Imperial , Geniuses & Me
How old is your school?
While I was there, I knew it was an old and important school, but I had no idea to what extent. It's not anywhere as old as Oxford, or even Cambridge, but it is over a century old. It is even older than that. It was formed in 1907 from much older institutions by Prince Albert - the German consort of Queen Victoria.
The Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine became the single largest institution of higher learning when it was merged with a whole bunch of teaching hospitals in London. Itself being a part of the "University of London" makes that a colossal university and easily the world's largest.
Most universities have normal people teaching there. Not Imperial. It's almost as if you have to be some kind of inventor, world renown science or technology expert, an aristocrat or crazy scientist style medical academic to teach there. At least two of my professors, yes actual professors not the American style ones derived from the fact that 'professor' means 'teacher' in French, had invented something major. One of them devised a whole knew surgery technique using robotics, endoscopy and MRI. The other one had figured out how to regrow teeth from the jaw bone but that sort of thing requires decades of human trials before they ever see the light of day. Crazy people.
My course mates were younger, yet accomplished versions of our teachers. One of them, Aoife, a humble and extremely pleasant Irish lady, was unequivocally one of the smartest people I've ever come across in my life. She was so brilliant that we had people travel from as far as Japan to check out her research after reading her paper. Then there was Nasia, a meticulous Greek lady with the world's cleanest handwriting. If I ever needed a kidney transplant (God forbid), I would hope it was someone like Nasia that did the preparation. Ah, and my Sri-Lankan buddy, who's name I do not remember but it was something very long, was just naturally gifted. He never studied, never prepared for anything. He simply walked into every exam and calmly achieved a distinction. Crazy people.
Me, I just kind of went through the whole experience passively. I don't think I was as hungry as the rest. I did quite well though, but I could have done a lot better if I'd just put a little more effort into it. Halfway through my dissertation I realised I had picked the wrong project. I lost interest in it and wished I'd picked something less medical and something more technology based. The aim of my project was to write code to scan thousands of mammographs to try detecting calcifications early, thereby flagging possible cancerous cells. A kind of breast cancer early detection system. There was just too much medicine and too little actual computing involved since I had to also acquire the mammographs from the Radiology department. Too much medicine and too much politics.
The code didn't do that well in the end. I wrote it in Matlab - a stunning programming language for medics and engineers. I enjoyed the coding process and learning about image processing. I even enjoyed finally applying all the dy/dx derivative mathematics I'd learnt in secondary school in real life. The code just didn't do what it was supposed to do. The main issue was flagging too many false positives. I think the code kind of reflected my mindset at the time; false positives are better than false negatives. Who knows.
The awe I have for Imperial is retrospective. Like I said, when I was there, I didn't actually realise how great the place was. I didn't realise that the giant clock in the foyer on the way into our department was invented by one of those people you read about in history books - the Isaac Newtons and Heinrich Hertzs of their day. Neither did I know that some of the labs in which we conducted experiments were the same very ones where some of the world's greatest inventions happened. Anyone that went to Oxford or Cambridge probably understands what I'm going on about. I had no idea at the time. Only now do I look back and think "no way!"
The environment itself didn't freak me out either. I went to primary and secondary school with these crazy kids. I was already very accustomed to their kind - the one hundred percenters. I wasn't actually ever in a "gifted" school and even though my family moved around internationally a lot, I always found myself in class with these gifted kids. It was a little frustrating because it meant I was never at the top of my class, ever. I lived in that little bracket juuuuust above average. There was one term when the stars aligned and I came 6th position (out of 40 kids) but that was once and never repeated.
I visited Imperial a few months before COVID kicked off and took some photos. I even wrote about it on the old blockchain. Everything had changed from what I could see. I walked around the whole school, and even around my old department and I could see a lot of additional buildings had gone up and new structures had been built to merge the compound into a more cohesive, self-contained building. I wondered if the students were still as smart and over-achieving as when I was there so many years ago. Is there a genius Aoife or meticulous Nasia or even a passive Ade who's not working as hard as he possibly can, and then a little bit harder?
Peace & Love,