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The perfect finish December 31, 2016

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, feminism, teaching.
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I saw that Breitbart was proposing a cap on women admitted to STEM programs.  My first thought was a very sarcastic, “Well, that shouldn’t be hard.”  I read part of the article aloud to Mike, the part about how women don’t leave STEM because of external pressure.

Mike jumped in, “What ever happened to that one student you had?  The one that the other professor said should switch majors…”

I knew which student he meant.  I had a freshman who, when she went in for advising for spring semester, was told by her advisor that she should switch majors.  The reason he did this was because she was one point too low on the math placement exam to get into calculus, putting her a semester “behind.”  She came to me, almost in tears, because she didn’t know what to do.  She felt like she needed to listen to him but really didn’t want to switch.

I wasn’t very proud of what I did next because I know it was completely unprofessional, but it had to be done: I told her to ignore him and that he was being a jerk.  I don’t like ripping on my colleagues, but this individual had just told my BEST student that she didn’t belong in engineering.

It had been a while since I had talked to her, though the last time we spoke, she told me she had a summer internship at a local engineering firm.  I performed some google-fu and found an article that mentioned her.  It turns out that she graduated earlier this year with a degree in electrical engineering.  Even better, she graduated with honors.

I’ve always felt rather conflicted about how I handled that situation, but at least I can leave this year and begin the next with the thought that I did the right thing.

Have a happy new year!

Married to my work April 13, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, family, personal, societal commentary.
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In the past two weeks, I have been introduced as Mike’s spouse twice in professional settings.

I usually view this as something akin to the Kiss of Death: the person receiving this news is likely to consider me an appendage to my spouse and therefore rather useless.  It’s not that I mind people know I am married to Mike.  He’s very competent and he’s a nice person, so I’m certainly not ashamed of it.  It’s often the reaction I get that bothers me.  We have both noticed that some people will make a point of talking to him and ignoring me entirely, even when the project is mine and has nothing to do with him.  (Of course, people do this even when they don’t know we’re married…)

In the first case, I found this rather interesting because it had a couple oddities relative to other introductions of this nature.  First, the person I was being introduced to had no idea who Mike was, and in fact, never did meet him.  I’m not sure why my marital arrangement was the first thing that came up, but I just sort of sigh and roll with it.  Second, I think one of the people we were with was more annoyed about the way I was introduced than I was.  While I just sort of shrugged and carried on as though nothing happened, shaking hands with the visitor, one of the other people who knew me repeated my name to the person two or three times.  As much as I’m resigned to this sort of thing, apparently other people are not, and my inner voice yelled, “Huzzah!”

The second situation was very unnerving.  Mike and I coauthored a paper which was accepted at a fairly selective conference.  The introduction to our presentation explained that we were a husband and wife team, and I inwardly cringed.  I was expecting the fallout to be very awkward for me.  What was odd is that, for the most part, this didn’t seem to make a difference to anyone.  Or maybe they already knew so it didn’t matter.  Mike has had a paper accepted there before, and I was invited to give a presentation last year, so we’re not complete strangers to this group of people.  With perhaps one exception, there wasn’t any noticeable difference in the way anyone treated him versus me.

While the “being married to my coworker” thing has it’s problems, it seems like some people aren’t letting it be as big an issue as it used to be.  It’s kind of nice to be considered a colleague and not an appendage.

It’ll make my day when people regularly introduce him as my spouse, though.  (It has happened once or twice, but not nearly as often as the reverse.)

Driving Miss Crazy February 25, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in career.
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I had a workshop in Minneapolis today.

Or…I thought I did.

I needed to attend some training, and to get there, I have to drive about four hours each way.  It’s not a huge deal.  The weather was relatively nice (aside from the 35 mph head/cross wind on the way back).  I have done day trips like this a million times before.

Except that when I got there, I found out that the training had been moved out two weeks and I hadn’t been notified of the change.

If you’re exhausted from getting up very early and being on the road for a long time, hearing something like this is bound to make you blow up at the person delivering the bad news.  I almost did.  However, I got a grip pretty quickly and asked if there were any materials that would have been available at the workshop that I could start looking at.  Obviously having a fit wasn’t going to solve anything, so I figured I’d try to salvage what I could.

The admin person was very nice and helped me find someone who could provide such documentation.  After hearing about what had happened, this person did something even better: he found an instructor for the training who sat down with me and ran through all the stuff I needed.  When he couldn’t find someone at first, I said some documentation would be helpful, so that would be enough.  He responded,

You drove four hours to get here.  I’m not going to shove a piece of paper in your hand and turn you away.

I was surprised at how emphatic he was that I get something out of this trip…and grateful.

He did find an instructor after a bit.  I was able to ask the instructor specific questions and pretty much avoid all the pointless stuff.  We actually fixed a couple problems I was having, and, better yet, I spent half the time working with the person that I would have spent in the training.  (I do feel bad that I sucked this person away from other responsibilities, but he was extremely polite about it.)

The day was still a very long day, but I definitely feel like it was worth it.  It’s always nice when someone behaves in a professional manner, but it’s beyond awesome when they’re willing to go out of their way to help you out…although I’m sure the driving bit had something to do with it.

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