He was a professor of biomedical engineering at Hopkins. R was eloquent, with a calm demeanor. Control theory equations sprawled across his blackboard. He had trained dozens of successful students. We talked about the cerebellum, error-driven computations, his switch to rodent electrophysiology after decades of working in human motor control.
“What have you last read?”
I mentioned an article about causality.
“What have you read outside of science?”
I paused for a moment. “When Breath Becomes Air.”
“What’s one idea from this book?”
Paul Kalanithi writes that “putting lifestyle first is how you find a job—not a calling;” that imminent death forces one to find meaning; that it inspires one to consider one’s true passions; that it underscores the brevity of time.
R nodded; even smiled. “It is true. Everything is limited by time. One of my best grad students is leaving in a few weeks and I’m really sad.”
“It is rare for someone your age to think about these things.”
He wished me luck, patting me on the back before I left his office.