Meeting someone brilliant

I had a great experience yesterday. I had a conversation with a visiting organic chemist. He was very easy to talk to. Friendly, interesting, and interested in my work. And he was truly brilliant. It was a fabulous conversation.

He is orders of magnitude smarter than I am. I have met many people who are better chemists than I am, and people who I think are probably smarter than I am. But within the last four or five years since beginning my independent academic career, I have had a conversation with anyone who so clearly was playing in a completely different league.

The extraordinary thing about the conversation is that he didn’t make me feel stupid. I didn’t feel that he needed me to be less good in any way. I also did not feel that he in any way felt like he was wasting his time talking to me. He was just tremendously excited to talk about chemistry, and gave me a couple of great ideas.

I found it uplifting and inspiring. It has left me wanting to work harder and to do better. Not because I want to compete with him in any way – it very clear that he is way out of my league, but because his excitement and enthusiasm was infectious.

In the competitive world of academia, it was such a refreshing experience.

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