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Cambridge’s ‘hard work’ don is wrong – but so are his snowflake critics

8 November 2017

12:32 PM

8 November 2017

12:32 PM

We all know, I think, what we’re meant to make of the Cambridge don who sent round a memo to his students to tell them they’ve got to do some work only to find the snowflake undergraduates calling his remarks ‘extremely damaging’ with mental health activists getting especially worked up. Most sensible people will feel that he deserves some sort of award. Personally, I’m with the students.

Anyway, to flesh out the details, Professor Eugene Terentjev, plainly a scientist of the old school – he’s Russian – has sent an email to his undergraduate natural science students at Queens’ College to tell them that:

‘You can ONLY do well (i.e. achieve your potential, which rightly or wrongly several people here assumed you have) if you are completely focused and learn to enjoy the course. People who just TAKE the course but enjoy their social life can easily survive in many subjects – but not in this one.’

This might seem like pure sanity, especially when you consider the reaction from mental health campaigners at Student Mind Cambridge, who say ‘we are very concerned that this could be extremely damaging to the mental well-being of the students concerned’. Snowflakes, eh?

But before we start signing online petitions to have Prof. Terentjev made Vice Chancellor, let’s consider who the memo is directed at: natural scientists. Maybe you have never come across them, but, reader, from my experience natural scientists are in a league of their own when it comes to social skills. You can indeed meet some who are perfectly capable of engaging in normal social intercourse but, by heaven, there are an awful lot who seem incapable of eye contact. I do know nice physicists, including charming female ones, but for an awful lot of the young people who spend their entire days in the Cavendish laboratory, you cannot assume that they can relate in social settings to other people, though many do manifest a laboured sense of humour. Oddly enough, it seems to be a generational thing – this may be a product of too much time spent online – for younger scientists are discernibly worse at talking than those a generation or two ago.

These young people need help and encouragement to get out and meet people, possibly including non scientists of the opposite sex. In their own interests, they should be encouraged, indeed, compelled, to get out of the laboratories and into college bars, rugby clubs, debating societies or some other environment where they simply have to make eye contact. Professor Terentjev may lose a few potential Nobel prizewinners but, you know, he may gain some rounded human beings.

P.S. I did history.

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