I did research in, and taught about, molecular genetics for 13 years, first at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and then for 28 years at Rutgers University in New Jersey. And then, ten years ago, I retired and moved to Austin, Texas. What to do when there were no deadlines, no meetings, no grant proposals to write, no classes to teach?
I always thought that I had a broad range of interests and that retirement wouldn't ever be boring. I made a list of my primary interests that would be sure to keep me busy:
This last item was particularly important since I had spent my entire life deep in a narrow academic crevice, sharply focused like a microscope lens on a tiny window of subject matter. Upon arrival in Austin Gail and I learned that the University of Texas had a program for seniors sponsored by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). The program offered three six week lecture series per year in a wide range of subjects including history, music, medicine, and literature. Many of the instructors were from the University of Texas, but some were members of OLLI who had expertise in a particular subject. It sounded like an ideal way to expand my intellectual landscape. I telephoned and asked for them to sign us up.
The person at the other end of the conversation patiently explained that there was a five year waiting list. I didn't want to wait. I was getting older fast. In desperation, I mentioned that I had been a professor prior to retiring and was willing to teach a class in molecular biology and genetics. Did you need more instructors? The voice on the other end shifted tone. Yes, indeed we do. Gail and I immediately were advanced to the head of the line. And, a few months later, I found myself in a large classroom expounding on the fine points of the subjects that I had previously taught in New Jersey.
There are five OLLI programs at the University of Texas, Sage, Forum, Lamp, Nova, and Quest, and during the ten years that I've lived in Austin I've presented about two dozen lecture series in all of them. While people have been kind and haven't complained about my presentations, after a while I began running out of subjects with which I was well acquainted. Most of my classes covered basic molecular biology:the role of proteins, RNA, and DNA in the life of the cell, or genetics, or a combination of the two. But there are only a limited number of times that I could cover the same material. A few years ago, I awoke to the realization that I could use my position as an instructor to learn new stuff. After all, the best way to learn something is to teach it. And that, in brief, is how I came to immunology.
More next time.