CHAPTER 4 – Graduate degree

After finishing my bachelor’s degree, I decided I definitely liked animals better than plants and I needed to spend more time in the animal nutrition field. I had several university teaching and research fellowship offers, but I chose to stay at the University of Nebraska for my master’s degree and then went to Oklahoma State University. Working on my master’s degree, I was fortunate to have John Matsushima as my major advisor and he was a great mentor. He and his wife, Dorothy, were also good friends—and graduate students never have too many friends. I took several nutrition classes and more science classes, and I managed to complete my degree and research in three semesters. Some of the professors said I seemed to be in a big hurry and I told them, “You got that right.”

On weekends several of us would compete in small town rodeos. Also our college rodeo team finally got off the University “black list,” and we scheduled a spring rodeo at the Coliseum. In conjunction with this we decided to have a buffalo barbeque—and that’s where it got interesting. I don’t recall where we got the buffalo, but they let us take it to the meats lab to be slaughtered and processed.

We ran it into the kill chute and hit it a couple of times with the stun gun which did no good whatsoever. One of the team members said, “I’ve got an old Winchester in the pickup.” If I recall correctly, it was a .38-55. He shot the buffalo and put him down, but when we opened the chute gate, and I tried to put the leg shackles on him, he got up, charged around, and tore up everything in sight.

A meats lab employee who was a big burly fellow kept yelling at us, “Don’t shoot; don’t shoot,” as he chased the buffalo with a sledge hammer. Finally, everybody including the buffalo collapsed in a heap, and we got the job done, but the end result was the rodeo team was once again on that “S” list.

By the time I reached Oklahoma State University, I was pretty burned out on college. but I thought I had too much invested to quit without a Ph.D. I ended up with a major in ruminant nutrition and minors in physiology and biochemistry. Quite a departure for a fellow that five or six years previously had not even entertained the idea of going to college.

 Nonetheless, I resolved to work hard and get out as soon as possible, not only because of my boredom but also because Pat and I had one little girl, Laura, and another one on the way, Julie.

Regarding my studies, the first thing I decided to do was to get my language requirement out of the way. I had a choice of either German or French. Since I knew a little scientific Greek and Latin, I chose French and proceeded to audit a French class and study like hell. If you had an approved textbook to translate you could “test out” at any time. A month later, I took my French exam, got lucky and passed it and then started to work on my other classes along with my research.

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We had a lot of good graduate students at Oklahoma State who later did well in their careers. Even so, some of the professors were not easy to get along with. I was also somewhat unhappy because of my lack of control over my own destiny. There were several professors who really didn’t like each other, and if you were unfortunate and got a couple of them on your graduate committee, it spelled trouble.

My research went fairly well, and writing had always been easy for me, so I submitted my thesis in record time. That’s when my troubles began. I believe there were five people on my committee, and they would pass my thesis back and forth—each making corrections on corrections on top of corrections.  When I would subsequently re-edit it, one of the other committee members would make additional corrections or want it changed back to the original.

Fortunately, one of my committee members was Dr. W.D. Gallup who was a former editor of the Journal of Animal Science and renowned for his work as a biochemist as well as his writing ability. I had an office next to him in the biochemistry lab. At this time he had been ill for over a year. I finally caught him in his office one day and asked if he would have time to read my thesis. He did, and he really “tore it up” but in the end it read much better; after I made the corrections he suggested he signed it on the spot. After he signed it, the rest of the committee fell in step. They said the same thing at Oklahoma State as the University of Nebraska—“You sure are in a hurry.” And I again said, “You don’t know how right you are.”

In fairness, I’m sure I was a “pain in the butt” and didn’t fit the accepted mode of a Ph.D. graduate student. I’ve always been an independent thinker, and while I can accept authority, that doesn’t prevent me from questioning it. Also, being in a hurry doesn’t necessarily fit well with some college professors.

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Finally, most of the professors where veterans of World War II (many distinguished) and they didn’t have a lot of tolerance for a wet-nosed kid who was already accustomed to making his own decisions. Looking back, most of my professors were pretty good people (especially my major advisor, Dr. Nelson), but the fact that many of them didn’t get along well made it difficult for grad students.

I had my class work done, thesis approved and orals passed prior to my 25th birthday. There was only one problem—no jobs were available. Most of the Ph.D. graduates were accepting “post-doctorate positions,” but I swore I would never do that. I even considered going back to horseshoeing. However, at the last minute I got a job offer at the Texas A&M Gulf Coast Experiment Station and accepted it before they could change their mind. It turned out to be a great job, it paid a whopping $7,200 per year, and we were on our way to Aggie land and the Gulf Coast with a new Ph.D. and a real job.