Ego Integrity? 3/8 Did YOU have University with benefits!

This is the third in a series of eight “old age” reflections on this period of my life. (The process and place of such reflections is described in the final paragraph.) It conjures up the words, academic, scientist, logic, loyalty, gratitude, comradeship, grafting, organised, systematic, love. I hope you can spot them in the post. Slowly but surely I’m becoming a different person.

I sat down across from the Doc and just blurted out that I intended to leave my job and go to university. He just nodded, puffing on his pipe, and asked me the obvious questions, where, when, doing what, how long, did I have a grant? I was surprised at how long we sat discussing this, he wasn’t interrogating me but showing genuine interest. At the end he said he had plenty of contacts and might be able to have a bit of influence regarding grants, to give him a bit of time and he’d see what he could come up with. I left his office feeling glad that was over, we had developed a good friendship over the past year and it felt like I was letting him down by leaving. There was still a month to go before I headed for Glasgow.

It was two days later when I got a phone call in the research laboratory, downstairs from The Doc’s office and it was the man himself. I can still hear his broad Glaswegian accent; “Ah Brian, I wanted to tell you the news straight away, you’re on your way to Strathclyde and we’ll pay for you, the British Steel Corporation that is!” ….. I can also still hear him chuckling as he stunned me to silence and put the phone down.

As far as the details go, I was still employed by British Steel, paid my full wages for two years with tax and National Insurance deducted as usual, all fees paid direct, and given a book allowance of £50 which was rather a lot of money in 1969!

For the next two years I worked my socks off to get a masters degree, the first year being a combination of lectures and practical work in the laboratory, and the second year being a full-on personal research project. In the Department of Analytical Chemistry under Professor John Ottaway there were five of us doing the first year of the masters, three doing the second year, and two doing doctorates. One of the young women doing a doctorate was from Kathmandu and two years later would become Dr C!

At the end of the two years I had an MSc, an offer of a job as Deputy Chief Chemist at a large steelworks in Scotland and had married Dr C. All sounds idyllic but for one problem ……… how do I tell The Doc at Shotton Steelworks that I might not be coming back, god help me! I phoned him up and started to explain ….. but he wouldn’t let me and said this was too important to discuss by phone, that he would travel up to Glasgow overnight, and wanted to meet over breakfast at the North British Hotel in Glasgow at 7.30am the next morning.

I found him in the breakfast room the next morning and joined him over a plate of kippers! He hardly spoke a word until we’d both finished eating. Then here is what he said to me, words I will NEVER forget:

“You’ve done well, nae doubt about it, and this deputy chief chemist job you’ve been offered is fantastic. I’ll not stand in your way, we’ll call it a transfer across the Corporation. But I’m not pushing you out of Shotton Steelworks, there’s a big job waiting for you there too if you want to come back. But …… there’s a third option ….. you can stay on at Strathclyde and do a doctorate yourself to catch your wife up …… we’ll pay of course!”

He chuckled of course, and lit his pipe, still allowed in restaurants in those days. What would you have done? Here I was a working class country bumpkin from a small mining village in Cumbria being offered something I had never dreamt of by the top research scientist at British Steel Corporation who was laughing at the stunned look on my face. From memory, in those days only the top 2% of science students with honours degrees went on to achieve doctorates and I was bloody determined to join them! So I did.

Three years later, Dr C and I packed all of our belongings into the back of a clapped out Morris Traveller and drove from Glasgow to North Wales where a few weeks earlier we had bought our first house. After a couple of days I turned up at the Shotton Steelworks Research Laboratory and walked up to The Docs office ……. “Come in Doc, lets have some tea” he said!

{The type of reflection in this post was described by Erik Erikson who was a psychologist and existential philosopher! One of his most significant pieces of work was to propose a series of life stages we all go through from birth, with the final stage being labelled as “Maturity”. Nothing very significant in that. But …… he postulated that each stage triggered a conflict within us, a tension between two polar opposites, which for Maturity as a stage is the battle between Despair and Ego Integrity. In simple terms Ego Integrity would be having satisfaction with your past and what you have done, and feeling a sense of wholeness. Despair would be having disappointment in oneself and having regrets. My earlier post Reflections on Old Age explained this in more detail and now I am publishing a series of posts on my own Ego Integrity reflections}


Categories: Philosophy

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13 replies

  1. I love reading how your life unfolded, especially how you and Dr. C connected. Your mentor was amazing. We all need folks like that in our lives.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Our connection was an absolute miracle of coincidences, my mentor also showed me how powerful such a role is, something I have carried with me since then for the benefit of others, in business and in aid work in Nepal.


      • You were my amazing mentor and you have proofed yourself that you carried it so well through out your life..Hats off!!!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you Babita. I think that the first job of a mentor is to recognise talent, motivation and dedication because if the other person doesn’t have these you are wasting your time. When we first met I recognised all of these in you, all I did was to give you the opportunity and a safe space in which to learn and make mistakes. You made a few! 😂😂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great story of mentoring at its finest! Makes me wonder what the story of HIS mentor is.


  3. An amazing story. An exemplary example of the effect a true mentor can have on someone. Any of us who have ever been given unsolicited guidance from a boss, supervisor, professor, teacher, or neighbour know the kind of impact that can have on our lives; an important follow-up to that positive intervention is to make sure we pass it on to those coming behind us who we see have promise and can benefit from our mentoring.

    Our ages map well, but I had it given to me on a platter compared to you. My husband and I lived in London in 1968-70. I was 22. That was the first time as Canadians that we had any idea of how long it had taken (was really still taking at that time) the UK to emerge from austerity after the war. Going to Uni was something that just happened for us. However, despite those very different paths, you and I ended up in somewhat similar places. Amazing, eh?!

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    • Thank you for your lovely reply. Dr T really did teach me the value of being a guiding mentor to people who work for you. For the rest of my life I followed his example as a scientist, a psychologist, then running my own business. There are half a dozen people who overtook me!
      Certainly we seem to have ended up in similar places, fate or karma is very strange. A brief tale for you. Separated by thousands of miles and unknown to each other, my wife (Dr C) and I applied to, were offered, and accepted at Loughborough University. Then our respective bosses, one in uk and one in Kathmandu told us they would only support us if we went to Glasgow instead! So we both changed, came together, married, and 50 years later are currently sitting together watching tv!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lovely. The significant role chance and serendipity play in our lives is pretty remarkable, it’s not simply the result of good planning. I often think that the most important things we can do, besides being in the right place at the right time, are to be open to new opportunities and be willing to take risks (try new things).

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Love this one !  eSent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s important in one’s career to have mentors. Yours was clearly pivotal.

    Liked by 1 person

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