Fifteen minutes of fame. Whether you admit it or not, we all yearn for Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of greatness, where we are the metaphoric kings of the world (please excuse the Titanic reference). Of course, let us not be literal, it does not have to be fifteen minutes. It can be the length of a seminar, poster presentation, or hit song. I never understood people who complain about hit songs. Recently, I saw Walk the Moon at the Crystal Ballroom. Earlier in the year I saw The Fray. One hit wonders? Time will tell. But when Walk the Moon played “Anna Sun”, and when The Fray played “How to Save a Life”, the energy, the feeling on the floor changed. Magic transcended the room because at that moment the listeners and performers were experiencing each other in a way that happens rarely, and always fleetingly. Lightning in a bottle – why would anyone shirk at that?
In science, we generally want our fifteen minutes to evolve into a lasting contribution to the field. But poster sessions, seminars, and publications waylay our stress and give us opportunities for encouragement, discussion, suggestion, re-evaluation, and elation that comes with being of-the-moment. This past month’s Research Week served as an overwhelming opportunity to learn about research goings-on, pose questions, and form a more complete picture of where my type of research fits in the big picture. To me, Research Week is what science should and needs to be: presentation and discussion. Socrates would have been proud, and the liquid nitrogen ice cream was also pretty awesome, not going to lie.
Warhol said in the future we would all get fifteen minutes of fame. He never stipulated how many allotments, however, and sometimes fifteen minutes does transcend into a lifetime, giving us immortality. This month not only brought Research Week, but also a reminder of how precious and fleeting life is. Unfortunately, May brought the passing of MMI faculty member Dr. Jorge Crosa. We PMCB firsties first met Dr. Crosa on our first day of Genetics class. Sitting in the Vollum Seminar room, still getting used to each other, our schedule, and labs, this stout man in a knitted vest with a beard, Argentinian accent, and sparkling eyes, regaled us with anecdotes 100 years old about early geneticists. He told me, when I unwittingly volunteered to lead a class discussion, that I should be a lawyer – I countered every one of his questions with one of mine own.
Very few times one feels they meet someone genuinely good, on the side of right, and though I did not know him beyond class, I truly believe Dr. Crosa was such a person. Whereas some faculty seem to beat us down, Dr. Crosa seemed to be part of our rooting section. He gave us the benefit of the doubt, something we do not get a lot here. Sitting in his memorial service, I thought about the research we do, the goals we set for ourselves, and the limits to our capabilities.
Listening to the violins send him away, fifteen minutes became a lifetime. Years and years from now, I might not remember the work I did here. I might not remember the lectures and the exams. Faces might start to fade, names will wash away. But I will remember the magical transcendence of violins and how my graduate school experience was made better.
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,
for, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me;
from rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
and soonest our best men with thee do go,
rest of their bones, and souls delivery.
Thou’art slave to Fate, chance, kings,
and desperate men,
and dost with poison, war, and sicknesses dwell,
and poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
and better then they stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we make eternally,
and death shall be no more. Death thou shalt die.
~ John Donne, Death