Today is my birthday (I just turned 58, which I realize is ancient by blogging standards). This morning on the train ride in for some reason I reflected on how, for a few short years, I was destined to become some stripe of scientist, and how through various poor decisions I made along the way I managed to foreclose that particular path in my life.
It all started when I was visiting my cousins in Syracuse, Utah, probably circa 1969. The cousin closest in age to me and with whom I was the closest had a telescope, and he set it up in the backyard and showed me various things, including in particular Mars. That was so cool, I was smitten, and over the next couple of years I would become a little astronomer.
My parents got me a (cheap) telescope, and I went to the library and started reading all I could about astronomy. I also started subscribing to Sky and Telescope, which I got and read for a couple of years. In seventh grade my science teacher would take me around to other schools to give presentations on astronomy. I even sent a letter to Harvard University with a question about escape velocity; some kind graduate student wrote me back a very patient letter going throught the high school level physics I needed to know to understand the answer to my question.
In high school I took pretty much evey science class they offered.
But my career as a budding scientist only lasted maybe four years. I sowed the seeds of destruction when I took the pedal off of my math instruction.
I was on the advanced math track, and so freshman year while most kids were taking algebra I was taking geometry. And, as usual, I was the teacher’s pet and I killed that class. But I belatedly began to realize what most kids already had figured out, that it was an affront to the social order to be too open about your academic interests and success. I realized I needed to scale things back a bit. But I went too far; instead of just participating less in class, I pretty much stopped studying outside of class for my math classes (Advanced Algebra sophomore year and Analysis junior year). I achieved my (ill advised) goal of becoming only average in those classes (much to the chagrin of my frosh year geometry teacher). Math was only required for three years, and although I could have taken calculus my senior year I decided to skip math altogether.
By (in retrospect, quite foolishly) bailing on math in high school, the die was pretty much cast that I wasn’t going to be a scientist. In college I went the humanities route and studied classics, which worked out great for me and has been a joy to this day. But I confess there are times when I lament my youthful foolishness that self-destructed my budding career as a scientist.
Do you have any regrets about the educational course your life took?
 Now a professor at SVU.
 My parents, observing this new found interest in science, also got me a chemistry set.
 To this day the height of my intellectual life; it’s been all downhill since then.
 The significant exception was Advanced Biology. I knew that in that class you were required to prick your finger with a lancet to study the blood. These were not like the things they use when I give blood today; these were old fashioned lancets, basically a sharp stick. The thought made me squeamish so I never signed up for the course.