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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).


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.