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A Page or Two in the Life of a Scientist

For the past year and a half I have been writing up the enormously complex results from my four-year Post-Doc in the Chemistry Department at Northeastern University. This has been quite a challenge without easy access to a good library and more sophisticated computing facilities than this old upgraded computer which makes things much easier. My collaborator at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, found a small amount of money for me last year which covered the cost of twenty hours per week of childcare for six months. I now have two fairly good manuscripts which are better than first draft form. And a good idea about what I need to do next to both of them -- basically editing. The project involved a study of goldenrods and a beetle which specializes in eating goldenrod leaves. We were interested in a range of unusual chemical compounds in these plants and whether these had any effect on the beetles. (Some did.) Goldenrods are in bloom right now making a lovely splash of yellow all along the highways and country spaces here in Massachusetts. I have loved being a scientist and using the process of science to examine our myriad perceptions of reality BUT towards the end of my time at Northeastern I decided that I wanted a larger horizon or perhaps a different one. Discharge and re-evaluation have undoubtedly had something to do with this restlessness.

During my conscription military service in South Africa (1977/78) I was lucky enough to be sent to a so-called "homeland" to teach grazing ecology and land-use planning to rural Ciskeians in the south-eastern part of the country. The military were hoping to use our presence to "win the hearts and minds of the people." I don't think that we won any minds, perhaps a few hearts, but for me, this turned, instead, into a radicalizing experience. I saw at first-hand what a catastrophe was brought on to the lives of these people by racism in the form of apartheid, and especially how they were forced into causing grave environmental damage to their agricultural 'backyards' because of racism. As you can imagine, I have had a good load of discharge about all this. When military service was finished I went back to my old life and started work on my Ph.D. in a more specialized field of ecology -- one with less overwhelming invitations to restimulation -- Biochemical Ecology. And I learnt fundamentals counseling at the beginning of 1980. Gilly and I had started living together, and she was awarded a very prestigious scholarship to travel overseas to do some research at a place of her choice. It had to be taken up before the end of 1980, and so we ended up doing a research project on an intriguing plant-insect problem in southern France for four months beginning in November 1980 and then came to the U.S. in March 1981. And from then till Daniel was born in 1991 I have found myself getting into more and more reductionist science and more and more details in biochemical ecology. But my Ciskeian experience stayed very near to me throughout this time.

Then around the time Daniel was born I decided that I wanted to somehow contribute to the environmental debate with the perspective of oppression from RC. I kept up with the necessary reading about "International Development" and found that not much had changed in the responses of the North towards the South after sixteen years. In certain ways the inequalities were worse than ever, and most of the debate was run by economists both with minimal ecological experience and particular patterns of covertly justifying the rampant greed. So in January 1991 I wrote a project proposal to a foundation to get some money to look at the perceptions of aid recipients to covert or overt racism and imperialism in their dealings with NGO's (non-governmental organizations).

The foundation people didn't give me any money but liked what I was after and urged a focussing and tightening up of ideas. (Speaking of self-invalidation patterns: when I re-read the foundation's "we-regret-to-inform-you" letter, their urging to resubmit was much stronger than I remembered -- it was a nice surprise.) So I began talking to an acquaintance who is completing a Ph.D. in economics, but his ideas are hardly 'mainstream.' His African-American heritage has given him a somewhat different view of things. We decided that we had enough overlapping interests to submit a joint proposal. It was submitted this August. We are definitely going to submit some form of it to other funding agencies. I also decided, post submission, that we absolutely needed to have a woman as part of our team. We two males could not possibly hope to communicate candidly with Indian, Tanzanian, or Zimbabwean women, with limited field-work and given the obstructions of sexism in those cultures. It also gave me a very good reason to invite a close African-American woman friend to become part of our team and to fill that pivotal role. She is busy deciding whether to work with us, and if she agrees I will put my mind to raising money for her.

Johno Glyphis
Somerville, Massachusetts, USA

Last modified: 2020-07-17 20:50:52+00