When I was an undergraduate student in Jerusalem, I worked about as hard as humanly possible. We had a huge amount of “heavy” courses in the all-science ensemble, and they weren’t all that organized.
For example, physical chemistry came before the high level calculus courses, so we were on our own to figure out thermodynamics derivations. To make matters worse, my Hebrew, good though it was, made it more difficult for me to follow some of the faster paced lectures.
But I was young and had a lot of will power–and after the military, sitting in a warm room and studying, even until 3 a.m., was not so terrible. Especially with coffee and snacks. So I did pretty well. But there was someone who did better.
There was a student in our group of about 250 students that were enrolled in first year biology that broke all records. Let’s call him R. Well, no matter how hard I would study or how well I would do, R. always did better.
I idolized R. I observed how he dressed, how he walked, how he talked. He asked intelligent questions. He occasionally sought out a lecturer after class for clarification. I drove myself nearly insane wondering what special brain power he had that I didn’t. But no matter hard hard I worked, he always did a little better.
In the course of the year, I rarely talked to R. He was with an “in crowd” and I was always a bit of an outsider. I also held part time jobs and was always in a hurry. The end of the second semester rolled around and it was exam time again. It happened in an organic chemistry exam, given in an enormous lecture hall. As chance would have it, I ended up sitting close to R., separated only by 2 empty seats (as was the rule during these exams).
The exam began and I concentrated and became engrossed in my answers. Stereoisomers and enantiomers. Aldehydes and ketones. Boat-shaped molecules. Lots of fun. And then, about midway through, I heard a whisper. It was R. “Steve, what did you get for number 4?” I was in shock. R. was asking ME what the answer was? He needed to ask ME to get the correct answer?
As it turned, little did I know, but R.’s “extra help” on exams was a well known secret. Most people in the class knew about this. It was generally agreed that he was very smart–but that little extra edge–making sure answer was correct–was enough to propel him to the top of the Dean’s list. To be clear, he probably would have been close anyway–but he wasn’t taking any chances.
I don’t know where R. is today, or if he is still in science. Rumor back then had it that Veterinary School was in the cards. But I sincerely hope that R. is an aberration and does not reflect on science. I know that since my episode with R., I no longer hero worship anyone.