Monday, September 2, 2013

Deconstructing "A Scientist's Conclusion."

This is for Desi, who wanted to know what really happened. Otherwise, I doubt I’d write this-reality-to-fiction synopsis of “A Scientist’s Conclusion.” I began this commentary  back in May, but summer got in the way of finishing it.  (The story begins here in case you want to read it through before reading this.) Anyway, here's the story of the story.

Many years ago, when I was doing a post-doctoral stint (those two years were the nadir of my life), I happened upon a newspaper story in the Philadelphia Inquirer about a Chinese graduate student in the biomedical sciences who shot his advisor. I no longer remember the details of the story, but I do remember thinking, “One day I want to write a story about a graduate student who kills his advisor.” That probably reflected the grimness of my life at the time.  I thought I should be able to depict the difficulty, the poverty, the isolation, the confusion, the demands, as well as the indifference verging on contempt suffered by many graduate students in the sciences, who endure a slave-like existence, living in fear that all their work may be in vain, knowing that half the students in the program never obtain the sought-after degree – flunking out or becoming too dispirited to continue.
I didn’t write the story then, and I later moved, got a decent job in a good lab, worked hard, published, and eventually became a graduate advisor in my own right. My first graduate student was a hand-me-down (as in the story) who had not performed well on his oral exam in another department and had been denied further study there. However, he was rescued by a faculty member in my department, who shortly thereafter took a job elsewhere and who begged me to take on this student. And yes, he was Chinese and had language difficulties.
I worked very hard with him. I mean, VERY hard. You have no idea how hard. And yes, we had difficulty with communication and with the very idea of what it means to do science. We did, indeed,  have an issue once with the idea of experimental controls. We were picking out photos for his dissertation, and we couldn’t find a good photo to illustrate a particular cell type in control animals. He showed me a photo that looked pretty good, but when I found out it had actually come from an experimental animal, I exploded. [Of such actions is scientific fraud born (and believe me, there’s enough of that out there already).] He somehow seemed unable to understand why that was taboo or why I was so upset. He later told a fellow student that I had "blown him up” (meaning, I had blown up at him).
When the time for his dissertation defense approached, as we were working on his presentation, he happened to mention that one of his fellow countryman had killed his advisor when he didn’t pass his defense. I viewed that as something of a veiled threat. However, he did all right on the defense (as a colleague said, “That was C…’s finest hour.”), and he obtained the Ph.D. Whew.
So I decided to write the story from a faculty advisor's point of view, but I also wanted to make the student seem sympathetic. The student in the story became Korean, which was odd because later (after retirement), I spent two years in Korea. Of course, in the story nobody wins. But I wanted to tell the story anyway.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Fiction or Reality?

How much of any piece of fiction is pure fiction and how much is reality-based?

I’ve often asked that question when reading the fiction of others. I might wonder what, in the author’s life, could have evoked such a pathetic (or outrageous or humorous) situation or conclusion, one that serves to fuel the story. Is this story a chance at a voyeuristic look into a writer’s life, or is it a window into the mind of a pathological liar?

About five years ago, I asked that question of my own fiction. I’ve always known, of course, that something – some event or personal interaction – must give rise to the impulse to write a story. Moreover, bits and pieces of past experiences feed into stories; these are often gathered from different times and places and pieced together in the mosaic that is fiction. I hope that every story I write tells some truth, however convoluted. But I also know that much – even most – of my fiction comes from imagination. I envision scenes and dialogues that I hope will lead the story through its maze to a real insight or understanding for the reader at the end.

So I decided to do a tally of my own fiction using a one-to-five scale: ‘5’ being “mostly reflects something that actually happened” and ‘1’ being “completely fabricated.” Only one story earned a ‘5;’ and one deserved a ‘1.’ All the rest, of twenty five short stories and two novellas, came in somewhere between ‘1.5’ and ‘4.5,’ with a collective average of ‘2.2.’ Of course, this tabulation – fictional fantasy vs. reality – reflects a scientist’s preoccupation with data gathering and analysis. But it also shows that, on average, the stories were more imagination than objective reality. What I was actually aiming for in each story was subjective reality, a personal "aha" moment on the part of the reader.

All this is background for a deconstruction of the story, “A Scientist’s Conclusion,” for the next post. I’ll look at what parts of that story were reality-based and what parts were simply made up. I’ve been intending to do this for several weeks now, but life got in the way. I promise, I won’t wait so long for the next post and the actual deconstruction.

How much of your fiction is reality-based and how much is pure imagination?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Scientist's Conclusion - Part 7

This is the final installment of this story. If you'd like to read it from the beginning, you can start here and move through the links to this one.

Sung was not in the hallway when the committee left the room, and he was not in the Men's Room where Carl stopped on the way back to his office. Carl was almost relieved that Sung was not waiting in the office when he got there, because he really didn't want to face the student. Carl was annoyed by the prospect of having to spend another year or more working with Sung on a Master's thesis, checking on him constantly to be certain that he was performing adequate controls, organizing his data, correcting the grammar and sentence structure of his thesis, and then having to sit through a thesis defense with the very real possibility that Sung would perform as miserably on that examination as he had done on this one.

Carl stayed in his office late that evening, as usual. He tried to dissociate himself from his student's failure by working on a theoretical paper that was his secret pride and that had been put aside during Sung's exam preparation. The sun had set and the office window that looked out on the silent, surrounding darkness mirrored Carl's silent, intense activity at his desk, cluttered with references and old notes for the paper.

Caught in thought, he glanced up at the blackened window and saw an image there—surreal—as if standing suspended in mid-air, three stories above the ground. Carl wheeled around in his chair. He faced a figure standing, feet on the floor, in the fully lighted room.

"Sung!" Carl exclaimed with a start. "When did you come in? How long have you been standing there ?"

Sung didn't answer. He stood motionless, his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the floor. He glanced up at Carl for a moment, then lowered his eyes and focused on a spot near Carl's feet. Sung stood there impassively; his face, uncharacteristically elongate for an Asian, was expressionless. His eyebrows extended across his forehead in two straight ridges and his mouth was set in a straight, firm line, parallel to the brows. The flesh around his eyes seemed puffy and, despite high cheekbones, his eyes had darkened circles under them. Sung seemed suddenly strange to Carl, very strange, as if he were someone Carl had never met before, as if the scientist were seeing the student for the first time.

"We have to talk about your exam, today," said Carl, bringing up the subject neither he nor Sung wanted to talk about. "You know you did very poorly on the exam."

"Questions not good. You do not advise me correctly on questions," retorted Sung with a slightly belligerent tone.

"Well, there's no way to know for sure what people are going to ask," said Carl defensively. "You just have to be prepared and then think on your feet. You are going to have to learn how to think on your feet."

"When will I take next examination?"

"You won't. You failed the exam, but you're lucky the committee didn't just decide to fail you outright. They recommended that you be allowed to finish at the Master's level."

"But I want to take Doctor's degree."

"I know that, but you flunked the examination. You'll have to settle for a Master's degree. Even that won't necessarily be easy."

"If I take Master's degree, then I must take Doctor's degree again. How long to do that?"

"Sung, you don't have that option. Not in this department, at least. You were recommended for a terminal Master's degree and that's final."

"You give me bad advice," said Sung with a tone more hostile than Carl had heard him use before.

With that, Sung moved slightly backwards and pulled one hand out of his pocket. In the hand was a gun.

"Sung, for God's sake!"

Carl was paralyzed. His mind whirled back over all his interactions with this student, trying to find a key, a clue, that might have allowed him to foresee such a catastrophic eventuality. Nothing. He came up with only a series of missed communica­tions, but nothing that could have presaged this. What signs had he missed that could have warned him of this danger? The man was clearly mad. Why had he not seen that?  What about his own future?  What about his theory of hydrophobic interactions that was to be his lasting contribution to an understanding of organic macromolecules? What about his wife and their two-year-old son? What about his parents who expected so much of him? What about those childhood playmates who had once taunted him, to whom he had intended to prove himself undeniably superior?  How had his pursuit of truth betrayed him so utterly? How was it possible for reality to be so irrational?

"No, Sung, please."

Sung stood there, still, as if eternal. Then Carl heard a click, followed quickly by a crack of the gun that echoed blackly, a split second later, in his skull.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Scientist's Conclusion, Part 6

This is the penultimate installment of this series. The first installment can be read here.

"Harry, would you like to continue the questioning," asked Carl of Dr. Stillwell, who was seated to the left of Dr. Munster.

"Yes, thank you, Carl." Then, turning to the student, Dr. Stillwell asked, "Mr. Park, as a Pathologist, I’m always interested in the contribution of basic research to an understanding of human disease. What relevance might your research project have to the diagnosis, prognosis or management of human disease--for example, neoplasia?"

The question was a fair one, even an easy one, and there were a couple of fairly obvious answers to it. Carl looked expectantly at Sung. Whether Sung Lee Park was still in a state of shock from his prior embarrassment, whether he did not understand the question and did not dare risk having it clarified, whether he was no longer willing to commit himself on any issue, whether he had decided that all was lost and had given up—whatever the reason, Sung glanced quickly toward Dr. Stillwell, looked back up at the wall and mumbled in a low tone, "I don't know."

"Well then, why the hell are you doing it," boomed Stillwell. Then, with a shrug, he muttered, "I pass."

The exam was by this time clearly an irredeemable disaster, but for some reason, all present felt compelled to carry out the structure of the examination format like a mindless minuet. Or perhaps no one knew what to do to prevent its inexorable progression. Like machines, around the conference table, each professor asked his prepared questions and, like a robot, swaying slightly back and forth, his arms crossed over his chest, Sung responded either monosyllabically or else said, "I don't know." Only once did he begin a sentence in response to one of the questions, but then stopped in confusion and neither finished the sentence nor offered any other answer or explanation.

Dr. Vanadian, when his turn came, declined to question the hapless candidate. When the prescribed ordeal was finished, Carl asked Sung to leave the room, scarcely looking at him as he walked out. The examination had lasted just less than one hour.

The first to speak, after Sung was out the door, was Dr. Davidson. "That was the worst exam I have ever attended!"

Carl had been mortified by his student's performance, and his chairman's pointed comment made it that much more excruciating.

"The boy was obviously suffering from panic," offered Vanadian, who spoke with an accent, although his grammar and syntax were flawless.

"Nonetheless, he can't be passed if he can't answer a few simple questions," put in Munster, with a tone of sarcasm.

Carl did not feel like defending his student and wouldn't have known how, had he been so inclined. He said, "The issue we have to decide today is whether he should be failed outright or be allowed to retake the examination."

"I really wonder if he is Ph.D. material," mused Dr. Bock, echoing Carl's previously expressed fears.

"I've sometimes worried about that, myself," agreed Carl.

"He's been here almost too long to flunk him out just like that, without recourse," said Dr. Karesh.

"Would it be possible to recommend that he pursue the Master's degree rather than the Ph.D.?" asked Vanadian.

"We could," said Carl, then added, "It would take at least another year's work to tie up loose ends and write the thesis."

"It would be only fair to give him that option at least," said Karesh.

"Well, all right, how many are in favor of giving Sung the option of pursuing a Master's degree?" asked Carl.

Drs. Vanadian and Karesh raised their hands.

"How many are in favor of failing him outright?"

Dr. Munster raised his hand.

"Harry, do you wish to vote?" Carl asked Dr. Stillwell.

"No," came the reply.

"Then I will tell him that he has failed his Ph.D. comprehensives, but that he does have the option of finishing a Master's degree if he chooses to," said Carl by way of summary and conclusion.

With that, the august group rose from their chairs around the conference table and recessed from the room:  all silent, all engaged in private analyses and justifica­tions. Carl felt an especially heavy mental and emotional burden, a major component of which was resentment against this student with whom he had spent so much time, in whom he had invested so much effort, and who had performed so poorly—who had, in fact, never seemed to understand the WHY of anything.

For the final installment of this story, click here.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Scientist's Conclusion, Part 5

Sung did a good job on his oral presentation of the thesis project; Carl's coaching had been taken seriously. The presentation was organized in a logical and obvious fashion. Sung stood confidently and enunciated slowly and carefully. The questioning began relatively benignly; Dr. Karesh asked about the turnover time of the tumor line that Sung was using, which led to more general questions on cell cycle kinetics and how cell cycle data were obtained and analyzed. Next came a question on the antigenicity of the tumor line and whether or not it secreted substantial amounts of antigen into the culture medium. Carl had forseen these questions and Sung was prepared to answer them. In fact, he was so well prepared that his answers sounded as if he were reading them from notes. Carl wondered, absently, whether Sung had taken the questions Carl had given him, written out answers to them, and memorized the written answers.
Then Dr. Munster asked, "Why are you using the B-14 tumor line for your studies?"

Sung looked baffled, glanced around at Carl, then said, "I use B-14 tumor line in laboratory."

"Yes, but why do you use it," pursued Munster.

"It is tumor line," answered Sung.

Carl could not refrain from responding. "Otto, it's a fast-growing tumor line that can be made to slow and differentiate by a variety of agents. It's an ideal tumor line for his problem."

Munster turned in his chair. "It's not your exam, Carl." He then looked back at Sung. "How long have you been working with this cell line?"

"Two year," came the reply.

"And after two years, you still don't know the plural of year?" enunciated Munster with Germanic precision.

Sung was baffled, not knowing whether that had been a question, nor whether he was expected to answer it. "Two yearrss," he said with effort, the "r" and "s" sounds rolling in awkward succession off his stiffened tongue and out his pursed lips.

"In the two years that you've been working with it, has the cell line changed?" continued Munster.

"No," said Sung Lee

With Sung's definite "NO." Carl knew that the difficult questioning was about to begin, and he felt a sense of helplessness as he foresaw Sung sinking deeper and deeper into a quicksand of inadequate answers resulting from his failure to perceive the intent behind a question.

"How do you know the cell line hasn't changed?" pursued Munster.

"It has same antigen," responded Sung, ready with an answer and regaining a bit of confidence.

"Is surface antigenicity the only criterion for identifying a cell type? Could there be antigens on the cell surface now that weren't there two years ago and that you haven't assayed for? What about other criteria for identification? Have you karyotyped the line recently? Have you checked metabolic pathways?"

After this barrage of questions, Sung hesitated a moment and finally said, "No." Another hesitation. He glanced at the blank projector screen, then at the blackboard, began walking toward it, stopped, and then turned back toward the expectant faces before him. He moved his mouth a bit as if intending to say something but, apparently thinking better of it, remained silent. He put his hands on the podium and a blank expression came over his face as he stared over the heads of the examiners.

"No?  No, what," queried Munster incredulously. "Have you not checked metabolic pathways? Did you not do karyotyping? Do you not know whether or not your cell line has changed?"

"No," responded Sung, still staring at the back wall of the conference room, his face reddening.

"I have no further questions for the time being," said Munster, turning to Carl.

For the next installment, click here.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Scientist's Conclusion, Part 4

As the time for Sung's comprehensive exam drew near, Carl still doubted that Sung was, in fact, prepared, that he could ever be prepared to stand that examination and do it justice. Even in their weekly sessions, Sung hesitated to complete answers and usually refused to pursue a line of reasoning without receiving a nod of affirmation, or an authoritative "Go ahead." from Carl. Carl mused to himself, half­ seriously, that he might be able to nod Sung through some of the more difficult questions on the oral exam if the student could only get himself off to a correct start.
The week of comprehensives came and Sung passed the general written exam—not brilliantly but adequately. His specialty written exam was uneven; he had badly botched one of the three questions on that exam. Because of his performance, he had been given a borderline pass. Thus, the issue of whether he passed or failed, and, hence, whether or not he could continue his pursuit of the Ph.D. degree, hung upon the oral exam. His committee was composed of four individuals in addition to Carl: Drs. James Karesh and Otto Munster from the Biochemistry Department, Dr. Harris Stillwell from Pathology, and Dr. Anando Vanadian from Immunology. Carl was very proud of having gathered this committee for his first graduate student; they were among the best minds and greatest reputations at the institution. Their willingness to serve on this committee was taken by Carl, perhaps with some justification, as an indication that he was accorded a certain esteem as a scientist, despite the fact that he had not yet achieved national recognition.
The format of the oral exam was structured so that the student first gave an overview of his thesis project, including highlights of any preliminary data he might have obtained. Then the committee members were free to question the student on any material to which he could reasonably be expected to have been exposed during his course work and his literature search pertaining to the thesis topic. In practice, the examination usually began with questions centering around the candidate's thesis project, then ranged farther afield as answers to questions suggested new questions to the examiners. A successful exam was usually fairly brief, perhaps an hour and a half, whereas less successful exams often went on for three or four hours.
Carl had rehearsed Sung twice on his presentation and, after each rehearsal, had asked Sung several questions of the type that might logically relate to the presenta­tion. Carl had also scheduled the examination for the afternoon at 2:00 P.M., for two reasons. First, he hoped that the committee would be in a pleasant, ruminative mood after lunch, and secondly, he hoped that, since the exam was to begin fairly late in the day, it might not last for more than two or three hours and Sung might be spared some of the more probing and esoteric questions that often come at the end of a long examination.
The afternoon of the examination, two others were present in the seminar room in addition to Sung's committee: the departmental graduate advisor, Dr. William Bock, and the department chairman, Dr. Henry Davidson. Carl was not entirely surprised, since it was quite within accepted procedure for any member of the department to be present at the oral examination of any departmental student. Nonetheless, their presence made Carl uneasy.

The next installment is  here .

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Scientist's Conclusion, Part 3

The first two installments of this story are  here/ and here.

The next day, Carl announced to Sung that he would have to postpone taking his comprehensive exams until the following spring.

"But I already make one delay already," objected Sung.

"I'm sorry, but I can't have you taking the comprehensives as poorly prepared as I'm afraid you are. We'll get together and go over background material for a few hours every week until I feel you're in control of it." Carl thought he was doing Sung a real favor by mentoring him in the only fashion he knew how, by helping him to think and understand as a true scientist. 

Sung had already postponed taking his comprehensives once, because Carl insisted that he take an English course and an additional methodology course before standing for such a demanding examination.

The retraining began once more in earnest, that first Tuesday afternoon. Carl began, slowly and patiently, trying to lead Sung to understand for himself the processes of logic: the differences between induction and deduction and the types of traps and fallacies inherent in each.  He tried to teach Sung to see that it was important to ask "Why?" of everything, that there were no final answers, only answers that led to new questions.

And above all, Carl urged Sung to question published orthodoxy. This was the most difficult task of all, since Sung clung stubbornly, almost fanatically, to belief in the authority of the printed word--not only the truth of the data, but also the validity of interpretations drawn from them.

In order to make Sung more at ease in the question-answer period, Carl initially asked questions centering around assigned topics. As the sessions progressed, Carl deviated from the topic at hand in an effort to force Sung's mind to range more broadly, to synthesize information from several subjects into a coherent whole, to approach a given question from more than one perspective.

Throughout this protracted process, Sung became increasingly demoralized. The year before this, his wife, Kai-Hi, had come over from Korea after nearly two years of separation, because they had thought he would be finished in another year—or two at the most. Now the task seemed endless. Sung had taught high school for six years in Korea before coming to the U.S.; he and his wife had postponed having children so that Sung could obtain the prestigious Ph.D. degree from an American university. The money that they saved so carefully and painfully during those years was gone, and Sung's wife had taken a job as a waitress in Philadelphia's Chinatown. Everything in America was so expensive that Sung's brother-in-law had also recently come to Philadelphia to provide another family wage and was working as a cook in the same restaurant as Kai-Hi .  That made two others whose lives were intertwined with his, here, in this indifferent country among incomprehensible people, three whose visas were temporary and for whom there was not enough money for passage back to Korea.  The dream of a prestigious American degree was becoming a frightening nightmare.

The next installment is here

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Scientist's Conclusion, Part 2

(continued from part-1.html)

It was with the realization that Sung Lee did not, in fact, understand the importance (or even the purpose) of controls that Carl came to appreciate the enormity of the undertaking to which he had committed himself. That realization came about after Carl's suggestion that a drug effect on Sung's tumor-cell line might have been caused by increased cell membrane permeability or by increased levels of a calcium-binding protein in the cells as a consequence of the drug treatment.

Sung Lee thereupon went to the library to find methods to assay those parameters. After more than three weeks of hard work and experimentation, Sung came triumphantly into Carl's office with the announcement that Carl had been right on both accounts. Carl asked the obvious questions concerning the time-course and dose-dependence of the effect, and it was clear that Sung had either not considered these questions, or else he did not have the courage to say: "These are just preliminary data." It was as if Sung expected Carl to be so pleased at being told that his ideas were correct that the methodology would not be questioned. Then Carl, in what he thought was an inquisitive (not inquisitorial) tone, asked Sung:

"Why do you think your data show increased calcium-binding protein in the cells rather than increased binding of calcium to the protein that's already there?"

"No, calcium-bind protein increase," said Sung emphatically.

"How could you determine that it was increased protein rather than increased affinity?"

"Everybody say so.  Anderson do same experiment on amoebae and say calcium partition coefficient directly proportional to amount of calcium-bind protein."

"Yes, but that's in a non-permuted system. Let me see your data."

Sung hesitantly gave him some graphs and Carl asked for the counter tapes. He noticed that, on the first tape he looked at, the counts were all quite similar.

"What counts are these?"  Carl asked.

"They calcium counts from drug-treated cells," said Sung proudly.

"Where are the controls?" asked Carl.

"Controls in other experiment," explained Sung.       

"What do you mean, other experiment?" Carl's voice rose through incredulity to anger. "You don't know a God-damned thing if you don't run controls with every single experiment! For Christ's sake, what do you think a control is for, anyway? Do you have any idea?"

Sung was mute--stunned.  There was nothing in his background, nothing in his training, nothing in his cultural heritage that had prepared him for this outraged outburst by one who was supposed to be his guide and protector.

"Well...I asked you, what do you think a control is for?" demanded Carl, impatiently.

Confused, ashamed, and unable to understand why such an apparently trivial matter assumed such importance for his mentor, Sung answered, "I don't know."

"Oh, for God's sake. Come back to my office at two o'clock tomorrow afternoon and we'll talk about controls." Carl didn't have the mental energy to deal with the subject at that moment, and he also knew that Sung had become so alarmed and defensive that any further discussion of the matter at the time would be futile.

In the interim, Carl confided to some colleagues that he had serious doubts about Sung's ability to do the work necessary for a Ph.D. degree and, more importantly, he wondered whether or not Sung had the mind to be a scientist at all. One of the colleagues in whom Carl confided was the departmental graduate advisor, Dr. William Bock. Dr. Bock suggested that Carl postpone Sung's comprehensives until the next scheduled exam, which was six months hence.

The next installment of this story is here.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Scientist's Conclusion, Part 1

I'm reactivating this fiction blog. I've run out of fairly short and simple stories, or stories that have already been published, and I've decided to serialize a longer, unpublished short story.

A little background. For most of my professional life, I taught and did research in the biomedical sciences. In the beginning, I was extremely idealistic, believing that the practice of science was the pursuit of truth, and that scientists were acolytes in that almost sacred activity. It did not take many years for me to realize that this was a hopelessly idealistic notion, and that scientists are as flawed, emotionally and morally, as any other individuals. Many of the stories I wrote reflect this disenchantment, so they are not happily-ever-after stories. And because I was still practicing science, I chose a pseudonym for these literary efforts, some of which were published. I'm now retired, and anonymity doesn't matter anymore, but I'll still keep the pseudonym for fiction.

A Scientist's Conclusion, Part 1

Carl Sawyer's one-time research collaborator, George Ganon, had been an enthusiastic, imaginative man, although by Carl's standards, not a very thorough scientist. The two of them made a good team; George was full of ideas, and Carl tempered them with his thorough, analytical mind and tested them with rigorously designed experiments. But George and his enthusiasms had left the University of P... for a job in Texas, where free-flowing oil money promised better equipment and more ample funds for salary and supplies. Carl was left with the remnants of their shared equipment and with Sung Lee Park, a Korean graduate student who had been working on a Ph.D. degree in George's lab.

George had also been enthusiastic about Sung Lee--saw him as a diligent and willing pair of hands at a bargain price that could grind out answers to problems. Sung Lee didn't  want to go to Texas because his family had just settled in Philadelphia. So Carl inherited a student who was essentially finished with course work and already working on a thesis project. Carl saw Sung Lee differently than George did. Carl saw him as a moderately well-trained technician who needed to be turned into a scientist. Carl was willing to assume the responsibility for this transformation, but not without misgivings.

Carl thought both he and Sung Lee were at a disadvantage, having inherited one another. It was like taking on a half-sculpted piece of marble; the previous artist's vision can seldom be realized in another man's hands, and one who completes another's creation is rarely satisfied with the result. Carl realized the enormity of the task involved in turning a pleasant, uncritical Asian into a competent and confident scientist in the Western mold. Moreover, even if Sung did develop into a genuinely skilled scientist, it might still be difficult for him to find a good position. Carl did not have the network of colleagues and connections that a more self-consciously political scientist would have generated.

Carl took on the training of Sung Lee with the same thoroughness and objectivity that he used to tackle scientific problems. Carl began by asking Sung Lee, during their first few discussions together, to repeat in his own words what had just been said to him, instead of simply saying "Oh, yes." or "Yes, Sir." This was intended to determine whether or not Sung understood what Carl had said and could transform it into an alternative, comprehensible form of English.

During this time, Carl also asked Sung Lee questions about the research problem he was working on, which had begun under George's tutelage, and he examined the data Sung had already generated. Carl often challenged Sung's answers and data with questions like "How else could you interpret those results?" or "What could you do to verify that?"

When discussing the scientific literature relating to Sung's work, Carl often asked, "Was their methodology adequate to allow them to draw that conclusion?" or "What was wrong with the way those experiments were designed?" This line of questioning sometimes threw Sung Lee into confusion and Carl noticed that, when they were speaking together, Sung's mouth occasionally twitched visibly, which he tried to hide by drawing his hand to his face.

The next installment of this story is  here.