I was born in the middle of a large family. I had three older siblings, all of whom were intelligent and capable and therefore generally well-liked by teachers. So it should not be surprising that, by the time I came along, I was a person without a first name: instead, I was “Chrissy’s sister,” “Jim’s sister,” and “Ruth’s sister.” If I was truly unlucky, I was just “one of those B— girls.” (My fourth grade teacher was particularly bad; she only called me by the correct name when she read it off the roll. The rest of the time, I was Ruth. Not even Ruth’s sister, just Ruth.)
Needless to say, I spent much of my childhood, even into my adulthood, trying to get people to acknowledge me for who I was, not who my family was.
I thought this would be easier when I left home, and for a while it was. But then I transferred from BigNameU to LocalStateU, where the department head was a friend of my dad’s. (They’d known each other since college; Dad had been this guy’s Organic TA.) And then, soon after this, I became Al’s mom…Nate’s mom…Lew’s mom…Will’s mom.
One nice thing about going to a small grad school is you get to interact, on a one-on-one basis, with pretty much every professor in the department. And after a year of being here at the school, HALLELUJAH!! It’s clear that here I am UnlikelyGrad. I am no longer seen as Chrissy’s sister (though Chrissy is a prof in a related field, and several people know she exists). Not Dad’s daughter, even though some people work in the same area of chemistry as Dad.
No, I am UnlikelyGrad, pure and simple, with all my strengths and weaknesses. They know I like to teach, and am not so bad at it. They know I want to work at USGS (even though the collaborative thing didn’t work out). They know me as ME. And I love it.