On top of pursuing a Ph.D in chemical biology, Knox alum Ara Kooser ’97 can now add “Buddhist Monk” to his resumé.
Kooser does not look back fondly on his undergraduate grades at Knox College — he thinks his GPA was somewhere around a 2.69 — but, regardless, he holds that he would not do anything differently and looks back fondly on the overall experience.
“The reason why I can do a lot of things I’ve done stems from my experience [at Knox] and the people and faculty I interacted with there … you get a very broad view of the world there. You don’t spend all your time just focusing on your major,” Kooser said.
At Knox, aside from working toward his major in chemistry, Kooser often visited the Green Oaks Biological Field Station off campus and participated in gaming groups and role-playing game clubs on campus.
“In the 90s, we weren’t official but we had a large network of people who did those games,” he said in regards to what is now the Gaming Information Network.
“Even if you absolutely failed at college, you can still succeed at life,” Kooser said, adding that he feels he has succeeded post-undergraduate work.
With a master’s degree in geology, Kooser is currently in his second year of working on a Ph.D in chemical biology with hopes to eventually pursue a second Ph.D in geology. Presently, he is at the University of New Mexico. On top of Ph.D work, he teaches sciences to elementary and secondary school teachers. Much of Kooser’s fieldwork for his Ph.D as well as teaching involves going outside and exploring the New Mexico landscape.
“I like New Mexico so I pick jobs that let me play outside,” Kooser said. “I love caving, mountaineering, rock climbing and cooking and that’s actually what I get paid to do.”
On top of all that, Kooser teaches a bread-making class.
“Cooking is edible bio chemistry and growing up my family was always cooking. I think food culture is really important,” he said.
Family is also why Kooser chose Knox in the first place. He grew up in Galesburg and his father, the late Robert “Bob” Kooser, was a chemistry professor at Knox College.
“I knew some of the faculty having grown up there, and I wanted the opportunity to take class from my father,” he said.
All of these elements of Kooser’s past and present have factored into his decision to become a Buddhist monk.
“You just have to sit and meditate and have a desire to accept the Buddhist precepts. One morning I just woke up and thought ‘I need to go do the monk stuff,’” Kooser said of his decision.
According to Kooser, becoming a monk involves a lot of sewing. During the process, he had to sew his own robes.
“It teaches you a lot of patience. [Being a monk] also makes you more reflective. You experience bigger moments between action and reaction, so your approach to things is calmer.”
Kooser sees his newly obtained monkhood as something he will carry with him from this point forward.
“In theory, the mindset you have when you’re meditating is supposed to extend throughout your daily life,” he said. “What’s most important is realizing and understanding that no one person stands by themselves ever.”
This understanding is linked to Kooser’s belief in open-access research. He encourages anyone interested to visit http://www.tattooedscience.org/ to view his open geoscience lab notebook.