I’ve mentioned that my maternal grandfather was my primary inspiration for pursuing a Ph.D; it’s worth explaining why.
My grandfather was charter faculty at Valencia Community College, in Orlando, Florida. He taught physics (a subject I still enjoy, but not enough to make it my life’s work).
Update, 11 Apr 2011: Turns out he was chairman of the Science department at Valencia until he left in 1986.
In an era when “rocket science” was the epitome of a difficult, but cool, profession, he was a rocket scientist. While working for Martin Marietta, he worked with NASA on the Apollo missions, among other things. To a young boy, the only thing cooler than helping launch rockets is riding in those rockets, so it’s no surprise that I was fascinated at what he did.
The amazing thing is that he did this without officially receiving his Ph.D. He was “ABD”, as it’s referred to: “All But Dissertation”. And he had his dissertation written; it was just never up to his own standards, so he never turned it in. His father was a physician, so it’s clear that the drive for higher education runs in my family.
He died in 1991, when I was 8 years old. But in addition to inspiring me to love learning and the sciences, he left my mother (and me) the deep respect for the value of education that he received from his own father. And I know he would be proud.