This morning on my way to the kitchen for coffee I passed through the living room and my eye landed on my master’s thesis from Emory University. That’s right, it’s on display in our living room. Well, not exactly on display. When we built our home thirty years ago a decorator arranged the books and various sculptures and doodads in our book cases according to a scheme that only he could visualize. He needed something green to go behind a purple oil lamp and insisted that only green would do. In an effort to please, I searched my office until I discovered my green-bound thesis, which the decorator declared to be the perfect prop. Thus for three decades my rather costly work at Emory has stood anonymously at attention providing background color for a $40 bit of decor.
The full name of the thesis, which was later published in the Journal of Parasitology, October 1961(my first publication), is A STUDY OF THE RAT CESTODE, HYMENOLEPIS DIMINUTA, DURING THE FIRST FIVE DAYS IN WISTER RATS. (CESTODA: HYMENOLEPIDIDAE) by David Lee Harrison. The work earned the respect of my professors in the science department who urged me to stay to get my PhD, and at Honors Days on May 17, 1961 I was presented with the Sigma Xi award, described in the program as: Sigma Xi, national honorary scientific society, offers for the ninth time awards to students for outstanding research. The selections are made by a faculty committee appointed by the president of Emory Chapter. This year’s award for research performed at the level of the Master’s degree: David Lee Harrison.
I often think about my days at Emory, my vague hopes to one day serve somewhere in Africa or South America as a parasitologist. What if I had followed that dream? What would my life have been like? I was good at research, enjoyed long hours of working alone, wanted to make a difference somehow. Would I have ever discovered the wordsmith that also lived in me? Maybe I would have become known as the tapeworm guy. Ha. Before accepting Emory’s fellowship I had scholarship or fellowship offers from the universities of Missouri, Arkansas, and Kansas, all in entomology. I could have spent my life studying insects. I still have my old butterfly collection. Maybe I would have published learned papers about the life cycles of endangered insect species. So many choices we make early in our lives take us off in unexpected directions that result in outcomes so very different from original expectations. Maybe I would have been blissfully content with a life in science that never produced a single book for children. Who knows.
What about you? Where did you start and what changed the course of your life?