Physics: March 2007 Archives

Psychophysics Freakout

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I currently have the best job I've ever had in my life, as a teaching assistant in the physics department at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Twice a week, I give a lecture on basic Newtonian physics (classical mechanics, mostly, plus a smattering of thermodynamics) that runs somewhere between 25 and 40 minutes. Following that, I assist anywhere between one and two dozen students through experiments using the material from my lecture. Each student turns in a writeup on the lab experiment a week later, which I then grade and hand back a week after that. I love my job. I really do! I love teaching, I love helping students, and I love physics at the level I teach. The money's not bad at all, either. But I've also been in a lot of jobs that weren't so great. I spent years in corporate America, where being five minutes later could mean a thirty minute lecture, or not making someone ultimately happy could mean your ass. That sort of experience fosters a sort of unhealthy paranoia and fear that can seriously eat you up. I very highly doubt that corporate life will ever be a direction I pursue again. As an instructive example, a little more than two weeks ago, I overslept my Saturday morning class. I was supposed to be there at 8 o'clock in the morning. At 8:25 a.m., I got a phone call. Me, bleary: ...hello? Student: Uh, where are you? Everybody left. Me, coming to: ...oh, crap! Student: What should I do? It's just me and one other kid here. Me: Uh. Ok, just - you and one other student? Alright. Go home, we'll make up the material next week. I hung up the phone and proceeded to FREAK OUT HARDCORE, as those who were online (or in the address book in my phone and under suspicion of having some sort of applicable wisdom) can tell you. I immediately emailed my boss, and proceeded to bite my nails waiting for repercussions that never came. I never heard back from him about it. Fast-forward to today. I'm talking with the department secretary about an email I sent her. "I haven't gotten anything from you," she tells me. My freakout starts all over again. What if, I hypothesize (as scientists are so good at), my boss never received my email explaining and apologizing for my absence and seeking guidance? If I go and talk to him and he didn't receive it, I look irresponsible and avoidant. If I don't go talk to him and he didn't receive it, he could find out about the debacle from someone else - ever more irresponsible and avoidant. So I go talk to him, stomach in knots. "Boss," I say, inserting his actual name instead of the word, "I'm wondering if you got an email from me about two and a half weeks ago?" He tells me he had, and he respon-- oh, wait, did he respond? He talked to the department head in case there were any students who complained or asked about it. The thrust of the advice - to teach the material even if there wasn't time for the experiment - was exactly how I'd been handling it. "I know how hard it is to wake up and realize you overslept," he said. "I'm not going to beat you up over it. I did appreciate hearing about it right away, though." I thanked him, and went on my way. ...and promptly started crying on the way back to my office. I really hadn't understood just how much stress I was carrying around simply not knowing everything was ok with this job-that-I-love. Neurotic to my last. (P.S. For those who may go :( at this entry, please note that I feel much better now.)
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    This page is a archive of entries in the Physics category from March 2007.

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