Open Letters

An open letter from
a not-so-good Brahmin boy

Akshat Sharma
By Akshat Sharma
February 01, 2014

Dear Professor S.,
I hope this finds you well.
I am at a recruitment weekend for prospective Ph.D.s in the immunological and microbiological sciences. Having received my undergraduate degree in biotechnology and having followed it up with an M.S. in microbiology with a strong immunology focus, I always have known people forging ahead in academia, getting Ph.D.s, publishing, running labs, sparring with fellow scientists, attending conferences and so forth. This is all I have ever known, and I have yearned to join their number.
Why? Well, because I love science. More specifically, I love immunology. I am awed by the subterfuges that pathogens employ and the countersubterfuges of the immunocytes: The immune response is a devastating romance set to the stylings of a cytokine signaling suite.
And me? I will be the agent who discovers those symphonies, those diamonds in the rough that play in an anonymous niche of the cell, and publish papers about them so that the world will know and laud my genius and that of my findings. Of course this will happen. This is what I am meant to be. It is something I always have known.
I remember coming out of the closet. I remember it because it was the most excruciating experience I have had so far in life and also because I was the last one to know. It appeared that my friends always had known. It was evident from their lack of surprise and, for some, a sense of understanding and closure. I wish they could have given me this closure: I wish I hadn’t had to go hunting for it within. But how could they? This was meant to be my journey. That I was to embark on this journey was a fact that I was the last to know.
Today, as I sat in the unusually cold Memphis air deep in conversation with a scientist, a product of our home lab, I found myself gingerly opening the door of yet another closet: For, you see, I am a closeted writer. And, like before, I was the last to know.
My lab mates, it appeared, always had known. The scientist in question always had known. She reminded me of the essays I had written for an immunology course she’d taught and of how much she had enjoyed the way I drew parallels between the events in “Richard III” and the pathogenesis of HIV. She told me to look again at all the blog posts that I’d written and think hard about what I was throwing away.
Was I truly throwing something away? Really? This life is as awkward and undecided as someone meandering around an airport in Amsterdam, unsure of which connecting flight to take to get him home. So many revelations, and, as always, I am the last one to know.
In truth, Professor S., I always have known this: The times when I wondered, at the end of every American literature course I surreptitiously took as an undergrad, if I should change majors, now feel just like the times when I’d catch a handsome, ashen boy’s eye and wonder what if but then retract because I was a Good Brahmin Boy.
I always have known that Good Brahmin Boys do not kiss other boys. Good Brahmin Boys ensure futures of procreations and publications I am not a Good Brahmin Boy. I cannot pretend to be one anymore, because that would be akin to living a Richard Yates novel.
I felt liberated today as I confess to myself that I am not like them. My mind is not the kind that does the dogged, logical thing that they do as they plan experiments, do experiments and launch into a “Hunger Games”-esque race for grant money.
I always have known I am not a shark. I am not a shark, and that is OK, because I’d rather create. I am at my happiest when I write, more so when I write about immunology and infectious disease.
It was with these revelations that I decided to fill out this application to your scientific journalism program only to discover that the deadline is tomorrow. Well, today. And here I am: the last one to know. Figures.
I remain yours sincerely,
Akshat Sharma

Akshat Sharma
Akshat Sharma

Akshat Sharma was a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison when he wrote this article.

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