Dear Ally,

Home » 2017

Yearly Archives: 2017

Paying for it now…literally

Dear Ally,

A lot has happened since I wrote last. First I had part of a tooth break off. My dentist said it was because a filling had become loose and I would need a crown. She made a mold for the permanent crown and put on a temporary one. She calls it a “little hat for your tooth.” If you’ve never had a crown, they grind your tooth down to a little nub (wasn’t much left of mine anyway) and glue a fake tooth over top of it. The good news was I didn’t need a root canal – a least not then. The permanent crown wouldn’t be as strong as possible in case I do need a root canal in the future and, in that case, they’d need to drill through it. My dentist used extra strong glue for the temporary crown because it was going on my trip to New Zealand with me.

The night before I left for New Zealand, the tooth next to the temporary crown had a piece of its filling come out. The friend I was with introduced me to the emergency tooth repair stuff they sell at the drug store. So, if the rest of the filling came out or if my crown came off, I had a plan.

The morning I left for New Zealand my dentist called me and said my permanent crown had come in and they had a 12:30 appointment. Our flight wasn’t until later in the afternoon, but it would be cutting it close, so I didn’t go.

I went to New Zealand for 17 days – chewing carefully all the while with only the occasional feeling like a cold needle was being jabbed in my jaw and a sore tongue from constantly exploring what felt like a gigantic hole. I had no issues with the temporary crown at all, just had to avoid sticky foods.

I got my permanent crown and had the neighboring tooth refilled on my 41st birthday last Tuesday. Fun stuff! It’s a funny thing when you get used to pain and then it’s suddenly gone. I hadn’t realized I’d been chewing differently until I could chew normally again.

Then on Friday I went to the orthodontist and had braces put on my top teeth. I will get the bottom set put on in a little while and the whole process is supposed to take 15-18 months. I paid for the entire treatment up front, emptying the Health Savings Account I’d been contributing to for the past few years. Along with the braces, I received a wooden nickel (for being on time and good behavior) that I can save towards various gift cards, as well as a balloon and a See’s Candy gift card since that week was my birthday.

Why am I telling you all of this and what does it have to do with college?

I am acutely regretting several things these days: 1) I didn’t get my retainers replaced when they broke while I was in college, 2) I didn’t floss much when I had braces, and 3) I didn’t have a good dentist to go to while I was in college.

These fillings that are beginning to fail are all 20 years old. I had nine fillings when I was in college – done over three separate, but closely spaced appointments. They were all for cavities between my teeth and were done by a dentist in the town where I attended college. I had never had a filling before in my life. A friend of mine went to the same dentist who told him he needed 13 fillings. He got a second opinion and the other dentist told him he only needed two fillings. My dentist later went to jail for selling prescription drugs. Hmm.

Fast forward to ten years ago, I went to one of those chain dentist offices and they were trying to convince me to get a bridge where I was missing a molar. They were suggesting that a 30-year-old woman file down the only two teeth in her mouth that didn’t have filings so that a three-tooth bridge could be glued over top of the nubs. I mentioned this plan to my co-worker who is a D.D.S. and she told me never to go back there and recommended my current dentist. I think this was the best thing she ever did for me!

Back to the present, one of the reasons for the braces is to make room for an implant where the missing tooth is. That’s not going to be fun at all, but it will be nice to actually use both sides of my mouth to chew. By the way, I am genetically missing that tooth and they pulled the baby tooth because that’s what they did back then. The other reason for braces, though, is because my bite is messed up and my front teeth are wearing each other down.

The take home message for you, of course, is to take care of your teeth and wear your retainer! I know, there is nothing sexy about retainers, but trust me, braces aren’t any better the second time around. You are lucky that you are still at home and can probably easily go to your same dentist and orthodontist. Just think, 20 years from now, you might want to go on a huge trip and you sure don’t want to have to worry about your teeth or be in pain.

See you over Christmas!

Aunt Sarah

P.S. You can have my gift card to the candy store!

How [Not] to Nail that Interview

interview cat

Dear Ally,

Last Saturday your uncle and I volunteered to do resume reviews and mock interviews as part of the annual National Chemistry Week outreach event that our local American Chemical Society section hosts. It made me think about some of the outlandish stories I’ve heard as well as some of my own memorable experiences being on the interviewer side of the process. This weekend I polled my Facebook friends to see if they had any advice for you or their own tales to tell.

Here are the people you do NOT want to emulate:

  • Open mouth insert foot. As you know, I work at a Catholic college and an interviewee once hilariously and ironically referred to one of my women religious colleagues as, “Sister-what-the-hell’s-her-name.” Another interviewee for a science faculty position casually remarked that, “Women don’t like math,” one of the last comments to make while interviewing at a women-focused institution. One of my student affairs colleagues once had someone respond to the question, “What do know about our school?” with “I know you have mostly girls and I’m OK with that!” Your uncle’s friend, Housecatt (Do you remember him? He was in our wedding.), shared a story where someone went off on a critical tirade about a national not-for-profit, having no idea that the not-for-profit for which she was interviewing was funded by this very same organization. Lessons learned: watch your language, don’t stereotype, don’t say anything that could be construed as creepy, and do your homework.


  • Not ready to adult. One of my favorite interview stories that your uncle told me has to be about the interviewee who, on a tour of the company’s stockroom, picked up a very large flask and asked to have  a picture taken with it. Another contribution from Housecatt includes the story where he asked why an applicant wanted to go from a full time to a part time job, and the reply was that, “…all my friends are still in college and I missed hanging with them.” There are many stories about candidates who brought their mothers or spouses with them on the interview. So, while it’s good to be yourself and be honest, don’t go overboard, and leave mom at home.


  • Really make an impression. My friend, Jason, shared, “I had a guy show up for an interview with me wearing cat eye contacts. Yeah…no. I asked him why he decided to wear those and he said he wanted to stand out.” Your uncle came home one day with a story about a distracting female candidate who was dubbed inappropriate-top-woman. The same guy in Housecatt’s not-ready-to-adult story came in unshaven, wearing khakis and a shirt that an iron or dry cleaner had never seen – no jacket, no tie. Take home message here: don’t wear anything weird, no cleavage, and look like you actually care what the interviewers think of you.


  • Ramble on.  Jason also commented on my Facebook post, “One time I interviewed a guy for a position and when I would ask a question he would talk for 5-8 minutes. Around the 3rd question in, almost half an hour later, I could not keep my eyes open and I did one of those head-nod things. He noticed, and said ‘Can I assume I pretty much don’t have this job?’ And I said ‘Yes, sorry.’ I was a little embarrassed, but he just didn’t know when to stop talking!” I have had this same experience multiple times and then didn’t have time to get through all my questions, so I couldn’t really judge whether the people would be a good fit or not. You must have concise answers prepared to the obvious questions that might be asked.


  • Distracted much. Once when I was being interviewed, my phone was in my bag in the corner of the room and, although it was on vibrate mode, I could hear it buzzing and buzzing and I was freaking out wondering if they could also hear it and it was hard to concentrate on the questions. My friend, Kamala, had an experience where a candidate was actually texting. It was during lunch, but still inappropriate. The best, though, is my co-worker’s story about trying to do a phone interview while  the other person was driving and the call was actually dropped. Why would anyone schedule a phone interview to be during a time when they would be driving? Make sure that you can devote your full attention to the interviewer(s) by turning devices to silent/ do not disturb mode – nothing is more important at that moment than the interview itself. If it’s a phone interview be sure to be in a quiet, distraction-free room on a phone with a good connection.

I know it will be a while before you interview for a full-time, permanent position, but in the meantime, hopefully this will be useful for part-time jobs or internships for which you might apply or just for a good laugh.

Best of luck in your future interviews!

Aunt Sarah

Resourcefulness Skills

Dear Ally,

In August I joined a scientific study at a nearby university involving different health self-management interventions for people in stressful situations. I was given a survey (which included this resourcefulness measurement tool) and, based on the results, was chosen to take part in the resourcefulness skills intervention. I was told the assignments were need-based, which I interpreted to mean that my resourcefulness skills score was the lowest. I don’t actually know what the other interventions are.

I was surprised by this. I think of myself as resourceful, but, after watching an informative narrated presentation as part of the study, I realized my definition of resourceful is actually self-reliance.

According to Dr. Zauszniewski, the principle investigator of the study and author of the presentation, there are two categories of resourcefulness skills: social and personal. Her theory is that these categories are complementary and have equal importance to one’s health. I am pretty sure my low resourcefulness score is because of my answers to the questions about the social resourcefulness skills. I pride myself on my independence, which, I’m learning, may not always be a good thing.

I was taught an 8-letter acronym that spells RESOURCE to help me remember the skills, which are:

  • Rely on family/ friends
  • Exchange ideas with others
  • Seek professionals or experts
  • Organize daily activities
  • Use positive self-talk
  • Reframe the situation positively
  • Change from usual reaction
  • Explore new ideas

As you might notice, the skills are also conveniently grouped into social and personal, with the first three being the social resourcefulness skills and the last five being the personal resourcefulness skills.

At this stage in the study, I’m supposed to reflect on the skills and write about how I used or didn’t use each skill and whether I found it helpful. If I didn’t use it, I’m supposed to say why not.

So what am I writing in this journal? What examples have I given them?

Rely on family/ friends:

This skill includes receiving emotional support as well as help completing tasks. I’ve written about talking with my parents, husband, and friends when I’m stressed or worried and about a lot of instances of relying on Adam to help manage the day-to-day household duties.

For you, this could include relying on classmates as study partners and to help with homework and, of course, includes asking your aunt and uncle science questions. 🙂

Exchange ideas with others:

It’s easy to talk with my colleagues about professional issues and scientific problems. I’ve come to realize I’m reluctant to share when it’s personal or has to do with my health. I appreciate friends and family who genuinely care and take time to ask how I am doing. I will give these people more than just, “I’m ok.”

For you and my students, I’m hoping the college environment has created an atmosphere of collaboration. I encourage my students to work together both in and outside of class. I hope your professors have done the same. I also hope you’re close enough to someone to share and get advice about issues of a more personal nature.

Seek professionals or experts:

This makes me cringe for some reason – maybe because the phrase, “You need professional help” sounds like it’s so bad. But this doesn’t only include psychiatrists or mental health experts, it includes any kind of doctor or dentist, mechanics, pastors, people specializing in home repair, or other professionals in your own field of work. I’m going to the dentist tomorrow, so that counts!

For the student, this can be your school psychologist, your advisor, an administrator, or a tutor. It also includes reliable internet resources and your friendly librarian.

Organize daily activities:

This is the one skill I am able to say that I used daily and I won’t say more about it, since I’ve written about it in the past.

Use positive self-talk:

I’m going to admit this sounded stupid to me at first. I imagine  ridiculous people talking to themselves in the mirror. But it’s more of a habit of mind – try to think about yourself and your capabilities in a positive light instead of beating yourself up or constantly thinking that you can’t do something. Long-distance running is the one place I can say I use this frequently.

Many of my students come into my chemistry class with this fear of the subject and a belief that they’re just not good at it. Unfortunately, sometimes this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Reframe the situation positively:

People who can learn from mistakes and see failure as an opportunity for improvement are doing this. In other cases, all you can do is think at least it’s not worse. (In “Bridget Jones’ Baby” they call this playing the “at least game.”) When you’re going through a tough time think about how, in the future, you’ll be able to relate to and empathize with other people having that same experience (people who have been through it are also the people you should be exchanging ideas with).

Change from the usual reaction:

This is one I’m still figuring out. I don’t think my usual reaction is always bad, except maybe when my usual reaction is to freak out or get angry. Complaining probably doesn’t help either.

Explore new ideas:

You can’t explore new ideas if you don’t have any. This depends on seeking out these new ideas from family, friends, professionals, or even the internet.

I hope this has been helpful and maybe, if you are in the habit of journaling, you can reflect on your own use of these skills during your time in college.


Aunt Sarah

Throwback: Men women hate to date

Dear Ally,

This is going to make me sound super old, but here goes…before there were blogs or twitter or facebook, students were invited to submit columns to the student newspaper. One day this article titled, “Women who men hate to date” appeared in our paper, The Post. My roommate and I could not let that go unanswered. The following is our response, published sometime in the early winter of 1999.

Men Women Hate to Date

This Turnstile is in response to the column “Women who men hate to date,” Jan 27. While we haven’t sworn off dating, we certainly have our share of dating horror stories. Besides, we can’t have all of this advice floating around about whom men should avoid dating without its counterpart being presented. So here’s the flip side. If you’re a woman, stay away from these guys at all cost. If you’re a man, work to avoid fitting these descriptions because the truth is out.

Inhales Food Like He’s Goin’ for a Record Guy: Dude, I promise I won’t steal your food, and, yes, I am going to eat all of this. Just give me a chance.

I Live and Breathe Sports Guy: He walks around spewing forth volumes of sports trivia and putting “BABY!” on the end of every sentence.

Won’t Go Away Guy: When a girl says, “Well, I have to do my homework now,” the wrong answer is “Oh, I’ll just watch you. I promise I won’t make a sound.”

Way Too Much, Way Too Soon Guy: True story: This guy was kissing me in his car on our first date, and he had the audacity to reach over me, pull my seat lever so my seat tipped all the way back and practically try to mount me!

Lost in the 80’s Guy: My favorite true story: I’d been dating this guy for several months when he takes me on this really nice date. At the end of the evening, we go back to his apartment. After making me slow dance to three 80’s songs (one of which was “The Search is Over” and all of which were on 45 rpm records), he sits me down and kneels in front of me, holding a small box. He then goes into a speech about how special I am to him. I’m freaking out, thinking, “Oh my gosh! This is it!” I open the box and inside is this clunky dented, huge high school ring that says, “Class of ’88” on it.

My advice: Never – let me say it again – never, for any reason, kneel down in front of a girl unless it is the moment, and especially not with a small box in your hand. Also, do not expect any self-respecting college girl to wear your high school class ring.

Silent guy: Guys wonder why girls never shut up. Somebody has to keep the conversation alive. A grunt or a shrug just doesn’t cut it. Say something, anything.

Suddenly Shock Me Guy: True story: I was studying physics with a guy (such a romantic subject) when out of the blue and for no reason he blurts out, “I love you!” I mumbled something about having a boyfriend and dashed out of the room as fast as humanly possible.

Raging Temper Guy: This is the guy who broke his hand punching the wall and who bursts into English classes shaking his finger at his girlfriend and shouting expletives.

Embarrassing Guy: We’ve all seen this guy. He insists on letting the entire world know how much he loves this girl. He’s often seen kissing her in the dining hall when all the poor girl wants to do is eat in peace.

Aggressive Kisser Guy: This guy thinks he’s Cary Grant. He’ll suck on your lip until you’re sure it’ll be purple for weeks. Then he’ll kiss you so hard his 5 o’clock shadow has scrubbed all the skin off your chin.

Drown Me in Useless Gifts Guy: Flowers and candy are nice, but there is a possibility of too much of a good thing. A girl only can fit so many stuffed animals on her bed and trinkets on her desk. Shoelaces were the best Valentine’s Day gift I ever got – and they were from my roommate.

Take a Clue Guy: When a woman has made it clear that she will not sleep with you, you are not going to change her mind by saying you have coupons to the Super 8.

Can’t Keep His Mouth Closed When He Eats Guy: This is the guy who an eat bread, a seemingly innocent food that’s not crunchy or liquidy and make the most wretched squelching, slurping, smacking noises you’ve ever heard.

With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, we hope we’ve helped some of you avoid that fatal dating faux pas. Chew your food before swallowing, hold on to that class ring, keep your coupons to yourself and take inventory of her chocolates and stuffed animals before purchasing her Valentine’s Day gift.

Seems like my writing style hasn’t changed too much in 20 years and I still prefer practical gifts and can’t stand noisy eaters. Our article was mostly meant to be funny, but today when I reread the article we had responded to, it seemed bitter, bordering on angry. Wonder if he ever found the right girl. Meanwhile, I married silent guy, turns out their good listeners and should be listened to when they do speak.

Hope you and your guy are doing well! Have a great week!

Aunt Sarah





Listening Skills

Dear Ally,

Last week I basically shared how to shut down or avoid an endless conversation, but what if the person is saying something important and you need to pay attention or what if it’s someone you care about and you want them to feel heard?

If so, don’t be like these bad listeners:

  • Absorbed in technology. This person is wearing earbuds and constantly looking at a screen. Good if you don’t want to be bothered on the bus, bad if you’re supposed to be listening to instructions.
  • The mind reader. You are passionately making your case and they say, “What are you so mad about?” Don’t jump to conclusions, instead just observe the data and make statements like, “I am noticing that you are raising your voice. How should I interpret that?” (Because remember, loud doesn’t always mean angry.) On the other hand, don’t ignore non-verbal cues that contradict what they’re saying. Show you care by asking how they feel, for example, “You’re saying you’re fine, but your eyes are telling me a different story. Is there something you want to talk about?”
  • The advice giver. A grad school friend of mine imparted this wisdom to me: “Women don’t want advice, they want you to just listen, because when you jump in with advice, they interpret this as ‘Bitch, do I have to solve all your problems?'” He’s exactly right and it’s not just women.
  • The busy beaver. They pretend to listen, but never look up from the computer screen. Even if it’s a time vampire, at least stop what you’re doing and tell them you’re busy and suggest they come back later when you can give them your full attention. It’s more polite than pretending to listen and might actually be a better tactic to get back to work faster.
  • The one-upper. You tell a story, they tell a better story. Something bad happened to you, something horrible happened to them. They’re not listening, they’re taking your moment and turning it around and making it about them – but they think they’re being a good listening by sharing a similar experience. Guilty? I know I am. The term for this is match back and it makes people feel like they don’t matter.
  • The daydreamer. It happens in class and in meetings, it can even happen on the phone. Taking notes or doodling can help. If you missed the last minute of what was said, be honest and admit it instead of pretending like you heard, which can lead to miscommunication or missed questions on the exam.
  • The interrupter. Some of these people think they’re good listeners because they’re interrupting with questions, others are simply rude. Don’t be these people or the over-talker, which is even worse.
  • The rehearser. You’re in a group discussion or an interview and your turn to speak is coming up, you didn’t hear anything that was said just before and maybe you’re about to make the same point as someone else or you didn’t hear the entire question. It’s impossible to rehearse and listen at the same time, but it’s hard not to rehearse, especially if you’re anxious about speaking. Focus on what’s being said and try to picture what they are talking about. If it’s a class discussion, perhaps quickly write down your response or ask the instructor to give everyone a minute to gather their thoughts.

Listening is a skill, so use every conversation as an opportunity to practice.

Have a great week!

Aunt Sarah



Beware the Time Vampires

Dear Ally,

I was talking with a student the other day who is an RA. She was telling me how hard it is to get her homework done when she’s on duty in the RA office. Apparently at least one resident will come down there to hang out exclaiming she’s bored and there’s a security guard that often comes around to chat. I said to her, “Oh no, you have got to put a stop to that! Those people are time vampires.”

We’ve all experienced that “trapped in conversation” feeling where you’ve gotta go, you have things to do, and some person is going on and on and your day is slipping away. These people probably don’t have enough self-awareness to realize what they’re doing, especially if you’re like me and have worked on being a good listener, so they don’t mean to be sucking up all your time. But what do you do? You don’t want to be rude, especially mid-westerners like us. For me, this is compounded by the fact that I do actually enjoy talking to people, so I need to make sure I’m not a time vampire myself.

Recognize the time vampires. Once bitten, twice shy.

  • Will ask if you have a minute, are you busy, or can they ask a quick question.
  • Often seen hanging out talking by the water cooler or coffee pot.
  • Generally unproductive.
  • May be known drama queens or gossip gremlins.
  • Any salesperson or similar.
  • “Friendly” strangers.

Avoid, ignore, or flee from them. It’s best not to get stuck in a never-ending conversation in the first place, especially if you’re still working on your assertiveness skills.

  • Take the stairs, not the elevator.
  • Use unisex/ one-seater restrooms.
  • Do not stop walking.
  • Do not make eye contact.
  • Keep your door closed.
  • Do not answer that phone call or e-mail until you have the time (or ignore it completely if it’s unnecessary).
  • Do not linger after meetings, church, yoga, etc.
  • Anticipate questions and communicate all the details the first time.
  • Just say no.

Never invite them in. It’s easier for you to leave than to ask someone else to leave.

  • Arrange to meet in their space or a neutral location, so you have the option to physically leave. Or better yet, speak over the phone or video chat.
  • If they appear at your door, hide and don’t answer, if possible.
  • Make up a reason for which you were just leaving.
  • Tell them to come back later (unless you don’t want them to).

Set aside time to feed them. You’re going to have to interact with some known time vampires, so do it on your terms when you have control over the situation rather than being ambushed.

  • Plan your exit strategy beforehand.
  • Schedule to meet/talk before something else that you must attend so there is a definite time it must end.
  • Never plan to meet/talk before personal time like working out, eating lunch, etc.
  • Multi-task by meeting for a meal or using your phone’s headphones so you can do housework or laundry while chatting.

Slay them. Get away, get away, get away now!

  • Practice using assertive, but polite conversation ending phrases. My favorite is “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to kick you out now,” one my boss often uses. More good ones here.
  • Utilize your phone by setting an alarm to go off when it’s time for lunch or to go home so you’ll realize you need to go and so will the person who’s trapped you. They don’t need to know it’s an alarm, could be a text or a meeting reminder.
  • Have a friend bail you out either in person or via text.
  • If another person joins in, that’s your opportunity to get out.


I’m writing this to myself as much as to you and hopefully I am not coming off completely anti-social or passive aggressive. The point is that we all have work to do, if we want to achieve our goals, and some people can sometimes kill our productivity. We must not let them.

Hope this help you gain some time back!

Aunt Sarah

Letters of Recommendation – What’s in them?

Dear Ally,

I’m sure you know about the newest member of our household, Tootsie the Tortoiseshell kitten. We didn’t get much sleep last night because her and Woodward’s fighting woke everyone up before dawn. So this one will be short and sweet.

Tootsie 8 weeks 8 -week old Tootsie

Last week, I wrote the first of what will be several letters of recommendation for students who are now juniors that were in my sophomore organic class last year. Most students waive their right to read the actual letter or see the recommendation form, so what they contain might be a mystery.

This particular student is applying to Physician Assistant school and, in addition to a letter, this is what I was asked:

Relationship section:

  • How long have you known the applicant?
  • How well do you know the applicant? (multiple choice)
  • In what capacity do you know the applicant? (also multiple choice)

Likert criteria section:

(answer choices = Excellent, Good, Average, Below Average, Poor, Not Observed)

  • Adaptability
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Empathy
  • Intellectual Ability
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Oral Communication
  • Reaction to Criticism
  • Reliability
  • Self Awareness
  • Team Skills
  • Written Communication
  • Overall Evaluation

Overall Recommendation:

  • Recommendation concerning admission choices:
    • I highly recommend this applicant.
    • I recommend this applicant.
    • I recommend this applicant with reservation.
    • I do not recommend this applicant.

And then it asks you to upload a letter.

I’ve been given recommendation forms that ask about similar or additional criteria such as professionalism, emotional intelligence, cultural competence, maturity, etc. There is always something about collaboration/team skills as well as communication. The “empathy” and “reaction to criticism” were categories that I had not seen before.

Very soon, if not already, you are going to be asking your professors to judge you in these same areas. That fact should be in the back of your mind every time you interact with them and your classmates in their classes. Hopefully, having this list will also help you know who to ask because you’ll know who will best be able to speak to each and every one of these criteria. You should also be thinking about ways in which you can demonstrate or opportunities to develop these skills.

It’s time for bed now, goodnight!

Aunt Sarah


Studying Physics is a Privilege

Dear Ally,

Welcome to your junior year!

I’m so excited you are taking physics this semester. It’s the perfect time to tell you about a woman who most people consider to be the most significant woman scientist of the 20th century – Lise Meitner.

Lise was born in 1878, when people didn’t think women needed an education past junior high, after all, what more did they need to prepare them to raise a family and run a household? In fact, the University of Vienna didn’t even allow women to enroll until 1897. But Lise did enroll in 1901, fell in love with physics, and became the second woman to earn her doctorate there.


You’d think at this point that she’s made it, but her job prospects were nil. Her first job was unpaid, which is a common thread in many early women scientists’ stories. So she moved to Berlin and was allowed to sit in on Max Planck’s class (who later won the 1918 Nobel Prize in physics and whose name you will hear in your class). She became good friends with many of her physics colleagues and would hang out at Max Planck’s house and listen to him play the piano and Albert Einstein (!) play the violin.

It was at the University of Berlin where she met Otto Hahn, with whom she developed a productive 30+ year collaboration. Hahn was a chemist, so he prepared the radioactive materials they studied, while Meitner explained the math and physics behind their discoveries.  Together they discovered the element protactinium in 1918.

All of this in spite of the fact that Emil Fischer (1902 Nobel Prize in chemistry), chair of the chemistry department, would not allow women into his laboratory, or pretty much anywhere in the building. Lise was given an isolated room in the basement with an external door. If she needed to use the restroom, she walked down the street to a nearby restaurant. Although her physics colleagues accepted her, Lise’s chemistry colleagues completely ignored her and would only address Otto when they were together.


Remember that she’s in Germany and, if you remember your history, the next thing she has to deal with is Hitler and the Nazis. Lise was born Jewish. She later converted to Protestantism, but this made little difference. Many of her scientist friends, including Einstein, got out when they had the chance, but she stayed – too long.  She eventually had to be smuggled out with the help of Hahn, who gave her his mother’s diamond ring, Dirk Coster (discoverer of hafnium), and Niels Bohr (1922 Nobel Prize in physics). Once she was safely out of Germany, Coster sent a telegram to Hahn telling him that the “baby” had arrived.

Lise bounced around after that and could never again get a lab going, but she continued to collaborate and correspond with Hahn. He could not explain why he was obtaining barium after bombarding uranium with neutrons. She understood and had the math to back it up and explain the physics behind the phenomenon.  Her nephew, Otto Frisch, coined the term nuclear fission, analogous to biological cell division.


After the discovery of nuclear fission, Meitner was given the opportunity to work on the Manhattan Project (the one that created the A-bomb and probably won the war). She refused saying she would have nothing to do with a bomb.


Otto Hahn alone was awarded the 1944 Nobel Prize in chemistry “for the discovery of the fission of heavy nuclei” and Lise Meitner’s contribution (which she had published in 1939) was ignored. What is known as the Nobel mistake was somewhat rectified in 1966 when Hahn, Meitner, and Straussmann were awarded the Enrico Fermi Award. In 1997, element 109 was named meitnerium in her honor.

Good luck this semester in physics! Remember to enjoy it!

Aunt Sarah

P.S. This is a very abridged version of an interesting biography. Here are some links to read more, but there are also entire books written about her life.

The Abduction of Lise Meitner (about her escape from Germany)

Who is Lise Meitner?

Lise Meitner (1878-1868)

Lise Meitner Wikipedia page (with an exhaustive list of references)





Big Mistakes…Just Run Away!

1 Cor 10_13

Dear Ally,

Last week in church (not yesterday because, admittedly, I overslept and missed it) the sermon was about when Jesus was tempted in the desert. Our pastor talked about how the devil is skilled at making sin look attractive and how, when tempted, we don’t think, “Oh I’m just going to ruin my life now.”

This same week a friend of mine who is also a chemistry professor very publicly admitted to a huge mistake – he cheated on his wife and was fired by the university where he worked.  You might be thinking at this point, “Wait a minute, was it a student?” It was not a student and this is the reason he went public, to dispel any rumors to the contrary. I assume the university is conservative and religious and must have some clause in employee contracts about sex outside of marriage being a fire-able offense.

Also this week I’ve been conducting search committees for several open positions. One candidate let me know that I may find something in the background check from a mistake made when they were young. Turns out this person is a registered sex offender. Yikes! I was thinking maybe it was a DUI or something.

Both of these situations are extremely unfortunate examples of people’s personal mistakes also ruining their careers. With all of this being within a week, I’m sensing a theme and looking over my shoulder like any moment the devil is going to try to get me and I guess maybe that’s how we should be all the time.

Matt 26_41

So what does this have to do with you? Just one thing – don’t get pregnant. There’s probably nothing else that could so easily derail your future. I remember the struggle in college and there was a reason why I had 1 Corinthians 10:13 hung up on my wall and why my roommate and her boyfriend always sat on our floor instead of the bed.

And with that, I will say goodnight and it’s time for your uncle and I to take down some Pokemon gyms.

Aunt Sarah

Thrive in the On-line Environment

Dear Ally,

You’re about to take your first on-line class! I think most students expect on-line classes  to be easier than the face-to-face version. While taking a class on-line offers flexibility, it requires self-discipline and motivation and involves a significant amount of reading and writing. Depending on how the coursework is structured, the door could be open for some serious procrastination. Assignment deadlines could be once a week or even further spread apart or the class could require small daily tasks. Either way, you should be prepared to spend 9-12 hours a week on this course or even more if it’s an accelerated course.

Let’s talk about technology requirements. You’ll need the following for the average on-line class:

  • Reliable, high speed internet connection. You’ll likely be watching videos and downloading and uploading large files, so the faster your connection, the better.
  • Microphone/ speakers or headset. You’ll need to be able to hear the videos well and you may also have to either record and upload your own videos or live chat.
  • Webcam. Useful for live chat sessions/ on-line office hours and could be required if your class has on-line exams where you must record yourself taking them to ensure academic integrity.
  • Printer/scanner/smartphone. If you’ll also be on campus for other courses, a printer is not necessary, but is convenient. Depending on the course, a scanner might be useful, but most smartphones have nearly equivalent capabilities these days. My face-to-face organic chemistry students often take pictures of their homework or their computer screens to send to me with questions when they get stuck.
  • Software. You’ll need all the same programs you use in a face-to-face class: Microsoft Office, Adobe Reader, Windows Media Player, etc. Check the syllabus to see if the course requires anything out of the ordinary.

Now let’s talk about the typical computer skills needed…

  • Course content navigation. Be sure you know how the course content is organized – is it chronological (this is best practice, but not always the case) or is it set up so that like items are in folders together? Most on-line instructors will have either a course orientation video or at least a welcome message that explains how to get around the course.
  • File transfer. If you’ve never electronically submitted an assignment to an instructor, you should familiarize yourself with attaching files to an e-mail message (and how to open an attachment) and/or how to upload a file to a dropbox. For large files, you may also need to know how to compress (zip) them.
  • Discussion board posts. Most on-line classes have some kind of discussion board on which you need to post and reply to posts. Be sure you understand the different ways the posts can be displayed or organized and how to tell the difference between a post you’ve read and a new post (and perhaps how to mark as unread if you’ve read it, but want to be reminded to respond).
  • Manage notifications. As soon as I submit grades to the on-line grade book, my students know it because they receive a notification. Your on-line learning management system should have settings where you can choose to receive notifications when your instructor submits a new grade, a new news item/ announcement, or a new discussion board topic. Some learning management systems have a corresponding app for mobile devices so that notifications appear as a banner on your phone or other device. This is extremely convenient and can help you keep track of course activity without having to log on constantly.

All of the tips I’ve mentioned in past posts about making a schedule, putting due dates in your planner/calendar, and staying organized will become crucial for success in an on-line class. You won’t be in the class to receive reminders about what’s going on or when assignments or exams are going to be. You’ll need to become an independent learner.

The most important aspect of on-line teaching and learning is communication. Pay close attention to what the syllabus says about the best way to contact the instructor and what method will be used to send information and instructions to the class. Be sure to check your school e-mail address and log into the course on at least a daily basis. All communication with your instructor and your classmates should be carried out in complete sentences using proper grammar.

It’s spring break week here, so I get a chance to get caught up on my class and am hoping to post everything my students will need for the rest of the semester before the weather gets nice.

Good luck and hope you have a great week!

Aunt Sarah