Seeking Inspiration

25. June 2010, 08:22 by Akshat Rathi

Sitting on a stool, like the thinking man, Nicholas stared mindlessly at the reaction that he had just setup. This was the seventh time that he'd done exactly the same thing that day, every time hoping that it will give the result that the darn research paper had promised him. Each time that it did not give the desired output, he blamed himself but not the paper. "There must something that I am doing wrong", he thought, "after all Anderson has a such a reputation, there is not a doubt that he got the results that are mentioned in the paper."

The clock struck midnight.


"I still have a couple of hours before I hit the bed", he said to himself, "but if it works this time, I can sleep a few more hours." A few more hours of sleep would be such a bliss. He smiled at that thought and at that very moment a flurry of thoughts flooded his mind.

"No, I should go home now." said his frustrated self, "What does it matter even if I am able to get this damn thing to work, the next step is going to be as difficult, if not more!"

But the optimist in him said, "May be the boss will appreciate that I made it work. After all, no one has ever done this before in the research group."

And then the frustrated self quipped, "And what will that appreciation be? A smile followed by a question about the next step in the reaction sequence! Haven't you had enough of it already?"

Before he could answer that he heard a knock on the glass entrance of the lab, he lazily moved his eyes away from that reaction to look at the door. Joshua waved and his lips curled to signal the words: Good night. He waved back: "Great. Now I am alone." Lone working was against the department's rules and anyone found guilty faced serious penalties. Well, officially so, but he had never heard of anything of the sort. His eyes resumed the exercise of staring at the reaction and almost instantaneously the thoughts came back.

"It wasn't supposed to be like this", he said angrily. He had had greater expectations from the life of a scientist, a dream he had weaved since high school.

Nicholas was a very smart kid who grew up in a small town in Canada. At the age of nine, his grandfather, frustrated by his continuous flurry of questions, announced on the dinner table that he'll become a scientist one day. He knew nothing about  scientists or science then, but that thought got stuck in his head. He crossed the usual hoops and performed exceptionally well, attended the best school for sciences in Canada and landed himself a place in one of the world's greatest universities for a PhD in Chemistry.

Along the way he met the idol of his life: Professor Williams, an organic chemist, who was the most inspiring teacher in the college. Williams was famous for two things: the pin-drop silence in his classes, where not even a fly dared to make a sound and his immaculate benzene rings. The benzene rings were so perfect that even if he drew a hundred of them on a blackboard one would not be able to differentiate one from the other. Williams was the man who glorified science for Nicholas.

He was a very busy man who, not surprisingly, had a big research group. He published only in the best journals in chemistry and kept on receiving awards for the excellent work he did. Although in his classes he was quite strict, but away from them he was a jolly good man. One could talk to him about absolutely any subject under the sun and he seemed to know more about that subject than an expert in that field. Nicholas wanted to be like him, lead the perfect life of a scientist.

"Had Prof. Williams been in my place now, he would've solved the problem long ago," he concluded, "I'm just not good enough."

Then he remembered the encounter he had had with Prof. Wyzen. In the final year of his undergraduate course Prof. Wyzen, a Nobel Laureate in chemistry, had visited his institute. Prof. Williams and Prof. Wyzen had shared a lab during their doctoral training, they were close friends. As Prof. Williams' favourite student Nicholas had got himself the opportunity to interview Prof. Wyzen over a dinner. Of the many questions he had asked him, one had got stuck in his head.

"What makes a good scientist?" Nicholas had asked him. What makes a good scientist?

"Observation, Inquisitiveness, Perseverance & Inspiration" answered Prof. Wyzen in the shortest possible answer one would expect. When asked to elaborate he had said, "I still remember the day when I walked up to my PhD supervisor's office with a letter saying I quit. Had I actually given that letter to him, I would not have been here."

Still staring at the reaction Nicholas heard those words again in Prof. Wyzen's crisp voice. He was observant and inquisitive but perseverance wasn't an easy one to come by. Life had been good to him, he had never had to work so hard to achieve something ever before. Drawing inspiration from the only Nobel Laureate he had ever met he asked himself, "If Prof. Wyzen had endured the same thing, why can't I?"

It was way past 1 am now, he worked up his reaction and got his results. No, the reaction had not worked. "I'll persevere", he said to himself in a strong voice as he turned off the lights in the lab.

Akshat Rathi

Artwork: Surabhi 


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  1. betreff Revathi

    More than anything else, what Nicolas nees is confidence in the infinite capacity of the mind and that if one puts one's mind to it being 100% only with the problem, one is bound to arrive at a solution. It may not be the solution that one wanted but still it is satisfying to have arrived at it.

  2. betreff hemant

    A typical day for a research scholar. One can understand the joy and frustration of a scientist. But patience pays in due course of time.

  3. Master problems

    I am just a Master student and therefore problably quite far away from any real scientific problems but I have to set up a animal paradigm that just won't work the way it should ...I have had those same thoughts as you describe...the professor would easily make it work and "maybe Im just not good enough" fear was always, when I am finsihed with university - will I be able do science on my own? With nobody teling me what to do next? How to get at the point where you get your own ideas and test them. Will I be a good scientist? Thanks for the entry, looks like I am not alone.

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