Monday, October 19, 2009

The professor pedestal

I can never remember what I have and haven't blogged about. I did a quick search and it doesn't appear that I hit on this topic... and it should have been fairly recent.

A few months ago or so I was walking down the hall at work when smack in front of me was a face from a different time and place. I stopped her.

"Are you Mary Blah-Blah-Blah-Blah?" I asked her (she has one of those many syllabic last names that I finally mastered after months of practice).

She looks at me blankly in her very mousey all too familiar way and says yes.

"I was in your Inorganic Chemistry class at CU back about 1993 to 1994," I told her.

"Wow," she replied, "that was a long time ago."

"Yes," I said trying not to say something snarky about making me feel old, "I am sure you don't remember me, it has been awhile."

She admitted that she didn't remind me and then asked what I was doing here. I told her I went on from CU (after she gave me a sucky grade in Inorganic Chemistry) to get my Ph.D. in physical chemistry and then came here for a post-doc and was hired on permanently. She asked me what I did here and I did my best to impress her. Then I asked her what she did - "oh, I am a contractor, just trying to get hired on permanently".

You know how your college professors are up on a type of pedestal? How you admired them from afar... ok, I went to a college where classes of 250-500 people weren't terribly uncommon. They stood up there all knowledgeable and experienced-like and you couldn't help but put them on a pedestal. Even the bad ones.

Or in Mary's case... the really, really bad ones.

Our Inorganic class for majors was six students taught by mousey Mary Blah-Blah-Blah-Blah and much complained about by myself and the five other students. It was an optional class for majors and wow did it suck. Wow.

We learned how to make slime.

I learned how volatile ether is while working in a hood with another girl. She was using a flame and I was using ether. And the entire hood flashed. (Our TA should have known better.)

I remember my final project was to synthesize something and one of my final characterization steps was Phosphorus NMR. Mary Blah-Blah-Blah-Blah asked me why in the world I would use P-NMR to see if my substance had formed. I remember looking at her wondering if this was a joke? "Umm, because if my substance goes from signal to no signal than I will have functionalized the protons next to the P," I remember saying. And she seemed surprised and said, "yes, that would work!"

Of course she had to run it for me because I didn't have access to a P-NMR as a student. She... ahem... was supposed to run it for me.

Still I held my professor up on a pedestal until recently.

That pedestal? Crumbled.

It cracked when she told me she was trying to get hired on permanently. Then it collapsed under its own weight when she started asking me for work.

And I remembered her as a professor. And I remembered how she never ran my sample from my final project. And I remembered how she gave two B's and four C's out to her class of six senior chemistry majors. (I didn't get a B.)

And work?

Really sorry Mary Blah-Blah-Blah-Blah. I am funding myself and I am able to keep my project teams funded through continuing resolution this year, which is a first EVER. (Anyone notice I haven't whined about continuing res this year??) But no, I will not be picking you up on my projects.

And maybe I derive just a wee bit of pleasure from this.

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