influential figure

ran into the department chair today in the elevator.  she’s an incredibly brilliant and highly successful scientist who can make you feel quite uncomfortable in the elevator with the dead silence.  but today we were exchanging a conversation!

– Hi M
— Hi
– I arrived just last week
— I know
– (?, puzzled look)
— I signed the paperwork for your appointment, so I know you’re not just passing by
– Oh
— (elevator arriving on her floor) Come by the office some time.

So, I’m invited to visit her at some point in the office 🙂 . I met her first in 1998 when she came to give a talk at my school and i was an undergraduate. She, a young ambitious highly successful scientist, agreed to meet briefly with me courtesy of my professor’s set up. It was meant to increase my likelihood of getting accepted to a good graduate school later on. I was even invited to a dinner gathering with her, though i was soo unqualified to even get any conversation started. Then came the graduate school interview, where she told me: you can go to A,B,C where you might be one of their top students, or you can come here and nobody really cares about you, and you will just have to prove yourself.” That actually was the selling point, I took her advice and dove into the department without complete proper swimming gears (and survived).

dream of thesis being shredded to pieces, 18-Feb-2008

I like that kind of attitude. In fact, i think the less people expect of you, the less pressure and the more time you have to sort out your way in life. I never really had a good conversation with her because I somehow always feel very intimidated by her. And yet, she was always there to help me out whenever I dared to ask. She was the chair of my qualifying exam committee, chair of thesis committee, talked to my parents during graduation, took a picture with me during graduation 🙂 . She once told me there are so few female scientists that it’s her duty to nurture the young ones, and that she would always come to graduation to increase the gender visibility. And when I found myself in a tough situation deciding between post-graduate positions and sought out for her help, she was very honest and forward with her answers. She’s one of the few influential people in my life that I listen to without arguing (yet) and whose advise I would always give great thought to. I surprised myself by calling her by the first name in the elevator, because we Vietnamese are raised to have the utmost respect for our teachers and professors and to always address them in the formal and respectful ways. But I think time has really changed as I find myself now in a more professional world and could refer to people i respect as colleagues! I wonder if I should humor her with dream stories where she was a part of… like the dream where she told me I had to rewrite my thesis TEN months after I graduated,

fb post, dream of being recruited for Obama's team, Nov 2008

or like the dream when Obama was elected as president and she, as chair of a good institution, was his pick for science advisor and in turn picked me to be part of his education team 😀 .

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About thả diều
writing-challenged opera-addict

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