I am a *bad* girl

You see, I failed to tell all my co-workers that my mom had elective surgery last week. Apparently this is a Big Deal. Mind you, my mom didn't seem to think so, given that it went well and it's not like it was an emergency or something wrong. So today I got "yelled" at for not telling people until over a week later and the office gift fund is sending my mom flowers. We got a chuckle out of it when I called to let her know to expect a delivery and to make sure she'd be home.

In local culture, it's apparently not "normal" for family members to go out of town without notifying everybody in the known universe first. It's apparently also not completely normal to not speak with one's parents 6-12 times a week. I've already heard the nasty things my co-workers say about the "ungrateful, horrible children" who don't call their relatives as often as the consensus seems to say they must, so I imagine I'm one of the "bad ones" there too. We've always managed to get along just fine with an average of one phone call every week or two and mentioning weekend trips within a week after they're over. With cell phones, it's not like anybody's really unreachable these days. I figure if we're all ok with the present system and it works for us, who cares what other people think?

RIP Dr. Macleod
I learned today that another of my favorite professors has passed away in the past year. Roderick Macleod taught Immunology for many many years and retired in 2001 after 43 years of service. His class was incredibly interesting and he was an engaging lecturer. The lectures combined basic information with information from research papers published just a week or two before the lecture was given. He was particularly fond of telling people that their immunology textbook was out of date before they ever purchased it, even if it was only published two weeks ago, because the field is constantly changing.

The exams Dr. Macleod gave were challenging and inevitably asked questions about journal articles we hadn't read, but the questions were structured in a way that if you knew the basics of immunology, you could figure out the answer to the question. I remember struggling in one exam with a question about some new discovery regarding the immune system of horses, in which we were supposed to hypothesize how we thought a particular pathway might work, based upon what we knew about the JAK-STAT pathway. I had a long several minutes of frustration and panic during which I nearly convinced myself that I would never be able to answer the question, when I heard Dr. Macleod's voice in my head ask me what I knew about JAK-STAT. So I wrote that down and then looked at what other small chunks of the question I knew something about. By breaking it all down, I was able to actually reason my way through the question and ended up with the same hypothesis that the investigators posed in their paper. In other words, the exams actually tested what you had learned and expected you to think, rather than vomit memorized factoids onto the page. Because of this, the majority of the students hated the class and considered it to be impossibly and unnecessarily difficult. Several cellular biology students I knew were greatly relieved when Dr. Macleod retired and they didn't have to take the class from him.

The semester I took immunology (spring 1996), Peter Doherty and Rolf Zinkernagel won the Nobel Prize in medicine for their discoveries concerning the specificity of the cell mediated immune defense and how the immune system recognizes cells which have become infected with viruses. Dr. Macleod lectured about their discovery and explained how it worked. (Dr. Macleod was particularly fond of "sexy macrophages" and "sexy T-cells".) Later in the semester, Dr. Doherty gave a lecture on campus about his work and I was proudly able to understand the entire lecture because of what I had learned in Dr. Macleod's class. I also had the opportunity to have lunch with Dr. Doherty, along with several other grad students in my department, and even asked some reasonably intelligent questions about his research and subsequent discoveries in immunology (or at least he said they were good questions). All because of what I learned from Dr. Macleod. I still occasionally hear his voice (and that of my calculus professor, Dr. Heinie Halberstam) when I get stuck on a problem and try to tell myself I'll never be able to solve it. Then I look at what parts of the question I can answer and chip away at it until I get the whole thing solved. Thank you Dr. Macleod.

Dr. Macleod died September 3rd on the Isle of Lewis. He was 70 years old.


Stefaneener said…
You're not a bad girl, you're just from a very different culture.

I remember some of my professors with great fondness, and can imagine their passing leaving me diminished in a bit of a way.

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