Good Advice – Part Two

That's the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh. Home to The Graduate School of Business in 1977.
That’s the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh. Home to The Graduate School of Business in 1977.

After the advice I talked about in Part One, I wound up at West Virginia University (WVU) having only lost credit for freshman English. I would have also lost credit for Phys-Ed (PE) if I hadn’t managed to fail that at Georgia.

Meeting WVU’s PE requirement wasn’t going to be the problem that it was in Georgia. The good news was that by getting Physics and Calculus out of the way in Georgia, I only had one hard science course to take during my sophomore year, Organic Chemistry – easy peasy.

The bad news was freshman English. I sat for the exam that would let me skip the course at WVU.

I failed.

69 out of 100 and the minimum passing grade was 70.

One lousy point but a problem of epic proportion.

English 101 at WVU was only offered on M-W-F at 8:00 AM. I had other classes that I had to take at 8:00 AM. Classes required for my major. Classes I could not, not take. I would have 8:00 AM classes every semester throughout undergraduate school. I could take English in summer school but that would mean giving up my summer job at the Post Office, rendering me too poor to continue school. I needed help.

Enter Dr. George Humphrey, Associate Dean, Department of Chemistry, a.k.a. my advisor. I told him my pitiful tale. He excused himself to make a phone call and then said:

Walk with me.” Just like in the movies.

We walked across campus to the office of the Associate Dean, Department of English.

I’d like to you consider making my boy here exempt from English 101.”


Like I explained on the phone, having English 101 on his schedule is untenable. It will require him to spend a fifth year in school.”

English 101 is an absolute requirement for graduation. I don’t see what we can do.”

He already took English 101 at the University of Georgia, the credits just didn’t transfer.”

We don’t accept credits from any school for 101. I still don’t see a way around this.”

Look, he’s a Chemistry major. He wants to work in a crime lab. He’s going to be filling out lab notebooks and police forms for the rest of his life. This isn’t some budding author here.”

OK George, he can skip 101. But!” That “but” hung in the air the way the aroma from the neighborhood barbeque you weren’t invited to does. “He has to take six credits of English, IN ADDITION to any that he might take to meet Core-A

I thanked Dr. Humphrey and headed to off to add an English class to my schedule. The only class that worked was Poetry, not a bad thing.

A year later, as I was starting my junior year, I still wanted to become a forensic chemist. Dr. Humphrey suggested I should do a two-year undergraduate research project in “Computer-Assisted Analytic Chemistry” – that sounded great because I had taken computer science courses in high school and I loved them.

I cruised through a couple of computer science courses and I completed four semesters of undergraduate research, writing FORTRAN programs that simulated a complex chemical process. I struggled with Physical Chemistry and Quantum Mechanics but I did well in Organic and Analytic.

This is the intersection where, among other things, President Ford’s limo was hit back in 1975.

In my senior year, I applied to The University of Virginia’s Doctoral program. I got accepted. I was happy, scared, proud and poised to turn the corner. I didn’t realize that I was approaching a very complex intersection.

I met with Dr. Humphrey one final time. He congratulated me on getting accepted to UVA. Then he said:

I don’t think you should go.


Dan.” Another BBQ aroma pause. “You – Are – An – Adequate – Chemist.”

My heart sunk. Adequate? What the…?

Adequate? There were 53 declared chemistry majors in my class. Seven of us are graduating in May…SEVEN!

Easy there, I didn’t say you haven’t accomplished something. You are getting a BS in Chemistry in May – I’m going to hand it to you myself. But, you have struggled to get A’s, B’s and the occasional D in chemistry. On the other hand, you have cruised through your computer classes, racking up a bunch of A’s without breaking a sweat.”

Computer science is easy for me.”

Did it ever occur to you that you can do in life that which comes easy to you?

Dumb look on face.

They are giving the GMATs in two weeks. You did really well on the GRE, you will have no trouble with the g-mat. Walk in. Pay the fee. Take the exam and go get your ass an MBA.”

“Go? Go where?”

“The University of Pittsburgh. They have a very quantitative program. They like BS science majors.”

Once again, my advisor had thought harder about my future than I had.

Frankly, I was relieved. I didn’t want to go to graduate school in Chemistry. I no longer had a passion for Chemistry and I loved computers. I was prepared to follow a path, as young people often are, simply because I didn’t know that I could get off.

Next week, Pitt and the best advice ever.

46 thoughts on “Good Advice – Part Two

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  1. You really did get lucky with sound career and life advice and that’s a good thing. :-) I did chuckle about your PE class. I went to a couple of junior colleges and then finished up with a BA in Human Resources graduating with high honors except for that ‘B’ I got in bowling for my PE requirement. LOL

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was lucky Judy. I wanted to explain the PE grade, but there wasn’t room. I’ll squeeze that in somewhere. Luckily, at WVU, PE was Pass-Fail and easy to pass. I took handball and volleyball. Thanks for visiting, I appreciate the support.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice post. Its good to see teachers encouraging and supporting students. I had my favorite teachers who supported me in every possible way, but somewhere down the line I was bored of the entire corrupted education system and course, so I decided to end it after my Bachelors. In my circle, I am now the least educated, but I don’t really let it bother. I am earning on par with them and I have more confidence and practical knowledge than what they gather from their so-called courses. Life is my teacher :)

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks Dan. When I say least educated I meant to say “a guy with least certificates” Currently, in India there is this “MBA Craze” everybody doing an MBA just to ensure financial and job security, but my aim is different, so I give a damn.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The MBA made sense for me since I had an undergraduate degree in Chemistry and no exposure to business subjects. It made sense for my daughter a couple of years ago because her undergrad was an BFA in Photography but she’s managing a marketing department. Just piling it on on top of other similar degrees doesn’t seem all that helpful. As for certifications, particularly IT certs, I don’t see them as being all that useful. I’ve seen lots of people with certifications that have awful communication skills and, in most jobs, communications is much more important.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Hehehehehehe Typical guy. Why is it you guys think that what is easy is not the road to take? Why is it that you guys seem to make a situation so much harder then it really is? With the exception of the brilliant Dr. Humphrey, that is. Thank goodness that man had the good sense to set your course straight!!! LOL LOVED this post, Dan!! (((HUGS))) Amy <3

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s fantastic. I had a chemistry prof who blew something up every Friday and gave a pop quiz on it every Monday. I enjoyed the — I really loved his class.
    It’s hard to imagine that you didn’t think computers were the thing to do, but then, you were young.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “That “but” hung in the air the way the aroma from the neighborhood barbeque you weren’t invited to does.” Seriously, Dan? No one writes like that who cannot pass English! Dr Humphrey was some kind of wonderful, wasn’t he? I am so enjoying this series. Really good!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I like that I ended up following in your path of getting a degree-less-traveled-by and then adding an MBA to it (but as a complement not as a replacement.) I did not follow in your path in understanding chemistry. Like joyfullystated, I enjoyed the parts of class that ended with my teacher blowing something up or lighting his foot on fire, but you did better on the English exam you failed than I did on my chemistry exams. I like reading your stories about how everything turns out well in hindsight. It’s so hard to know if these choices are right when we’re in the middle of making them.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s interesting how others can see ‘things’ in us that we can’t see ourselves.

    Looking inward is so hard to do but when we surround ourselves with positive, smart, kind people they can help us see our true potential and even encourage us to achieve things we hadn’t even dreamed of.

    Great stuff. Looking forward to part 3. Have a nice week :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! It is interesting. As I look back on these first two bits of advice, I wonder why I accepted them. I am glad that I did, but knowing how reluctant I was (maybe stubborn, maybe recalcitrant) to change directions, it’s always amazed me that I listened to these men and made such radical shifts.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. That was a great corner for sure!! I like it.
    “Did it ever occur to you that you can do in life that which comes easy to you?“–this is one advice that I wish I had been given. Instead we were encouraged to do the hard stuff, the ones in which we had to exert. “Hard work pays”–they said, while torturing us with unnecessarily difficult subjects and coercing us to love them. We had students who were really good in Sports, especially Soccer and Athletics, who needed just the right coaching and guidance in order to excel. But because they didn’t do as their parents and teachers wanted–because they weren’t good in class, weren’t scoring As and Bs–they failed and disappeared back in the villages, jobless. It is awful to remember.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is very sad Peter. Doing what comes easy allows you to excel instead of struggle and that makes for a much better life. I am so glad that I received this advice. It literally changed my life from one that would have been dreary to one that was exciting and interesting.


    1. Thanks! I did ace the GMAT. I always did well on standardized tests. I’m always amazed by how clearly I can smell BBQ from around the neighborhood. Mmmm, burrrrrrgerrrrrs.


  9. In the category of advisors, you are incredibly lucky. I have so enjoyed the narratives about your efforts to prepare for a career. I particularly like discovering where you got your feel for poetry.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I was very lucky indeed. The funny thing is that the poetry course was a nice treat for me that year. It was hard, but it was so different that it broke up the week.


  10. My freshman year I fell for my future husband who was a “c” student but made to S of money in his computer troubleshooting job at Nexis Lexus. It killed me how easy it was for him. So glad you had this humble, honest and caring advisor, Dan. A big difference in your life was made by someone outside your family. As a former teacher (who never made what my ex did by 1/4) it is heart warming to know this good advices source. :)

    Liked by 1 person

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