Scientific Anthology: Mediocre Scientists That Turned Out to be Brilliant


Many people have the belief that successful scientists were geniuses since the day they were born. They think that scientists were straight A students in grade school and in high school. Many, even believe that school was not hard for them at all However, it is quite the opposite. Many scientists were not so brilliant when they were in school, and is not until later that they discovered their true potential. Some scientists that are admired by everyone were simply okay students and others were not good students at all. It wasn’t until they actually started working that they became brilliant scientists. It was their hard work and passion they had for their job that lead them to be as successful as they became.

Albert Einstein

One of the scientist we most admire and became a name himself struggled to be successful was Albert Einstein. His name is used to compare people we think are geniuses. However, even if people do that and believe that he was an excellent student, he was actually not. To begin with, he had learning disabilities, making it hard for him to start talking. His performance at school was creative and he was a good problem solver. Nevertheless, that was not enough for him to become the best student. At the age of fifteen, Einstein dropped out of school. Moreover, when he tried to enter at a polytechnic school in Zurich he failed to pass (he did pass the math part, however). No one would really think that the Albert Einstein had so much trouble at school when he is known for being a great scientist. He had to work hard for him to be admitted and complete his studies. Even when he was able to get in the polytechnic school, his teachers did not believe that he was anything out of the ordinary. His performance at this school was not even average. Some people thought that he was not going to be able to even graduate. Thankfully, he was able to graduate, but only barely. Since he was not the greatest student he did not stay at a school working, but started working at the Swiss Patent Office. His greatest discoveries were not made when he was in school, but they were made slowly and with time after was able to gain experience.

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin, the inventor of the the Theory of Evolution was another scientist that struggled during his school days and got low grades. Even though in his school days he said that he already loved natural science, school was still hardship for him. At the age of 16 his father took him out of school since he did not have good grades at school. Darwin noted that for his teachers and his fathers he was a boy with intelligence rather below the ordinary person. He was also told that he was a slower learner than his little sister. His father told him, “You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family.” Darwin’s father was not the only that said such harsh things to Darwin for his poor grades, but also the headmaster of his school. The headmaster believed he wasted his time in pointless subjects. He called him “poco curante” which means slacker or indifferent person. No one believed that he could achieve success since he did so bad in school. His lack of interest in school made people doubt in him and what he was actually capable of. Nevertheless, he was able to attend college; and even if he had to drop out of being a doctor because he disliked it, he was able to study botany and become successful in what he loved.

Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison is one of the most well known scientists in history. His inventions have changed the way we live and see the world. However, when he was a child he gave a lot of trouble in school. Thomas Edison was considered “dumb” and was a slow learner since he was bad with words. Not only was he bad with language and speech, but he also struggled immensely with mathematics. Moreover, at a young age Edison had lost most of his hearing ability, making it even harder for him to learn. His mother took him out of school at the age of twelve. She was furious when she learned that the headmaster called him “addled” which means the inability to think clearly. His mother taught him at school. Later in his life, Edison said, "My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me, and I felt I had some one to live for, some one I must not disappoint." She was a huge inspiration in his life to keep working. It is because of that the he discovered what he wanted to and was able to become an inventor. One of his famous quotes is, “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” In his lifetime he was able gain the license of 1,093 inventions. Edison believed in what he was working in and thus was able to succeed. He was extremely successful, regardless all the struggles he had to go through in his life time.


Alexander Graham Bell 

Dyslexia is a disease that affect a lot of people, and the way they learned. Scientist and inventor, Alexander Graham Bell suffered of dyslexia. This affected his performance in school. His grades at school were not even average, but overall were overall bad grades. When he was 11 years old he entered school, but left four years later without graduating. His grades were not so well, but he still found joy in studying science. He also built his first machine at the age of 12. He left since he disliked the curriculum and his grandfather continued to home school him. This home-schooling seemed to be the best option for Bell. Since school did was not the place were Bell was showing his true potential. He then started college, but did not complete his studies since his family moved again. Even though he only received a few years of formal education and had no good grades, his motivation was still there. His dad and grandfather worked with the deaf, and his mother was deaf. This made Bell try to be successful in that field and tried to invent something to help his mom. He was a teacher of the deaf, but also had a great mind to invent. This motivation lead him to the invention of the telephone. He might of failed in school and suffered from dyslexia, but his motivation made him successful in what he actually enjoyed.

Sir John Gurdon

In October 2012, Dailymail published an article about Nobel Prize Winner Sir John Gurdon. Sir John Gurdon, won a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The article spoke about the myth that someone with a Nobel Prize has always been working hard and striving for success. This goes the same for a successful scientist. However, Sir John Gourdon did not have success in his early years at school. He was ranked last of 250 students in his biology course, and ranked last in every science course as well. He was labeled “too stupid” for science at school. His teacher even once wrote, “I believe he has ideas about becoming a scientist, on his present showing this is quite ridiculous; if he can’t learn simple biological facts he would have no chance of doing the work of a specialist, and it would be a sheer waste of time, both on his part, and of those who have to teach him.” He believed that he had no chance in pursuing in pursuing this career. He was only able to study zoology because of a mix up with his university, and then later, was able to keep pursuing the career. Until he was able to publish his discoveries on genetics and proved that every cell had the same genes. After having his teacher believe that he was the worst person for biology, he was able to make a huge discovery and move on to do many accomplishments in the field. Moreover, 64 years later, he was recognized with a Nobel Prize.

Peter Higgs 

Higgs Boson

Image courtesy of Live Science

Peter Higgs is a Nobel Prize winning physicist, but he was never the best physics student. The theoretical physicist said that “ he did not perform well” at physics when he was a pupil at Cotham School in Bristol. He was quoted saying: “While at school in Bristol, I wasn’t very inspired by the physics that was taught in those days. I found chemistry much more fun and I clearly had some mathematical ability. Not only did I find the physics that was taught in my school days as not very inspiring, but I didn’t perform particularly well in it. I got prizes at school for languages, English, Mathematics and chemistry but never for physics.”

Peter Higgs won a Nobel Prize in 2013 for his work in Physics for his part in proposing a mechanism that gives particles mass. Mr. Higgs has also been credited for his work in the discovery of a new particle. While experimenting with the Large Hadron Collider at Cern in Europe, he proved the discovery of a new particle now known as the “Higgs boson”. His recent work has inspired new and young physicists as he understands how sometimes its tough to find inspiration in physics.

Michael Faraday

Michael Faraday grew up being the son of a blacksmith. With that being said, he grew up very poor and received very little formal education. Because of this his math skills left a lot to be desired, but it didn't stop him from being a maverick in the field of science. In 1846, he proposed that visible light is a form of electromagnetic radiation , but his colleagues disregarded this hypothesis due to the fact that he couldn't do the math to back it up. His hypothesis was proved correct 18 years after, and was a blockbuster discovery in the field of science.

He also has been called the father of modernity. He has many notable discoveries and inventions that we still value to this day including the electric motor and the electric generator. He vastly contributed to the field of electromagnetism, created the rubber balloon, and paved the way for modern day refrigeration technology. Throughout his scientific tenure, he actually made a large amount of discoveries and inventions. The simplest and maybe most notable invention however, was the “on” button. He was never able to crunch the numbers, but left a big impact on the field of modern day science.

Video courtesy of Education Commons

E.O. Wilson

E.O. Wilson claimed to be the product of a poor southern school system. He admitted that he “didn’t take algebra until my freshman year at the University of Alabama … I finally got around to calculus as a 32-year-old tenured professor at Harvard, where I sat uncomfortably in classes with undergraduate students only a bit more than half my age. A couple of them were students in a course on evolutionary biology I was teaching. I swallowed my pride and learned calculus.” While playing catch-up, he was “never more than a C student.”

Wilson is Notorious for the being the worlds top sociobiologist on ants. He has published over 13 books ranging from biology, to evolution, to philosophy, and admitted in his last book, Letters To A Young Scientist, that math was never his forte. He has had many breakthroughs in the field of sociobiology and evolution, regarding how ants communicate, evolve, and adapt in different environments. He has been called the foremost proponent of sociobiology, and has won many different awards for his work including a Pulitzer Prize and a Crafoord Prize. Despite not being able to crunch the numbers, he used all of his other strengths and became one of the most influential sociobiologists of all time.
“Very often ambition and entrepreneurial drive, in combination, beat brilliance.”
― Edward O. WilsonLetters to a Young Scientist 

George Green

George Green was a mathematical physicist from Britain during the late 18th and mid 19th century. When he was growing up he actually only received one year of full schooling. When he was 8 years old, he attended Robert Goodacre's school in 1801. He only stayed for 4 terms ( 1 year ) and then proceeded to leave and work in his father’s bakery. He then worked a corn mill his family owned until he was 40 years old, providing for his family at the time. He accumulated enough wealth to support his family that he decided at the 40, to go to Cambridge to earn an undergraduate degree in mathematics. Whats more interesting than that however, was the fact that he published Green’s functions, before he actually attended Cambridge.

In 1828, Green published an essay on the Application of Mathematical Analysis to the Theories of Electricity and Magnetism, which is still extremely significant in the physics field today. Every second year undergrad pursuing physics will run into this theorem in their electricity and magnetism class. Although he was a prodigy at math and science, he still struggled with classes such as latin and greek. He was the least educated among all of his classmates, but still has a lingering impact in the field of math and science to this day.

Video courtesy of Harvard AM 105

Isaac Newton 

Isaac Newton was born in Woolsthorpe, England in 1643. His father died three months before he was born, so Isaac was forced to work on a farm by his mother when he was 12 years old instead of attending school. However, Isaac miserably failed at farming and convinced his mother to let him attend Kings School before attending Trinity for College. While at Trinity, he was not the best student; he never earned honors credit or any distinctions. He was very interested in Philosophy, so instead of doing the work he was assigned, he would spend his free time reading and writing about philosophy. His grades were affected by this, but he would go on to discover some of the most important scientific breakthroughs ever.
“In 1687, after 18 months of intense and effectively nonstop work, Newton published Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy). Said to be the single most influential book on physics and possibly all of science, it is most often known as Principia and contains information on nearly all of the essential concepts of physics, except energy.” - 

Newton’s three laws of motion were one of the biggest breakthroughs in science and physics. His three laws of motion ( inertia, acceleration, and action and reaction ) remain a cornerstone of modern physics. Also, the law of universal gravitation Newton put forth, theorized that all particles in the universe exerted some sort of gravitational force. Newton is widely regarded as one of the greatest physicists of all time, and rightly so.

Three laws of motion

Image courtesy of Electronic Products 
John R Horner

John R Horner (Jack) has become a well-known paleontologist in America through his many television appearances and consulting work on all of the Jurassic Park movies. Even though he has an impressive list of accomplishments, including his current position as curator of Paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies and Regent’s Professor Montana State University, Horner had a very difficult time with conventional education and never earned a college degree.

Horner grew up in Montana where he developed a love for paleontology and at eight years old found his first dinosaur bone. Even though he struggled severely through school he attempted to study geology at Montana State University.  Reading and writing were very difficult for him and Horner left Montana State after one year. He joined the US Marines and served in Vietnam as a Special Operations Marine.  After Vietnam Horner worked a variety of jobs, but continued to learn and explore paleontology.  He did attempt to complete his degree at Montana State, but once again failed.

In 1975 Horner was hired by Princeton University, at their Natural Museum as a researcher.  It was there; in 1976 at thirty years old, Horner was diagnosed with dyslexia. He finally understood why formal education had been a tremendous struggle for him.  At Princeton, Horner was able to explore and research. He expand his knowledge to be become the leading expert in Dinosaur behavior. In 1980 Horner received National Science Foundation funding, and lead an expedition in Montana where he discovered the first North American dinosaur egg.  He continues to follow his passion and is attempting to isolate dinosaur DNA in an effort to grown the DNA in a bird egg.



"Jack Horner." Famous Scientists. N.p., 26 Sept. 2015. Web. 09 May 2016. <>.
Stephen Hawking

Picture2 hawking

The fascinating Stephen Hawking was considered a talented student, but was not by any means expected to become the modern rock star of physics.  Hawking was born in Oxford, England in 1942.  Both his parents were educated at Oxford and encouraged their children to be critical thinkers from a young age.  During his early education he did not show any remarkable achievements and at one point was almost at the bottom of his class at high school.  Although his grades weren’t high marks, he spent a lot of time reading and researching his interests in the cosmos.  Hawking described his educational years as “unhappy.” What is clear from his statements and teacher observations is that Hawking was capable of achieving great academic success, but in his early years and at Oxford he was more interested in following his own passions than giving attention to class work.

Considered an average student at Oxford University, Hawking aggressively studied physics and went on to study astronomy at Cambridge.  At twenty-one years old he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and still became the greatest known quantum physicists.  He expansion of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, Big Bang theories, and studies of Black holes has changed our understanding of our universe. In 1988 Hawking wrote “A Brief History of Time” which became his first best seller. The book made Hawking famous in the general public, many of which had no significant physics education.  Even though Hawking’s current health is delicate, his breathing and mobility are mechanical, he still communicates through a computer. No one has ever survived with ALS as long as Hawking, and its become a question for medical researches as to why he has lived into his seventies.

"Stephen Hawking." A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 10 May 2016. <>.

"Stephen Hawking Biography." Notable Biographies. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 May 2016. <>.
Benjamin Franklin


Benjamin Franklin became one of the most famous people of American history; he was an accomplished writer, statesmen, inventor, and philosopher.  Though he didn’t necessarily struggle with education, he had very little formal education. He was born in 1706 as the tenth son to Josiah Franklin.  Josiah Franklin was a soap maker and had no money to pay for Benjamin’s education for more than two years.  Even though Franklin may have been a successful student, his struggle was lack of opportunity to attend a learning institution.  However, Franklin didn’t let that stop his from becoming very educated, he read and studied ardently on his own.

However limited in opportunities for a paid education, Franklin was an avid reader and very curious about many subjects.  He applied himself to being self-taught and through his apprentice print job became a published writer. By the time he was twenty-seven he was the well known writer of “Poor Richards Almanac”. Franklin’s passion to learn and create never waned in his life, he was always a problem solver and thinker. An example of this is at the age of twenty four he invented bifocal eye glass lenses to solve the problem of near and far sighted people requiring two sets of glasses. During the summer of 1743 Franklin meet Dr. Archibald Spencer and became fascinated with his demonstrations on static electricity.  Franklin dedicated his energy into learning all he could about electricity and defined how the positive and negative electric “fluids” moved.  Franklin was also an advocate for education and helped found the University of Pennsylvania.  Famous for the many areas of life that he contributed, Franklin is a stellar example of someone who didn’t allow a limited formal education to inhibit his abilities.

"Benjamin Franklin." Famous Scientists. N.p., 01 July 2014. Web. 10 May 2016. <>.
Gregor Mendel

Gregor Mendel is often accredited as the founder of genetics in the science world. Before he went on to discover and document his findings he strove to become a school teacher. After failing the test required to become a teacher several times Gregor decided to focus his efforts on experimenting in the garden while remaining involved with the church. His failure to strive in the traditional academic world impacted his confidence as a man of science, but didn’t stop him from accomplishing more.

While working for the church Mendel spent lots of time experimenting with plants, specifically pea plants. His primary focus revolved around examining the various shapes of pea plants, which led Gregor to find that some plants adopted recessive or dominant genes. His findings were published successfully into a scientific journal, but unfortunately did not gain any attention or recognition. During his lifetime his understanding of genetics was not accepted by the science community.

Long after his death Mendel’s reports were finally accepted as significant, and he was recognized as the founder of modern genetics. Mendel’s most famous contribution to science is now know as Mendel’s Laws of Inheritance. While Mendel failed in some areas he strived in others, which is why his story is particularly interesting. To his disappointment most of his colleagues rejected his beliefs, and he probably never imagined his documents would become so noteworthy. Mendel’s story is very motivating, because his circumstances are very relatable, and give hope to those struggling with academics or acceptance from others.


Jurado, Anthony, and Nessa B. Wilson. "5 Famous Scientists Dismissed as Morons in Their Time." N.p., 21 Nov. 2010. Web. 09 May 2016. <>.

"Gregor Mendel." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 09 May 2016. <>.

Craig Venter                                  pic 4 craig

Craig Venter was the first man to sequence the human genome, despite his unsatisfactory middle and high school report cards. While growing up Craig did not concern himself with obtaining good grades, and instead spent his time in the water. Venter was not foreign to very poor grades, until he found a true drive to excel at something he cared deeply for. Although he struggled early on he pushed through and graduated from High School, and was later drafted during the Vietnam War. While in Vietnam Craig served in a hospital, where he cared after patients with horrific injuries. During this period of his life Venter grew an appreciation for medicine. After returning from the war he enrolled in a local community college to pursue his interest in biology. Venter went on to transfer to the University of California, San Diego, and later received his BS and PhD.

Craig faced many difficulties throughout his academic career, but still managed to become an accomplished scientist with many substantial discoveries. In 2007 and 2008 he was listed in Time Magazine’s top 100 most influential people. It comes as a great shock to many people that Craig placed so little interest in education early on considering his range of achievements. His story exemplifies the importance of developing passions in life, which encouraged Craig to further his education with more attention. Conceivably this is the exact reason why many students are encouraged to take a gap year before attending college. There are many life experiences to gain through traveling and living in different environments, which have the potential to give rise to hidden passions.


"Craig Venter." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 May 2016. <>.

"Research Interests and Accomplishments." JCVI: / Bios / J. Craig Venter. J Craig Venter Institute, n.d. Web. 10 May 2016. <>.


These scientists are a testament to the fact that being a straight A student isn't the only path to success. With hard work, perseverance, tenacity, and dedication, you can achieve whatever it is you set out to do. People are not bound by their grades from adolescent years. You have the opportunity to go out and make the most of what you have, its up to you on whether or not you will make the most of it. All these scientists had bumps in the road, but ultimately found their passions, and pursued them while taking the world by storm in the process. The world is a very different place because of these scientists, and its all because they kept a positive attitude, and followed their dreams. Grades don't define the person, attitude and hard work define the person. Report cards should never stand in your way; find your passions, and pursue them. Life is too short to be deterred by report cards. Do what you love, and don't let anyone tell you know. If you do this, you'll illuminate the world with knowledge, just as these scientists have.

Scientific Anthology: Mediocre Scientists That Turned Out to be Brilliant

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