As a little girl I would play school with the neighborhood children. Ever since fourth grade I knew I wanted to be a teacher in a classroom full of eager-to-learn nine-year olds, but it wasn’t until my freshman year of college that my plans changed. In Geology for Elementary Teachers, I remember thinking, “This material is great! I need to learn more!” My hunger for a deeper understanding of how the physical world works led me to reflect on what my favorite science in high school was: Physics. Not long after, I changed my major to Physics and I was on the path to becoming a high school Physics teacher. Fast forward a decade, and I have my dream job. I get to explore the exciting world of Physics all day with 150+ adolescents and I wouldn’t change that for the world.
At Caltech after an exciting day at the lab!
Five years ago, I was staring out one of the few windowed cubicles in a cluttered office full of overambitious salespeople willing to throw their own father under a bus, if it meant a couple more dollars in commission and maybe a few more brownie points from the sweaty, beer-bellied sales manager. What was going through my mind as I stared out that window? Often nothing, sometimes an In-N-Out double-double with whole grilled onions, and every so often I would imagine I had a career with guts… substance. A career that I wouldn’t inaudibly mutter under my breath as an answer when asked the inevitable initial small talk question, “Well, what do you do?” A career that I would proudly proclaim to the world.
In front of the CAPSI House at Caltech, where we play with lasers in the name of enhancing high school education.
Early in life, there was always an attraction towards teaching, and during college I took education courses in route to becoming a high school teacher. However, money, that enticing savage, redirected my path away from education and into the world of sales, where feelings of shame (due to the high cheese-factor associated with the job) and satisfaction (due to the substantial pay check) took turns dominating my feelings regarding my career choice. Eventually, the cheese-factor won out and I needed a way out. So, I left the sales job and fell back on what I initially set out to do – teach.
There are two kinds of particle physicists: those who wanted the Higgs boson to be discovered, and those who wanted the Higgs boson not to be discovered.
At a conference last fall, I sat at the same dinner table with Frank Wilczek. Inevitably, the conversation came around to the prospects for discovering the Higgs boson in 2012. “It would be much more exciting if the Higgs isn’t found,” I insisted. Frank did not claim to disagree, but was adamant: “I want closure.”*
In the late fall of 1974, I had applied to graduate school, but did not yet know where I would be accepted. Roberta (then my fiance, now my wife) and I were in Boston for the day, so we decided to stop by Harvard to look around. We noticed Steve Weinberg was in his office, and though I had never met Weinberg and had no appointment, we barged in. I introduced Roberta and announced I was interested in coming to Harvard the following year.