Monday, July 14, 2014

Janet Stemwedel and "The Book of Job"

Via a random Twitter clicking, a wonderful tribute by Janet Stemwedel in 2012 to Dr. James LuValle, during a key point in her life as a graduate student at UCLA Stanford: 
...Back in the spring and autumn of 1992, I was a chemistry graduate student starting to believe that I might actually get enough of my experiments to work to get my Ph.D. As such, I did what senior graduate students in my department were supposed to do: I began preparing myself to interview with employers who came to my campus (an assortment of industry companies and national labs), and I made regular visits to my department’s large job announcement binder (familiarly referred to as “The Book of Job”). 
What optimism successes in the lab giveth, the daunting terrain laid out in “The Book of Job” taketh away.... 
...It was during my regularly scheduled freak-out over the binder in the department lobby that I really got to know Dr. LuValle. While I was in the department, his official position was as a “visiting scholar”, but since he had been the director of undergraduate labs in the department for years before he retired, he wasn’t really visiting, he was at home. And Dr. LuValle took it upon himself to make me feel at home, too — not just in the department, but in chemistry. 
It started with light conversation. Dr. LuValle would ask what new listings had turned up in the binder since the last time he had seen me. Then he’d ask about what kind of listings I was hoping would turn up there. Soon, we were talking about what kind of things I hoped for in a chemical career, and about what scared me in my imagination of a chemical career. 
That he bothered to draw me out and let me talk about my fears made those fears a lot more manageable. 
But Dr. LuValle went even further than just getting me to voice my fears. He reassured me that it was normal for good chemists to have these fears, and that everyone had to get across the chasm between knowing you could be a good student and believing you could be a successful grown-up scientist. And he took it as an absolute given that I could get across this chasm...
The whole thing is worth a read, especially the life of Dr. LuValle before he got to Stanford.


  1. A small correction: it was at Stanford that I was a grad student and Dr. Lu Valle had been the director of undergraduate labs.

    1. Thanks for the correction, Janet (acccck.)