post-doctoral appointments and a “visiting scientist” position as well. My first “teaching gig” was at a small private medical arts college. It was there that I came into my own. I was the sole chemistry professor, teaching general chemistry, organic chemistry, and a combination general/organic/biochemistry course. I learned about the politics of higher education the hard way, as the faculty were unhappy with what they perceived to be non-transparency in the leadership. I played a key role in helping to reorganize the administrative structure to be more inclusive of faculty.
As the sole chemist, I also chose and ran the laboratory experiments. The lab was painfully small, and ventilation was inadequate. For a long time, I had begged for some kind of improvement for the safety of the students. One day, during a lab, the fumes got to be too much. I just didn’t realize how bad they would be, and had to release the students from the lab early. Again, I stood up for my students, and went to the president, demanding to know when we would finally care enough about the health of our students to do something about the ventilation in the lab. Shortly thereafter, I left, but they did build a new lab.
My new position was at a small state university. Again, I was the sole chemist, but this time I taught general chemistry and labs, organic chemistry and labs, analytical chemistry and labs, inorganic chemistry, biochemistry, thermodynamics, quantum chemistry, statistical thermodynamics, physical science, capstone research and periodically taught math and physics as well. I built two programs (physical science and forensic science), and grew the number of physical science majors from 4 to 38. I completed the first complete chemical inventory, was the safety manager, advised the math and science club, was a major donor, had about thirty advisees, and more. Then a dean came along that decided I was not doing my job, and I was too worn out to fight her. I resigned my tenured position.
Eventually, I became the director of a forensic science lab with a police department in a small but busy metropolitan area, and eventually a dean at a private university. I’ve written on these positions in the past, so, please, don’t make me rehash it here. But, that does bring you up to date. So, with that, I’m going to try to drift off to nightmare land. I hope you are enjoying my blogs, and hopefully you know a bit more about the package of neuroses that is offering them.