Rocket Scientists 12/21/21

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

A recent study out of England sought to determine who has the intellectual edge, brain surgeons or rocket scientists.  Of course, the study is based on those old sayings, “you’re no rocket scientist (or brain surgeon)”.  To perform the test, they took volunteer brain surgeons, rocket scientists and people from the general population for comparison purposes.  Each volunteer was presented with a cognitive reasoning test to measure problem solving skills and intelligence.  The results were no surprise.

Neither rocket scientists nor brain surgeons performed better at the cognitive tests than citizens from the general public.

Oh, wait, did I say “no surprise”?  I think the results did surprise a lot of people, but frankly, I would have been surprised if the results were otherwise.  People often think that I’m particularly intelligent because of my degree and discipline, but I’m not.  Frankly, I don’t think I’m much more than of average intelligence.  What does differentiate me from most people is my passion for chemistry, physics and mathematics (the proverbial “physical sciences”).  I love figuring things out based on scientific laws and being able to write mathematical formulations to test my hypotheses, because, in reality, that’s all I really do.  Or…did. 

Does it surprise you that somebody of average intelligence can do all of this?  It really shouldn’t.  If you think about your passion, be it auto repair, carpentry, art, gun smithing, basically anything that you absolutely love, there is no doubt that you are brilliant at it.  I used to spend entire nights, literally thirty plus hour days, working on mathematical models.  The building was so nice with nobody around, very quiet and perfect for focusing, but more than that, I was so engrossed in my model, and enjoying myself so much that I simply lost track of time.  Suddenly, there was noise as the morning people started coming in.  I never intended to spend this much time, I just got lost in my work.

If you put this kind of time, and this much passion, into what you do, you’ll be great.  Notice that I did not suggest a level of intellectual prowess, just the passion to get lost in what you are doing.  If you get home every night and pick up your guitar because you have to play for at least a little bit, I’m sure that you’re a brilliant guitarist, far more than I will probably ever be.

There’s a certain satisfaction in knowing that, in general, we are just as intelligent as those in these disciplines, long touted as being only for the super-intelligent.  It should serve as a reminder that we, you and I, can achieve basically any goal we want to set for ourselves, if only we have the passion and drive to make it a reality.  I can tell you that those who are successful brain surgeons and rocket scientists love their fields so much that the hours they spent studying just felt like minutes.  It was (for many, I’m sure) no more a sacrifice of time than the time given to a beloved hobby by anybody.  They were fascinated, and just spending time doing what they loved, but, perhaps, there was one more key ingredient to their success.

Becoming a rocket scientist or brain surgeon (or theoretical chemist like me) does take planning.  This, of course, required the self-confidence to believe in yourself to execute such a plan, but before I set off to my career, I did research into what was necessary to pursue this path, what education was required for me to get the kind of jobs that I wanted, and planned on how I would do so.  I had to think about how and where I would live on the money I would receive, the school I wanted to attend, and even looked at the job market, before I began, to determine which degree I needed.

Some years ago, when chat engines were the thing, I met a woman online that was the sister of one of my students (she never identified herself further, so I really have no idea who she was).  She was planning on getting her doctorate, and I asked her (as an educator I did this a lot, kind of an impromptu advising) what her degree was and what her career goals were, and it sounded like, for what she wanted to do, a doctorate overshot the mark.  I suggested that she look for a the job she wanted on job search engines (something I could not do when I was her age), suggested she read the job description to be sure it’s something she would want to dedicate her life to (we all want to play with the fuzzy animals in the zoo, but how many of us want to spend a summer shoveling poop, or a lifetime for that matter) and what degree is required.  I basically guided her to pursue the degree to get the career she wanted, rather than pursuing a degree and hoping to find a career she likes.  A week or two later, she started a chat with me once again to thank me, because, indeed, the degree she needed was a master’s degree. 

You can do this.  Whatever it is you want to pursue (with your partner’s support, so be sure to talk with them before suddenly changing your life), you can do it.  I’m starting to pursue comedy, a dramatic shift in direction from my past, and have a plan to do so.  So, if you are looking to hire a comedian for your event, here I am!!!

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