THE MAKING OF A PHYSICIST: A Talk With Murray Gell-Mann

From Edge:


In June, 1948, I graduated from Yale and prepared to enter graduate school in physics in the fall. The results of my applications were very disappointing. Harvard admitted me but offered no financial aid. Princeton turned me down flat. At Yale, I was admitted to graduate school in mathematics, but not in physics. The one encouraging reply from a physics department came from MIT. I was admitted and offered the job of assistant to a theoretical physics professor named Victor Weisskopf, of whom I had never heard. When I inquired about him, I was told he was a wonderful man and an excellent physicist and that everyone called him by his nickname, Viki. He wrote me a very nice letter saying he hoped I would come to MIT and work with him.

I was still discouraged, though, about having to go to MIT, which seemed so grubby compared with the Ivy League. I thought of killing myself (at the age of 18) but soon decided that I could always try MIT and then kill myself later if it was that bad but that I couldn't commit suicide and then try MIT afterwards. The two operations, suicide and going to MIT, didn't commute, as we say in math and physics jargon.

More here.