I arrived at my desk a bit late in the morning and tucked my bag next to my chair and frowned at the papers lying atop my keyboard. I picked them up and hit my space bar a couple of times – Belle, my iMac, needs a bit of motivation to wake from her beauty rest.
Ken and Maria were discussing politics in the Middle East. While I’d normally be interested in their insight, I was distracted by the faxed pages I was dissecting. Perhaps someone needed to hit my space bar a few times – I wasn’t moving so quickly this morning. Then I gasped with joyful disbelief and interrupted their conversation so they could both congratulate me. I thanked them graciously, apologized for disturbing their talk and scampered to Boss’s office.
“I can’t believe they approved it!” I said after knocking and waiting for him to place his glasses on his nose. He doesn’t use them when viewing the computer and has to find them when someone enters his office.
“The IRB application?” He clarified. “I thought you’d be pleased. Congratulations!”
“But I spent all weekend absolutely positive that it was all falling apart. I really thought we’d have to fight harder to get this going. I love the IRB!”
“You do good work.” He said, expression turning serious. “It should have been accepted and I’m proud that it was. You’re well on your way.”
When we had a group meeting later that day, he made several announcements. People had abstracts accepted. Someone’s grant got funded. This guy was presenting based on a workshop he attended.
“And Katie,” he concluded his remarks, “has a paper being published in [Very Decent Journal]. She corrected proofs last week?” He waited for me to nod and for people to offer their “wow”s and “congratulations” before mentioning the recent IRB approval. “So that’s very exciting. Our first experience on this [certain toy] that should yield some very valuable data.”
And I preened with excessive pride.
After a quick drive downtown, I found myself in a different room. The generous classroom I admired last week held myself, Director and the young woman at whom I smiled last week.
This week, I nodded in understanding.
“I’m sorry I got so angry at you and said all those things last time.” She said, glancing up at Director. “I’m back on my medicine now.”
“That should help.” Director said. “But it’s important that you don’t take rejection personally. If I gave letter grades and I gave you a C or D, what would that mean?”
“A D?!” She winced and shook her head. “I would go nuts! That would be bad.”
“It would mean,” he clarified, and I frowned at his condescending tone, “that you had work to do on that particular subject. That you had room for improvement.”
“No.” She corrected him. “In my mind, it would mean that I’m not good enough. That I didn’t do enough to earn a better grade. That I’m not good enough. Again.”
I nodded. That’s what it would mean to me too. Not that I agreed that it should mean that for her, of course. But I understood what she said.
“You just need to put on steel-toed shoes.” He suggested. “When people offer you areas where you can improve, you can’t feel badly! You just make progress in that particular area and still know you’re a good person.”
She looked down.
I paused, then spoke. “I’m in therapy for the same problem.” I told her gently. “It’s hard. I know.” And she looked up at me – 10 years my junior and likely with experiences that I’ll never have – and nodded.
“Really?” Director said.
“Yes.” I said, finding myself unashamed. I understand this particular problem. It doesn’t make you bad or incapable or wrong to take rejection personally. It makes you human. At least I think so. “I have trouble when people criticize me. Or my work. It’s still difficult for me to find the strength to respond for a position of calm confidence. I’m still working through it.”
“Well, then maybe you can help with this area.” He said. “I guess I don’t really understand it all that well.”
“I’m glad I’m not alone.” The student said. “Maybe it’s a woman thing.”
I don’t know that I agree that gender plays the dominant role. I do know that it’s possible to be successful and happy and wonderful while still seeking help for some issues. I believe strongly in finding a community of people who can help each other along. It’s how I think of academia on a good day. And I’m pleased to be part – a small part – of the network that helps these women during a tough time on their paths.
I returned to campus and parked my car, hurrying toward the final meeting of the day. I waited for the elevator and went toward the conference room I’d visited yesterday with Dr. Delightful.
“There she is.” He said when I poked my head inside the closed door.
“Hi.” I said, setting my shoulder bag on the floor and my tiny shopping bag on the table. “Thanks again for letting me attend. I brought cookies since I sort of created work for everyone.” I busied myself smiling at those already in the room, shaking hands and repeating names, then unearthed the cookies I bought in yellow packages and baked the night before.
“The swirled chip ones are a bit soft.” I apologized. “But the turtle variety are good!”
Dr. Delightful launched into an explanation of how I could fit into their work and they mine. It looks as though we can merge the projects quickly and easily – I’m shocked at how easy this particular gigantic problem will be to address. It won’t be perfect, but for a first pass solution? It’s absolutely delightful.
Each of the students presented a few slides and movies, explaining their work carefully. I asked questions and murmured compliments – they do amazing research. They took cookies and we tossed ideas around and they were gentle and lovely and incredibly helpful. It’s the best meeting I’ve had in recent memory. It’s how I wish the research world presented itself more often.
I’ve been planning to go home for weeks now. There is always something to get in the way. I’m not feeling well. I have too much work. I have friends in town. I must become hairless. It’s always something.
The weather is going to be bad tomorrow – the target day for the trip home. So I debated and agonized and tried to weigh work vs. convenience vs. my desire to go home. My parents will understand either way – they know it’s a long trip for a short visit. It’s really OK. Each week they invite, and I accept and then cancel.
I sent Mom a fifth email today and announced I was coming. Regardless of the inconvenience, difficulty, missed work, bad weather. It was important. Aunt Katie is not a giant liar.
Little One called last weekend. She asked when I was coming home. Repeated after me when I said Thursday. Said she missed me. “I miss you too.” I replied with great feeling. “Lots and lots and lots.” She said she loved me. “Oh,” I said, near tears. “I love you too, sweetheart. I love you very much.”
“Be careful.” She said before she told me good-bye.
“OK.” I said, a bit surprised. “You be careful too.”
Mom said she offers a “be careful” to most everyone. I didn’t know that. Because I haven’t seen her since Christmas, I think.
So I’m going home. If not tomorrow, then Friday. Because apart from work triumphs or failures, a house that will likely remain a bit dirty and gas that’s rather expensive, I miss my little niece. But I will get to see her soon.
Today was a good day. This weekend will be better still.