Academic diversity
Although enrolled in a notoriously-demanding major subject, I was interested in a lot of MIT’s startlingly-broad offerings beyond physics. Little by little, indeed, it became apparent that I wasn’t at all determined to become a physicist by trade. I loved and enjoyed physics: its precision, its complexity, its profound correspondence with the natural world and the light it was able to cast on that world. I absorbed the language of physics quite easily and found myself pursuing its history and philosophy as much as its practice.

The smartest people I knew at MIT were always confessing that they had no idea what opportunities and questions would lie at the cutting edge of progress, where we students arguably belonged, by the time we got there. They understood that they couldn’t teach us how to do what we’d have to do. So, they always urged us to learn how to learn and to discern, rather than just to gain a set of skills that was bound to obsolesce. It was no secret among us, moreover, that an undergraduate physics degree was a good starting credential for a very wide range of educational and professional careers.1

So, I spread my MIT studies around pretty widely. Music and poetry and other aspects of literature called to me; I joined the MIT Concert Band and enrolled in elective courses, with an emphasis on the humanities that puzzled some of my more technologically-focused peers: many of my classmates tended to tolerate the required “Humanities” courses as inescapable but regrettable digressions from their central technical concerns.

My deviant academic behavior did win me some faculty friends. Professor John B. Rae, for example, of the Humanities department, was my freshman advisor, and we hit it off well. Wish I had a photo of him. Enjoyed my first Boston Thanksgiving at the Raes’ home in Belmont. He invited me to enter the competition for the Ellen King Prize, awarded each year for the best piece of creative writing by a freshman. Not sure how many entries they got, but I won with a recycled high-school term paper and still cherish the books2 they awarded me. Professor Rae left MIT before I did and pursued a distinguished career at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California.3

Also learned a lot from Professors Ernst Levy and Gregory Tucker of the Music Department. Tucker’s brown-bag luncheon seminars in the Music Library tended toward serendipitous delight.
1In later years, at dinner meetings of the MIT Educational Council at the Faculty Club, I’d make it a point to ask the other nine alumni at my table (1) how many of them were from Course VIII (Physics—typically about half); (2) of those, how many now considered themselves physicists by profession (maybe a bit more than half); and (3) of those now otherwise engaged, how they did describe their professional identity (just about anything you might think of, and some you mightn’t). Me, by this time I’d say I was either in public policy or medical research.
2$50 worth, my choice—bought a lot more in those days: e.e.cummings, Dylan Thomas, Edmond Rostand, Donne, Poe.
3 Coincidentally enough, right on the line between San Bernardino and Los Angeles Counties.

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