once in a while i’m revisited by some deep questions that surely have some background implication which i haven’t sorted out… another encounter with the department chair brought up again an unsolved mystery: why i’m beyond-word intimidated by this woman, to the point i could never quite carry out a conversation and feel afraid of being in the same space with her. The colleague who i was chatting with today recalled beamingly how she saw the department chair re-routing her walk to specifically come to say hi to me at the department holiday party :-). I always feel so honored to chat with her (dep chair), yet I don’t know what to say. It’s always this deep feeling that only when I achieve something worthy of discussion that it would merit a conversation. She’s either on her way to write a deposition to testify before congress about the importance of research and teaching science, or on her way to publish several papers (at the same time) to Nature and Science about projects she’s the PI of. “It’s important to know how to write. I know how to get a paper published quickly.” It’s not bragging, just what it is. She has now extended the invitation the 2nd time for me to stop by the office for a chat.

She and I, we went back a long way. I first got introduced during my undergrad. A young ambitious highly successful scientist, newly hired by a prestigious university, was coming for a visit to my school, and I, a young ambitious student, was arranged to meet with her. I mumbled something relating to what I wanted to work on, she nodded: “this is good work. apply to (my) school and come talk to me.” A woman with very few words. Fast forward to when i applied and ended up in her office as a potential grad student: “I see your potential. I don’t say that for flattering purpose. You can go to wherever you want and get treated nicely, or you can come here where we don’t care about you and you have to work hard to earn your worth.” Yep, that was the decisive advise. During my years here, she always looked out for me in very discreet way: a drop of email out of the blue: “td, this meeting/workshop will help you, consider going there.” or “I’m conducting this short course that can help you, can make space for you.” Always very very few but highly important words and above ceiling expectation. She trashed my 1st and 3rd chapter of thesis. Even years after, i still had dream of being in her office where she demanded a rewrite the entire thesis due to lack of scientific content :-). But yet, next to all those rough comments that help build character, there were always words of encouragement and tête-à-tête conversations of her extra effort to keep women visible in science and of her toughness to female students to make sure we keep up the good work because she knows how far we can go. After graduation, every time i ran into her at a conference, she would head directly my way and literally yanked the badge off my neck “where are you now?” One could say she’s been my mentor, from helping me make important decision in school and career path to being committee chair of thesis to reading and advising proposals to navigating the political world of research. These includes “I’d strongly advice you to consider this particular offer from institution A” or “proposal is good but too focused, you should expand by considering a,b,c” or “be careful what the potential project wants from you, make sure you’re not drifting into this narrow and single-task path”. Then of course the nice encounter earlier this year in the elevator “I know you’re back, I signed the paperwork to hire you.” Very interesting woman, not more, not less, just the exact amount of words to get the message across and yet profoundly beneficial and nurturing. It would be so nice if somehow i can shed this fear and just have a wonderful conversation with this amazing woman.


About thả diều
writing-challenged opera-addict

One Response to acknowledgement

  1. Eyesometric says:


    1. Department chair – wonderful woman.

    2. Dr. T – equally wonderful woman, just a bit younger.

    3. It really is time the “writing challenged” bit was removed.

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