Thursday, May 12, 2016

It's okay to not know things

Last semester, in my Principles of Physics II class, I asked a question. I was one of 4 women in that class of 35-40 people. It was the last week of school, and we had just taken a test and were reviewing it in preparation for the final. The exam had been on optics. There was a question about a dual-lens system and in the problem I had found the following: to focus on an object farther away, you had to bring the lenses closer. Well, as the daughter of someone who had minored in photography and the sister of another who had majored in it, my experience through my whole life was that to focus on something farther away, you make the lens longer. The thing is, cameras are more complicated, and I knew that, but it had definitely caused an inner conflict when I was in the testing center. Therefore, desiring to understand exactly what the difference was, I raised my hand to ask my professor to explain.

He called on me. I phrased my question based on the information I had provided. I never expected the result: immediately upon wording my question, before the professor started to speak, there was a chorus of probably 20 men behind me starting to yell the answer at me. I was shocked. "What is this word-vomit going on?" I remember asking in disbelief. I'd never had this happen in a classroom. I'd never heard anyone ask a question and get that kind of response. Eventually everyone became quiet so my professor could tell me what I wanted to know, which was basically just that camera lenses have more going on (so really didn't quite answer my question but rather confirm my hypothesis), and class moved on.

I still don't know what happened. Women in my classes don't often ask questions -- if they do at all. I've been trying for a long time to teach myself to ask questions in class. It's almost always men, and yet, through my entire education, when a man has asked a question in one of my classes, my previous experience has never occurred.

Which leads me to my current field of study: it's okay to not know things. I know, it sounds ridiculous, but after 12 years of public education where it felt like I constantly had to prove that I was smart and where I felt as though asking a question would show everyone that I don't know things and that therefore "smartness" no longer applies to me, I'm trying hard to teach myself that it's okay to not know things. That's why we go to school. That's why we take classes. We are supposed to push past the wall of what we know to expand ourselves.

I'm a TA for my Physics I professor. It's hard work, answering questions from students that look no different than I do. I'm not old and wise and experienced, and sometimes, I don't know what answer to give them. I have to remind myself that it's better to show weakness and ask my professor to help because I don't know things than to act like I know things and tell them all sorts of wrong stuff. I have to remember that my professor knows I'm just a student and that he's the nicest professor I've ever had and that he probably appreciates that I'm humble enough to turn to him for help. It sure does take a lot of humility, though.

So I guess all I'm trying to say here is that asking questions is hard. Teaching yourself that it's okay to not know things is difficult. But I'm a physics major; not knowing things is basically the prerequisite for this. It's okay to have questions. That's why we have professors. That's why we have a Heavenly Father who is willing to listen, who will never judge us, and who will always love to give us answers. Our life is one giant learning experience. When we ask questions, we figure out where to go and we learn so many cool things. It's okay to not know things; it's the perfect place to start.

Also, I found some hilarious stock images in my first attempt to find a good photo for this post. Enjoy.
no caption needed

me after that one time with the camera question

"how is the top part staying up when I'm only holding up the dot"

modern physics got me like
gurl....... up top.

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