At first glance, these could be images of distant planets viewed from across space. But no, they are photographs I took through the lens of a microscope during the histology lab in my Human Anatomy & Physiology I course. Left to right, they are hyaline cartilage (a form of connective tissue that is present in joints and respiratory tract organs); nerve cells with their dangly dendrites and asymmetrical axons; and cardiac muscle, which looks a bit like prosciutto but is in fact a miracle: striated tissue that contracts in perfect synch (autorhythmicity), without fail, until you die.

No, these are not planets. But to this humanities professor, they were an invitation to another world.

It’s the middle of the night, and yet I have just three hours until I am up again to finish studying for my final exam. I never imagined that this class would be so hard–about 1/3 of the class dropped out–or that I would learn so much. I am very tired.

I wish I could have luxuriated in the material over a longer period of time, or that I could have read and studied more. Unfortunately, given the demands of my job, passing my Biology exams(5 lecture exams and a half dozen lab practical exams) became an exercise in doing the least amount of work possible to squeak by. Of course, squeaking by has meant getting A’s pretty consistently; professorial perfectionism dies hard, or not at all. I learned so much, and yet I feel like I barely know anything…

Which makes me wonder about the basic scientific knowledge of the nation’s nursing corps. What exactly does one have to do to fail this course!? I suspect the students who dropped out were not willing (or able) to get up when it was still dark out, after only three hours’ sleep, to pour over study guides and homemade flashcards and a textbook the size of a microwave.

I really loved it, and I’m sad that it’s over. Almost over–I still have to get through this final exam.


With extra credit, I eked out a B on the exam, which gave me an A for the semester! Yea me!

I did some algebra to calculate the minimum exam grade I had to get (75%) and still maintain a robust A course average, and then I studied strategically. A few times this semester, I determined that some topics were too complex to warrant my full attention, given the limited time I had available. As such, the sliding filament theory of muscle contraction, the muscles of the arm, and several pathways of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system shall remain a mystery to me.

Today, one of the questions on the final exam was about where a particular type of nerve impulse goes after it leaves the post-ganglionic whateverthefuck. I wrote, “To the bar” and added a drawing of a martini for good measure. I had reached my limit, and there was nothing else to convey, except a wry joke at what I hope my teacher understood was my own expense.

This is the difference between going to school in your early 20s and going to school in middle age, especially after a long career as a college teacher: I know my limitations, I have too many demands on my time to give every topic my full attention, and I can forgive myself for not being perfect. If only I could apply that self-compassion to my professional life! Perhaps, if I decide to stay the course with academia, some of the lessons I’ve learned as an undercover undergraduate will stay with me.

I’m done with the A&P (for now), but I’m not going to the bar. It’s 2:30 in the afternoon, and I’m going back to bed!

If You’d Like, I’d Be Happy to Explain Carrier-Mediated Facilitated Diffusion* to You


I got an A+ on my first-ever college Biology midterm!

I loathed BIO so much when I was younger–not sure why–that I did everything I could to avoid taking it in college. I am also not particularly strong in Math, so I had this bright idea that I would learn about the stars by taking Astronomy, and I would learn about aquatic mammals by taking Oceanography. Wrong on every count!

I eventually learned, Astronomy is Math, and I had confused Marine Biology with Oceanography–which is also Math. DOH. I rounded out my science requirements in college by taking two courses in Physical Anthropology, which involved a lot of the same brute memorization that is required in Human Anatomy & Physiology.

Anyway, I am doing well, in part because I am trying really hard. But I think it’s also because I’m taking the course at a community college, and it is probably not as challenging as it would be elsewhere. It also might be that students are kind of doofus-y these days, and faculty have adjusted their standards accordingly. (It’s been a long time since I’ve taught freshmen and sophomore courses.)

Case in point: one of my classmates missed a critical email from our professor about the exam, which caused him to miss the exam altogether. He admitted, as he was pleading his case to me about why he should get a makeup (“Dude,” I kept thinking, “I’m a professor, but I’m not your professor!”), that he had not checked his college email account. WHUT? And today, when we had the exam, about 1/3 of the class arrived late, including several unapologetic young women who showed up after it was over. Everyone looked annoyed–the instructor with good reason, but the students also seemed genuinely irked that she had not held up the entire class to accommodate them.

I have no idea how other people are faring in the class, nor what will become of them (100% of the class is interested in healthcare careers). I just know that I made 100 flashcards, read every word of the textbook, poured over the lecture slides, and hunted up YouTube videos to augment my understanding.

I am so relieved that it paid off!


* I still can’t explain Redox Reactions or Buffer Systems to save my life!