Posted by: unlikelygrad | March 26, 2010

Deja vu

I often think back fondly to the way I was many years ago. When my oldest son was about to start kindergarten, I sought out a homeschool group and began talking to the moms of older children, eagerly soliciting their advice. With their help, I began to make decisions–what my educational philosophy would be, what curriculum I would use, etc. I loved going to the park where we met, because I knew that I would always learn something new.

And then, one day a few years later, I was having a conversation with a young mom, and it struck me–she was looking up to me, soliciting my advice in exactly the same way I’d asked questions of my older friends. I wondered, When had I become the expert? When had I gained the experience that allowed me to deftly field questions on children who wouldn’t learn to read at age 5, writing-phobic boys, and the ever-elusive perfect math curriculum? There was no one point where I turned from newbie to expert–it just happened, a little bit at a time.

I felt a bit like that today. This was the day that my department held its annual open house for prospective graduate students. I didn’t get into the game until late afternoon, when T & I hosted the environmental-wannabes to talk about our (and our advisor’s) research. There really isn’t much to see–we use a very simple (and crudely cobbled-together) detection device, assembled inside a styrofoam cooler so we can easily take it out in the field. We don’t have any neato solutions bubbling or anything–most of our solutions have to be made not long before use, and the rest are kept in the frig. Really, it’s a simple lab, though it’s turned out some dynamite work over the years.

Next another first-year student and I took everyone on a tour of the campus. As we walked between buildings, they asked us all sorts of questions: what was it like, being a TA? What were the classes like? Did we like our advisors? And what did we think of Dr. ___________(Fill in the blank with name of every professor in the department)? How much did we pay in rent? How far away did we live? What was the bus system like? Where was the best place to buy books?

Afterwards I sat in the lounge area with a couple of students as we waited for the catered dinner to arrive. One was an environmental wannabe who had lots of specific questions for me about research, my advisor, etc. At dinner, I spoke to another student, an older guy (about my age) interested in the geochemistry program.

All in all I spent about four hours interacting with the students who had come to visit. As I walked away at the end of the day, I had a sense of deja vu as I wondered how on earth I got to be the “expert” again. I feel like I know so little. After all, I’m just getting started, right? I have under two weeks of research under my belt on this current project. I’ve been at MyU less than a year. And yet they all looked up to me a bit, were desperately seeking my advice on what to do, where to go, who to talk to. I’m not sure they were talking to the right person.

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