Though Nash goes to the Carnegie Institute to become a chemical engineer, he quickly finds himself drawn to mathematics. His professors are impressed by his “originality” and his “appetite for difficult problems.” Meanwhile, Nash’s peers find him “weird” and “socially inept,” and he is excluded from social gatherings with other Carnegie men.
Nash begins to lead a double life: on the one hand, he is praised for his skills as a mathematics prodigy; on the other, he is socially awkward and inept. This split persona provides the key to understanding his eventual mental collapse, since those who suffer from schizophrenia—like those who are considered “geniuses”—often have difficult personalities.
During college, Nash discovers that he is attracted to other men, a fact that is quickly discovered by his classmates, who torment him: he responds with acts of physical violence. Despite his talents in the classroom, Nash is disappointed to learn that he hasn’t been a finalist in the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, a prestigious math tournament for undergraduates. Nonetheless, by the age of 19, Nash “already ha[s] the style of a mature mathematician,” adept at solving large, general problems—more complicated than the minor math puzzles at which other students excelled.
Nash first begins to develop feelings for other men in college: these desires are considered taboo in the 1940s, and Nash struggles to come to terms with them throughout his life, often repressing them—only to lash out in cruel, violent ways later. Lurking behind Nash’s prodigy-like genius is a deeply confused, tormented individual.
Nash is accepted to Harvard, Princeton, Chicago, and Michigan for graduate study in mathematics. Though Harvard is his first choice, the Princeton faculty are more selective with their graduate admits, and in order to entice Nash, the chairman of the math department offers him a prestigious fellowship. Ultimately, Nash chooses Princeton, though as his time at Carnegie comes to an end, he becomes worried about being drafted for the war—which would certainly put his graduate studies on hold. Nash secures a summer job with a Navy research project after his last semester at Carnegie, convinced that working on military research will allow him to eventually avoid military service.
Nash’s paranoia about being drafted leads him to take on military research projects throughout his career as a mathematician. Later, after the onset of schizophrenia, this paranoia will twist into something far more vicious—delusions that he is being followed by the government.