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Life Long Learning and Success

THE autobiographies of successful persons in any walk of life reveal one common trait and that is - they have been learning life long and that too new things and vocations. And they are never stagnant in their knowledge bank and are very vibrant people. They are never tired of asking questions in pursuit of knowledge. The 1969 Nobel laureate in Chemistry Sir Derek Barton says, "Never repeat a reaction that is already known. Bring in a new element in whatever you have been doing." He has been doing so many different reactions and is rated highly for another Nobel prize.

Dr Ralph Laundau, the great chemical engineer from the USA took another degree in economics at an advanced age and is a consultant in that area too. He was recently bestowed the Othmer medal, instituted in the memory of Professor Don Othmer of the Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia fame. Rabindranath Tagore learnt painting at the age of 42 and became famous. Another Nobel laureate Professor Brown of Purdue University got Nobel prize for his work done after formal retirement. Professor Linus Pauling received two Nobel prizes, one for Chemistry and another for Peace. He worked thereafter on Vitamin C till the age of 92. He was so much involved in research on Vitamin C and was supposedly angling for another Nobel. George Burns, the famous comedian of American cinema used to say that he is learning new facets of acting and comedy. He had booked in 1983 the Royal Albert Hall in London for his 1 00th birthday in 1997 for the George Burns Show. Unfortunately he could not do that show due to some bone fracture. He died in sleep shortly after his 100th birthday. He used to joke that he would tell his doctor that he hoped that his doctor would be around for his 100th birthday. AnotherAmerican comedian Bob Hope is still going strong at 96 and comes up with new programmes all the time. Our own Morarjibhai Desai became the Prime Minister at the age of 84 and lived to be 99. Folks, close to CHEMICAL BUSINESS, the grand old man (GOM), Editor-Publisher R.V. Raghavan is still working hard at the age of 80. Why not call all these people GEM (grand elderly men), which they are? All this account is to drive home a point - all successful people learn new things all the time no matter where they work and in what profession.

Creativity has no age limit and one can learn anything at any age. Only tile desire must be there. Contrast this with the typical Indian society. Although life expectancy has grown still the retirement age is 58. In our society, the retired persons are looked down upon as a burden on the family and many feel unwanted. No wonder, many salaried persons die within a short time of their retirement, unless they have taken a new assignment or engaged themselves in a totally different area. The business class and the politicians live longer and in fact in most of the countries so-called oldies are at the helm of affairs. (The usual control on one's diet and regular exercise is another way of living longer. In this context a book by Marie-E. Schulz-Allen on "Ageing and Human Longevity" could be referred. It says longevity is a combination of sweat and a low cholesterol diet. Intellectual stimulation also plays a part in keeping one alive. But that has nothing to do with success.) I know some academics who would not like to learn anything new. They curse the computers and would never try their hands on a new thing. One academic was literally counting the number of days for his retirement and whenever I met him he would say x days to go. The retirement syndrome in India is a topic for a Ph.D. thesis.

The American Chemical Society recently honoured "ACS Heroes of Chemistry" 37 chemists, chemical engineers and those working in chemical sciences related jobs, for their innovations which ultimately resulted into inventions of new manufacturing processes to help mankind, to combat environmental pollution. All but one amongst these researchers are working in an area different from their Ph.D. research.. They admitted that they have been learning new skills and techniques all along. If a scientist or engineer does not learn, it could have a serious implication upon his career. These are creative professions. It was found that the German chemical industry and universities suffer from the lack of entrepreneurial spirit and flexibility and people do not want to take on new jobs. People's failure to commit to change and continuing education has led to huge economic problems for Germany (CEN, April 21, 1997). Never late to learn anything.

By DR. G.D. YADAV, Chemical Engineering Division, University Department of Chemical Technology (Autonomous), University of Bombay, Mumbai.
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