Thursday, February 25, 2016

quit telling me it's because I'm smart

I appreciate that you would compliment me. I understand why you'd say I'm smart. "Genius" is something all physics majors are; at least, when they're women.

I have one particular memory from when I was about 4, and it's probably my earliest. I went with my mom to Franklin Elementary, where she volunteered for my brother's second-grade class once a week or so. I don't remember how we got there, but we were in a supply room, and a teacher or someone had me reading words aloud from a cardboard book. I was so smart; I was pronouncing every word correctly. Then we came to a particular word that I was entirely unfamiliar with: "sofa". I can see the illustrated couch ("couch" was what they were always called in my home, hence the unfamiliarity) and the word in large lower-case letters printed at the bottom. I tried my best to sound it out, and I don't remember how I said it, but I got it wrong.

This was the first of many times in the years to follow, most of which I remember, in which I was at risk of being found out. I was putting my "smart badge" in jeopardy. I could never let anyone know that I was capable of mistakes, because then, I wouldn't be smart anymore, and smart was really all I had.

When I was in 1st grade, I was in a special group of 3-4 kids that were pulled aside to read chapter books during class. In 3rd grade, I was first to win the "math wizard" by doing all my times tables and other 3rd grade math functions (it's been a while and a couple of math classes since then so it's hard to remember what was involved). I was the district 4th grade spelling bee champion. In 6th grade, I fought to be in the advanced math group. I missed being in the gifted kids program and was furiously jealous of the real smart kids who got to build robots. In 8th grade, I was in the special geometry class. I entered high school in algebra II. I took AP calculus and got a 5 on the BC exam. I was in AP  physics and AP chemistry and I lived my whole academic life in fear of being found out and being average and losing the name "smart".

Being told over and over and over and over that I was smart ruined me. I couldn't ask a question in class because it would show that I didn't know something. I couldn't answer a question in class because if I got it wrong I would be discovered. I had to endure recovery from anxiety once I hit college. I wasn't just smart, I was a girl. I had to represent my whole gender and prove that we belong in STEM classes just as much as any guy.

Since college and since I came up to Rexburg, I've been pulling at the threads of this tapestry woven tight over 18 years. I've been trying to convince myself to get rid of what psychologists call a fixed mindset and I have tried to ask more questions and get more help. I'm not a physics major because I'm smart. Maybe I am smart, but that's completely irrelevant. What matters is that I'm passionate and I'm determined and I don't give up and I keep working hard.

All of this was brought to my attention when I attended a Women in Physics meeting for us BYU-I female physicists. Two or three of the women in charge had gone to a conference in Oregon for women in physics. They talked about the implicit bias we have when it comes to men, women, and the subjects we study, and they shared a clip from one of the conference's speakers. She had shared a story about a woman who had just started working at a particle accelerator and was one of three women employed: herself, a computer scientist, and a secretary. She was stopped in the hallway by a man early in her time there. He said hello, pointed out that she must have been one of the new women employed, things like that. Then he asked her this: "So, are you a secretary, or are you a genius?"

Those are my options as a woman when it comes to science. I'm either a secretary or a genius. If I'm a scientist, I'd darn well better be a great one. I'd better win some Nobel prizes and get PhDs from MIT. There is no place for me as an okay physicist. I can't just be pretty decent. I'm either a secretary, or I'm a genius.

Also, I don't think I could ever be a good secretary. Hard job. But notice how nobody thinks of it that way. It's woman's work, and it's easier than working a particle accelerator... right?

Is your daughter smart? Don't tell her. Praise her for how hard she works, how well she does her homework, how determined she is to succeed, how much she loves other people, how good of a friend she is, how she's always asking questions and trying to learn, and anything else that has to do with what really matters. Don't confine her to the smart box; she will spend her life afraid that someone will kick her out as soon as she messes up. Tell her she can be anything and do anything if she's willing to work hard for it.

And when I argue with you when you tell me I'm smart, don't take it personally. It has less to do with your choice of words and way more to do with trying to fix what I see when I look in the mirror.

5th grade autobiography report/presentation on Sally Ride during my astronaut phase.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

flat tires and faith

I missed my normally-attempted bi-Thursday post this week. Unfortunately, it's been one of those weeks that has kicked my butt. I took two exams today and stared at code for 3 hours. I'm honestly really tired right now writing this. So this one really has little to do with anything more than popping my tire. Enjoy!

Last Thursday, Ben and I headed out toward California. I was beyond ready to escape Rexburg for a weekend. I get claustrophobic here in Idaho, to be quite honest. I have talked previously about my battle with my mental health and because of my anxious tendencies the long, dark, bitter-cold winter has been tough. Take your vitamin D, folks. You're sadder than you think. Therefore, I was ready for the sun, and thankfully the 70-degree weather stuck around for me while we were there.

Ben and I came into California at about 1 AM, 2 AM our time. I had a terrible cold and had drugged myself for most of the ride and had been taking naps while Ben drove, but we all know how useless car-sleep really is. We had tried to stop in Reno so he could use the restroom, but both places we stopped had some weird creepy dudes and I didn't want him to leave me in the car alone. So we had just barely crossed the California border when I saw a sign for a gas station and suggested we stop there. We were getting ready to exit in about a quarter mile when it suddenly felt that we hit some rough pavement. It took a few concerned but exhausted seconds to realise the front tire on the driver's side had popped.

Tender mercy #1: we were right at the exit we had already planned on taking, so we were able to pull off and deal with the situation safely away from freeway traffic.

We threw all the stuff in the trunk onto the back seat (where I had carefully made sure nothing was squashing the precious cargo, my wedding dress in its bag) and dug out the spare tire. It was dark, and the lug nuts were on snug, and the car jack was hard to crank up high enough, but my handsome strapping soon-to-be husband got the old tire off and the spare on with little issue.

We drove nice and slow for a few miles before Ben broke the news that he was officially like a bike: two tired (to drive). I got to spend the next 2 hours fighting off my own sleep and going 40 miles per hour down the mountain. It takes a huge amount of effort to not exceed 40 miles per hour on I-80 West coming down the Sierras. We finally got to Auburn at about 3 AM, and my mom and Ben's dad could finally go to bed knowing we were safe.

The next morning, we see how amazing it really was that we got home: all of my tires were flat (explaining the tire popping; Rexburg is at a significantly higher altitude and lower temperature) and the spare was REALLY FLAT. Like, really flat. Really really really flat.

Tender mercy #2: the spare lasted me all the way down the mountain in the lonely, cold, dark, exhausted driving atmosphere I had to deal with.

Whenever I travel, I make a point to say a prayer before we go. It's something my dad always did, and I'm sure it's something most religious people do. But we were dumb kids who didn't realize we should check the tire pressure (Ben even thought about it and forgot) and we just wanted to get out to California so we could see our parents and I could have my bridal shower. Even in our sillyness, Heavenly Father answered our prayers that (a) if something did happen to us, we'd be able to deal with it and (b) our spare would last us all the way home and no other tires would bust.

We are all dumb kids just trying to get by. After my weekend of sickness and then giving Ben the death cold, I slept 4.5 hours Sunday night and drove the whole way home on Monday, in the car for 12 hours. This week, I've had to fight to catch up and recover from forgetting an entire project and understand linear algebra (?????) and prepare for my midterm exams and take care of Ben and it just about killed me. Thankfully, in ways I recognized but mostly ways I didn't until I thought about it later, I was carried through this week by the wonderful power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

Everything I have felt and experienced was already felt and experienced by a perfect Savior. Every trial, every stomachache from stress and worry, every sleepless night, every unintentional class-time nap, every struggle, and every disappointment has been felt an incredible amount of times over by this perfect brother and friend. There are so many times when He carries me through the things I know I can't handle. I wrote a post about trials recently, and I feel it is again relevant that sometimes we are most definitely given more than we can handle. Sometimes our tires pop at 1 AM after we've been sick and driving for hours and hours already. That's why the Atonement is so relevant. That's the reason Christ suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane. He heals our sins, and he takes upon us our issues, and someday, He will gather all of us and heal us from all of our infirmities, just as He did when He visited His people in the Americas (3 Nephi 17). I look forward to that day when I will see Him. I do not expect that I will be able to do anything other than fall at His feet and wash them with my tears. I will thank Him for every tire miracle and every sleepless night and every sacrifice I had to make knowing that He had sacrificed it all, "that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities".

BEHOLD. I drove on this for 80-90 miles.