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Failing the draft and a letter to Mrs Roosevelt


Attending Newark Junior College without finishing high school
Carl Djerassi Scientist
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So I went to a small junior college, which doesn’t even exist anymore. A junior college is really a most pure American invention. These are smaller, usually community... always community schools that only cover the first two years of... of college and are either for people who don’t want to go all the way through or can’t afford it, which was the case with me. And if you remember, at that time, the people that... in that school were primarily people who couldn’t afford it but were, in terms of intellectual knowledge, as good as any of the others. It was certainly true of, let’s say, Roth who, who... where I stayed at the beginning who eventually became a very well-known pharmacologist.

Anyway so I studied all the usual curriculum. It was clear to me always that I was going to become a physician. I, you know, I was basically brought up in a... you might say in a... practically in a physician’s office since both my mother and my father practices... practiced out of our home. They had their practices... special rooms right in the flat. In the United States you do this by taking a premedical curriculum as an undergraduate, which was a lot of chemistry and biology and you have some physics and math, but also some other subjects because there we are much broader than I think the much more specialised British system where you immediately specialise at a very early... a much too early stage. Already really in... before you ever go to universities. I had a very good chemistry teacher. He was the only teacher... I say only, this is the arrogance of a research person speaks, but I don’t really quite mean it that way because he was very simple form or apparatus and really very... it was primitive anyway chemistry in the 1940s compared to what it is now, but in a small junior college even more so. But he made up for it in real pedagogy and very good lecturing and a very... the classes, of course, were very small. Totally different to what they would be in a large university now where, in the States... where hundreds of students in... in elementary chemistry classes. Totally impersonal with teaching assistants and so on when none of this existed, of course, in a junior college where, I don’t know, maybe there were 10, 15 students in a class and it was a one to one relationship. There were no assistants or anything like that. And I did very well so I found myself after a one, practically half a year being an absolute college student and never having graduated from high school.

And, of course, I realised that once I got into that system no one would ever ask me for a high school certificate. They’d ask you for whatever university certificate I have assuming... obviously assuming that I have satisfied them that I had been in high school, which in fact I was not. So I’d gained two years.

Austrian-American Carl Djerassi (1923-2015) was best known for his work on the synthesis of the steroid cortisone and then of a progesterone derivative that was the basis of the first contraceptive pill. He wrote a number of books, plays and poems, in the process inventing a new genre, 'science-in-fiction', illustrated by the novel 'Cantor's Dilemma' which explores ethics in science.

Listeners: Tamara Tracz

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

Tags: Newark Junior College

Duration: 3 minutes, 12 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008