Tonight, I took a little trip down memory lane and read some of the old posts on my college fraternity's message board. As I remembered old friends and acquaintances, I was struck by how different my social circle is now than it was in college. In college, I hung out with a few science majors, but I had even more friends who studied the arts, literature, history, and politics. Thanks mostly to my involvement in Phi Sigma Pi, I was surrounded by one of the brightest and most diverse groups of people that I've every had the privilege to know.
Things are a bit different now. My friends are every bit as intelligent, but they're also almost entirely from the graduate school at BCM, which is anything but a diverse institution. Don't get me wrong, it's a great place to do science, but it's a research institution, not a college campus. It's very much a monoculture of highly rational and highly focused individuals. People are here to focus their time and energies on research in one very specific subdiscipline, and as a result, they tend to experience tunnel-vision.
After 18 months of immersion in this culture, I sometimes feel like I'm losing my ability to zoom out and see the world through from different angles. I miss talking philosophy over lunch and then catching a crazy play in the evening. I miss walking through the art gallery while arguing about the inherent flaws in communism. Mainly, I miss talking with people who provided an alternative perspective to my own, and thus complimented my talents. That circle of friends was really a place where our whole was greater than the sum of our parts.
I try to fill these holes by reading on diverse topics and hitting up the occasional jazz concert or art show, but doesn't even come close to replacing the ubiquitous diversity that you find on liberal arts campus. I'm beginning to realize that I took much of my time in undergrad for granted, and beginning to understand how fortunate I was.
All bemoaning aside, this really has two effects on me. The first is that it makes me realize that I need to work harder to seek out more diverse events and people here in Houston. The second is that it really strengthens my desire to get back on a small campus, in a teaching role this time. Tier I research schools are great for funding and great for research, but I need more than this culture can offer.