Hope for regular kids

Hi all,

I’m posting this because a conversation I had with one of D2’s friends made me very sad. She is one of those regular, bright, talented kids who gets good grades through hard work. She loves science and has talked about wanting to get an MD/Phd one day. She spoke of feeling hopeless because of all the true genius kids out there. I think she is reading about them here. So many kids are taking calculus in 10th grade, publishing research, winning awards in math competitions, getting 35s and 36s and 5s in all the APs — you know the drill.

Her fear was not about getting into college. She knows she can go to college. Basically, she felt that a normal, hard working kid has no hope of ever making a real contribution in science when there are so many true geniuses out there. I would love to point her to a thread that dispels this idea. Can you guys throw out some examples of people making contributions in science who didn’t start out as child prodigies?

Jack Horner, Palentoologist: http://dyslexia.yale.edu/story/jack-horner/

Carol Greider, molecular biologist (Nobel prize 2009) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carol_W._Greider

There’s a lot more to life than just getting good grades and being able to test well. (And remember, a lot of those kids have parents who have the $$ to invest in extra-curriculars, test prep, etc.) Not to mention that everyone grows and develops in their own time, and not everyone wants to go into science.

If she wants to make a contribution to science, and she has the drive, she will do it. She just has to keep working hard and pursuing what she loves.

I agree with @Trixy34 and can’t say it better than she (or he) did.

My husband–the anti-prodigy :wink: . He is dyslexic, could not read until age 10, and was in remedial classes in middle school. Academics finally started to click for him in high school, but he did not do research or win anything except perhaps “most creative senior pranks”. He did not get into his first choice college and went to a state school which has a 78% acceptance rate today.

He’s an MD and earned his PhD in his forties. He’s been contributing to science all along (to remain anonymous, I can’t write about his discoveries, but he is making them, step by tiny step).

He would say that being a contributing scientist is about:

  1. Patience
  2. Curiosity
  3. “Good hands” in the lab.
  4. The ability to look at things in unique ways.

Those aren’t necessarily qualities that get you great scores on standardized tests. DH thinks he cultivated patience because nothing came easy to him the first time (or the second, third . . . ). I think he was born with the curiosity. He attributes his “good hands” to a love of cooking, and dyslexia gives him the opportunity to think in ways few others do–upside down and inside out.

Another big thing is that if money isn’t a big priority for you and you just persevere, others will choose a different path. But you’ll still be there making progress, figuring out our world and ourselves.

Great post, @3SailAway.

Sorry, I was a little distracted earlier - to state things a bit more clearly - there is a lot more to being successful than just doing well in school. As @3SailAway stated - having a curious mind and being able to think outside the box does not necessarily translate to standardized testing. In fact, I’d say that those things are sometimes a detriment when it comes to standardized testing. And going to a top school is not a guarantee of success. It’s all about what you do with the gifts that you’ve been given.

“I believe Gurdon has ideas about becoming a scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous; if he can’t learn simple biological facts he would have no chance of doing the work of a specialist, and it would be a sheer waste of time, both on his part and of those who would have to teach him.”

  • school assessment of 15 year-old John B. Gurdon, recent Nobel Prize winner

I work in an Honors College at a research university. We have many students who go on to medical school or get MD/PhDs. Many of them are “regular” students. They are bright but rarely geniuses. They work hard. Some got research experience while in high school (usually because they were enrolled in STEM magnet programs that required it) but most did not start working on research until they got to college. 3SailAway’s husband’s list is spot on.

no hope of ever making a real contribution in science <<<<<<<<<<

 Well, she probably won't. Keep it real, most people go to work, come home, go to work, and come home, Extrinsic recognition is not a thing for most people. Hard work, constant criticism, regular rejection, these are the things of life. 

I was going to mention “good lab hands”, too. My kid has them, and it has definitely contributed to her getting good undergraduate research experience and great recommendations for grad school.

“Basically, she felt that a normal, hard working kid has no hope of ever making a real contribution in science when there are so many true geniuses out there.”

She should see who works in research labs across the world. The vast majority are normal, hard working adults, not “true geniuses.”

Will they ever make “a real contribution”? We can discuss that as soon as this young woman defines “real contribution.” Of course, if she doesn’t try, she won’t. I’m reminded of that Woody Allen quote that 80% of success is showing up. She needs to stop whining and work on being able to show up.

It is also very early in the game. Many people change their goals along the way as they learn about more options. My D started college thinking about medicine but decided it would be just too much of a grind over too long a period of time – she is now in a program getting a Masters Degree in Speech Pathology and couldn’t be happier.

She needs to focus on being the best person she can be. I am sure she has strengths those “geniuses” don’t have, and she should be proud of who she is and the gifts she has. Most of us manage to find our way and contribute in different ways.

Thats a bit harsh. She’s a kid, still in high school. I don’t know her history or her GPA but my sense is that she is a hard working, bright kid. I hoped that this thread could provide some inspiration, perhaps some role models. Quite a few have already been posted which is great. But I think its premature to start criticizing the poor girl. Kids are allowed to have insecurities.

Here’s the best example I can think of (it’s old but I believe inspirational): Oliver Heaviside (1850-1925) in England. No formal education after 16 years old, partially deaf, poor, etc. yet became what is considered to be the first Electrical Engineer in history. He made all sorts of important discoveries: electrical circuit theory, transmission line theory, Maxwell’s Equations, first reasonable theory of gravitational waves, precursor equations to Special Relativity, and on and on. The ionosphere and craters on the Moon and Mars are named after him. He was a total “genius” and everything must have come easy to him, right?

Well, a million years ago I went to the IEE archives to read his personal notebooks in order to learn more about one of his theories (I was interested in what he didn’t publish). I saw page after page full of equations and sidenotes with a huge X across them. It added new meaning to what he wrote in one of his books, I tried various ways to make it fit then {switched to a new method}. He didn’t get bonked on the head by an apple and suddenly blurt out “gravity”, he tried every known way of solving the problem first and then became a “genius”.

Hope this helps.

Tell her to keep in mind that one person can make a difference in another person’s life. You don’t have to be a genius or a scientist or a doctor or rich or well educated to positively impact a life. And that positive difference can spread like a ripple in the ocean. Kind of like George Bailey. It shouldn’t be under estimated.

Well, genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, as Edison said.

If she wants to become a genius, she can actually work to become one.

" She spoke of feeling hopeless because of all the true genius kids out there. I think she is reading about them here. So many kids are taking calculus in 10th grade, publishing research, winning awards in math competitions, getting 35s and 36s and 5s in all the APs — you know the drill."

Best thing you can do for her is help her gain perspective. Not via examples of famous names, those people are rare and have a measure of luck/right time, right place.

Fact is, “most kids,” even viable candidates to top colleges, aren’t taking calc in 10th; publishing research is extremely rare and no tip; not so many win math competitions; you can work to improve your scores, and on and on. But not if you don’t try, believe it’s all pre-ordained, lose confidence.

What matters is the same old belief in yourself and “The Little Train that Could” that we were raised with. Poor attitude can sink one like a lead weight.

Seriously, CC is all about not needing to go to the tippy top colleges. I mind when people say, re: tippy tops, “You won’t know unless you try.” But in real life, in the matter you’re speaking of, you won’t know if you’re defeated before starting.

Where are you, @gallentjill, that this pressure is so fierce?

GIve her hope based on the reality of so many good colleges that encourage kids. Help her find her range of good choices. Maybe gift her a Fiske Guide.

But I will give one example. D1’s best friend is gifted with glorious sense of humor and acting talent, was hampered in hs by truly weak academics. She was one who went to a far less selective college, where she didn’t get competitive grades or MCATs for med school. Post college grad, she took a research position at a hospital, took classes to build her prep, and got into a very good nurse practioner program, is now doing her rotations.

She never gave up her dreams, found the way to work with her own strengths, will have impact. Fame? I doubt it. But that wasn’t her goal. I’m so proud of her.