Note #13 US Diaries 2017 

The unAmerican American – one of the most inspiring persons I have ever met.
Today we had a short interactive session with David Jacobowitz, who had attended PACT (Program for Algorithmic and Combinatorial Thinking) at Princeton four times. He was one of the participants of the first batch of PACT. Our faculty, Dr. Rajiv Gandhi, said that he was the only one from his high school who attended PACT then. He also commented that David wasn’t the fastest in the class, but he was definitely one of the most hardworking ones.
David started his talk by sharing something about randomised algorithms and how he is currently using it in his PhD at Harvard. He explained the process as simple as he could. While he was doing so, I was observing his body language. He was very shy. His hands tremored a lot. He seemed to stammer at times. He took a lot of time to think and his speech was not very fluent. He struggled to put his thoughts in a flow. Sometimes he would step back and say that he was not quite correct in the way he put it, rather than just going over it like some speakers do to hide their mistakes. He seemed to find it difficult to write on the board. He confessed that he is not used to teaching but he aspires to do it some day. Clearly it was visible that he was not a very fluent speaker and teaching was not something that he did often. 
After explaining about the topic, he went ahead in sharing how PACT has helped him. He said, “For any research to happen or to solve any kinds of problems, one needs to be good in critical and analytical thinking. PACT is the one of the best things that happened to me. The kind of Math that is dealt in Discrete Math helps one understand how to think and analyse things. People think that Discrete Math is only for Math or Computer Science. No, it is not. It is for anyone who wish to pursue anything because it just teaches you a very solid way of thinking, proving and solving problems.” David is currently doing his PhD in some area related to Biology and Physics. He confessed that back in high school he would have never imagined that he would pursue something in Biology. But doing PACT and pursuing his undergraduation at Princeton opened a lot of doors to him.
David shared a lot of areas where they use Discrete Math and Algorithms in Biology and other Science. Most of the things were very new to me. I could see that they were directly using Math in their areas of research. To my astonishment, David even said that he learnt how to write essays in a better way in the application to all the universities because he was good at Math. He said, “In Math, we don’t write more, nor do we write less. It has to be up to the point. This is exactly what we need in a good essay. Proofs in Math, enabled me to write better essays.”
Rajiv interupted to share some more things that David missed to share in his experience at Princeton. Immediately after his freshman year (first year) at Princeton, he started talking to lot of senior students and faculties and got on to do research with them. He learnt a lot and did a lot of research. He wasn’t shy to ask people if he did not understand something. His faculties could see that he was very hardworking in research. Rajiv said that David was self-motivated. He knew how to prioritise things and do his work. And he could do all this because he was hardworking and he was open to talk to people. Talking to a lot of (knowledgeable) people was the key. Rajiv also shared another shocking thing about David. He failed in Economics during his undergraduation at Princeton. He had got an ‘F’ grade in Economics. Once a person fails, he cannot get a GPA score when he graduates. He had got just one A+ in his entire undergraduation. But that A+ was in his research. Despite not getting a GPA, and getting just one A+, he got a very strong recommendation letter from his guide saying that he was one of the best research students the guide had ever got. And the guide was a very known Prof in the community. That was it. He got into most top schools of which he chose Harvard to pursue his PhD. People spend a lot of time trying to get best of grades and high GPA. But what really counts is if we had done the best in what really matters or have we tried getting the best in unessentials. 
While David was doing PACT in high school, he didn’t like History in one year. His father told Rajiv that he had told David if he gets anything more than a B-grade in history, then his father would be very disappointed. That would be shocking for most people. But his rationale was that getting more than a B in something that David wouldn’t like would mean that he is not working that hard in PACT which is something that he really loved.
David was already good at Computer Science and he could have easily opted for Computer Science for his PhD and had a smooth sail. What makes him stand out is that he thought why to take a degree in what you already know (Computer Science, in his case). Instead, why not take a course where I can learn something new. That’s what prompted him to shift from Computer Science to Biology.
The interactions between the students and David went really well. He wasn’t shy about sharing about his weaknesses and how he overcame some of them. That was so unAmerican about him because people in US generally like to keep personal stuff within themselves and not share it with others. All of us could see that he was so different. Despite his weaknesses of not being among the brightest, not being even among the average speakers, with his physical challenges, I think what his faculties and interviewers might have seen and appreciated in him would be his ‘genuineness’. He was a genuine guy and that is what reflected off him. No show off, no lies…just the Truth. I think that is what any Prof, employer, parent, friend, partner would look for – a genuine guy. 


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