I occasionally joke that I don’t know much, “I’m just a college drop-out”. At which point my husband or my parents roll their eyes, and explain to the listener that, “Yes, she quit her Ph.D. program at Stanford University in Aeronautics and Astronautics AFTER getting two degrees in engineering.” Well, I think I’m funny. I’ve had some time to reflect and I’ve had a new epiphany about this period of my life.
At the time, Stanford was trying to kick-start bioengineering research on campus and various engineering groups were initiated to do this research with the medical school. I was one of three Aero/Astro grad students, with an Aero/Astro structures research advisor (who was discussing retirement) working with a Medical doctor (who was suddenly very ill) on three different Gastroenterology projects.
I was excited about my project, but I had no business doing it. I followed instructions and did a lot of paper research. I soon had a file cabinet of articles from the multiple beautiful libraries from the Stanford campus. I realized I needed to understand optics, electronics, and possibly lasers in order to put a device together for my project. I probably needed two PhDs.
When I studied for the oral qualifying exam to be accepted as a Ph.D. candidate, I had two chances to take it and pass. I studied on my own (big mistake), chose one of my examiners to be a professor I had never interacted with before, and when I was done they judged me to be a borderline candidate.
I needed my research advisor’s backing in order to be accepted. I didn’t have it. Because I did not have an electronics design “bread-boarded” (think of it as a draft build), he didn’t think I had worked hard enough. One of the other graduate students was surprised and said, “Doesn’t he know how much research you’ve been doing?”
I needed to leave
I don’t quit anything easily. After reflection and prayer, I decided to leave graduate school and not attempt to re-take the oral qualifying exam. I have never gone back. As it turned out, it was exactly the right time to meet my future husband. I traveled for a job interview to Southern California and met my husband in an Institute class (religious instruction for college students) the night before the interview. The job opportunity was good, and I moved. I called him, and we became quick friends. We were engaged one month after I started the job, and married 4 months later. I like the way things worked out.
All these years, I thought my grad school “failure” was because of the choices I made: the project, the advisor, studying for the exam alone. I thought it was because I didn’t have God’s “backing” or my advisor didn’t like me.
The other day I suddenly realized it was all due to my lack of communication. I didn’t communicate how much I was doing, and I didn’t communicate the issues I was seeing. I didn’t communicate the need for outside help. And in many ways, I didn’t communicate to my advisor the value I brought to the team.
There are a couple lessons to learn here.
1) Many of us are terrible at self-promotion.
We think that putting our heads down and working the job will get us acknowledged, OR we work so hard at getting noticed that we don’t do the job. Doing the job and communicating about the job, are both PART OF THE JOB. I know people at work and at church who are doing incredible, tough things. And no one knows, and therefore, no one can help or praise.
2) We get so buried in our own struggles to solve the problem, or so overwhelmed by it, that we fail to ask for help.
On occasion, people have asked me if I needed help. When I stare at you blankly, just jump in and help. If I am so overwhelmed that I can’t get myself out – I sure as heck can’t decide what you can do for me. This has definitely come into play in my marriage.
There are often times when I just need my husband to be there. Or, I need him to step me through it or talk me down. Every independent, capable person eventually needs & often needs that type of person in their life.
Capable people continually push themselves and take risks, so they often need “a fixer” or “a rubber band” person to hold them together. Often when we ask for help, someone else begins to see how much we are doing and appreciates us more for it.
God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost each know who They are, and They know Their roles. They know the job that They have to/want to accomplish, and They communicate it to us repeatedly. They very clearly want us to help get it done.
They even communicate how we can help: Be kind, share the Gospel, teach your children, do your family history, serve others, … and the list goes on. They could do all of it, but it is better if we do some of it. It is a better lesson for us and leads to a better result if we share the workload.
Molly A. Kerr
Molly is on a life long quest to figure herself out. Born to be and educated as an aerospace engineer she is also blessed to be a wife and a mom of two in the present, previously served as a full-time missionary, is consistently called to teach the youth in her ward, is eagerly though slowly doing home improvement as money and time allow, all while gradually learning how to be herself and find peace and balance somewhere in between. Despite her attempts to make “the right” decisions in her life, she has learned to deal with some unexpected challenges over the last two decades. Total tornadoes, really. What she has discovered is that her career has taught her a lot about the Gospel and being a better mother, and the Gospel, when applied to challenges at the office, has made her a better professional. She has also learned that it is okay to be herself, and God still loves (and forgives) her for it.