Strange encounter with a student today. I’m the TA for one of his courses this quarter, and he came in and to discuss some points he’d lost on the first homework. As he’s flipping to the relevant page in the assignment, he says, “The TA marked this question wrong, but I think he missed how I defined this variable.”

Keep in mind that I stood up to be introduced the first day of class, I attend every lecture, and I am the one to collect and return all of the homework. I’m listed on the website (from which he must have obtained my email address) as the TA. And yet, here he was, sitting at my desk, discussing the homework with me, and somehow he hadn’t connected that I was the person who’d annotated his assignment with red ink.

I’m curious what exactly he thought my job was.  Or why, for that matter, I’d be able to help him (assuming the real TA was some fellow working behind-the-scenes).

It seems that I have difficulty making appointments for regular check-ups. Barring some compelling motivation, I just don’t schedule them. I haven’t seen a dentist since I broke a tooth a year-and-half ago, and I haven’t been to an optometrist in almost three years.

Last week I lost a contact lens, and realized too late that I was completely out of replacements. Since I don’t have glasses as a back-up (a failure I must soon remedy), I spent the last week alternating between headache-inducing partial vision and complete myopia. This morning, I was finally able to get in for a vision check-up and contact exam.

Turns out that the myopia in my left eye worsened substantially. Twice she double checked, even after I had inserted the new trial pair of contacts:

“Is this better? Or this? Number one? Or number two?”

“Number one. Definitely.”

“Really?”

In my right eye, my myopia was unchanged, but a previously uncorrectable astigmatism (so minor they just don’t make contacts for it) had worsened enough to warrant specialized contacts. When she demonstrated the difference with and without correction for the astigmatism, I was astounded. How long had I been walking around with such smear-y vision?

Needless to say, I am now enjoying the High-Definition, Technicolor world of new contacts. Maybe I should make these trips to the ophthalmologist an annual thing.

But regular dental appointments? I’m afraid that’s still going to take some convincing.

I was talking to a friend who is working on his PhD in a field very closely related to mine. He’s in a research group of seven or eight men and one woman. However, the female student has been asked to leave at the end of summer. I’m told she arrived with an impressive Masters thesis, but she simply didn’t meet expectations.

I won’t presume to guess whether the firing is justified. What disturbed me was my friend’s commentary regarding her departure. I always considered him a forward-thinking individual, but he betrayed a shocking bias when he told me:

“She was Professor R.’s first female student. I doubt he’ll hire another.”

Since the start of my undergraduate career, I’ve felt a burden to prove myself for the sake of subsequent female heirs to engineering. Though success might be ignored, a failure would surely serve as evidence for any passing naysayer. (I picture this naysayer yawning, stately idly, “Yeah. Women just can’t hack it in the technical arena.”)

Of course, I would have never admitted this feeling openly. I figured that this was just another of my abundant neuroses.

Apparently, I figured wrong.

At dinner a few nights ago, one of my friends asked about school. I explained that my professor had finally given me something to do, and I thought it would be interesting and instructive, even if it wouldn’t produce any PhD quality research.

“So…. What is it?”

I hesitated. I never know how much I should say when answering these types of questions. How much does a future physical therapist care to know about electrical engineering? I decided to give a very general, very brief description of the project. Then, because this—to me—is the exciting part, I added:

“But it has to work at 600 GHz.”

She paused.

“For what I do, that’s a lot of GHz.”

“Okay,” she sighed. “I wasn’t sure how to react.”

It’s amazing how quickly we spiral into the depths of our specialty, forgetting what it’s like to be on the outside and—dare I say it?—normal.

(Truthfully, I can’t ever remember a time when “600 GHz” would have been meaningless to me.  But then, I ended up in electrical engineering for a reason.)

First entries are always so stilted and awkward. And self-referential. I see no reason to break the mold.

Here it is. Hello world.

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