Jeff warned me that, while informal, the short meeting was rather intense and he wasn’t sure if they were joking when they suggested he go around the room and try to remember the names of every professor in the department. One guy whom he hand’t met before apparently just shook his head. “That’s David.”
What? For the first time I was a little nervous. When my turn came, I entered the room and sat at the head of a long conference table surrounded by two layers of geoscientists of all kinds. Many I already knew and I recalled to myself what I knew about them:
Craig, who is also the Director of Graduate Studies in the department, I’d met in March when I came to check out the school. A few days earlier, while preparing myself for this day of meeting and greeting, I discovered I’d overlooked a three-week-old email. It was a list of teaching assistantship assignments which included my name as Craig’s TA for mineralogy. I had been accepted as a research assistant and read right past the email since it didn’t appear to apply to me. With a week until classes began, I wrote an email, thinly veiled in polite language, that effectively said “Ohshitohshitohshit!” Craig wrote back congratulating me on the RA, which is apparently unusual for master’s students. TAs are often changed around at the last minute, plus he has a couple undergrads who are looking for teaching experience anyway.
Arnie is one of my advisors. At the recommendation of my old bosses, I tracked him down at the last GSA to talk to him about Cincinnati’s program. I got to know him a bit better in the mean time, and he suggested I work with Yurena.
Yurena is my other advisor and I am officially her research assistant. She works on land snails from the Canary Islands (also her homeland), so presumably I will be as well. I am her first ever graduate student, which, I hear, is how I got to be an RA: professors’ first students are traditionally allowed to focus on research. She is only five years older than I am…
Josh was the only person in the room that I know is a vertebrate paleontologist. In March I talked with him in his office and repeated for the tenth time that day my research interests. “What if the fossil record can’t tell us anything useful about climate change or conservation?” Probably the only hardball question all day. “Not knowing if that is true is enough reason to study it.” That’s a paraphrase; I wasn’t so concise at the time.
I don’t remember meeting Warren previous to earlier that morning when he told me the story of how he met his wife. He was in Prague for a geology conference in the summer of 1968. I think my jaw dropped a little. The night after he arrived, he went to a little bar near the hotel. He was having enough trouble ordering a beer that a local who spoke English helped him out. They started chatting and he eventually invited Warren to a party he was attending down the street. There, he hit it off with a lovely Czechoslovakian woman and they talked late into the night. The next morning, he woke in his hotel room to the sound of gunfire from the street. He pulled back the curtains to see the Soviet tanks rolling down the streets. The soldiers, apparently expecting resistance, were firing over the heads of angry Czechoslovakians who were dressed for a normal day of work. In other words, the meeting was cancelled. After a fruitless call to the American embassy, Warren and his colleagues were directed by the English embassy onto the last train out of the city, and slipped out as the iron curtain fell around them. Back in the US, he couldn’t remember her name well enough to spell it, but wrote a letter addressed with the hostess’s last name (which was Germanic- I guess more memorable to an American than the young woman’s Czech one) and the street name, only. The letter managed to make it and the hostess passed it to the young woman. After writing each other for a year, Warren was able to return to Prague and… well anyway, they’re married now.
Nearly everyone had either introduced themselves or we’d exchanged a familiar nod when I said I didn’t know the gentleman in the corner.
"Careful with your word choice there! That’s David and ‘gentleman’ is…"
David shook his head. Har har.
"So Alex, you have an interesting story."
"Tell us how you got here."
I started with my college years, moving to Taiwan, and then tried to enumerate my duties at the Paleontological Research Institution, answering a few encouraging questions as I went.
"How are you liking Cincinnati?"
"Clifton seems like a really cool neighborhood. I went and saw Boyhood at the little theater on Ludlow. The beer was a little overpriced, but the ticket was cheap, so $11 for a nice, local beer and movie is still a bargain."
Anti-social-seeming David perked up at this, “Did you check out the co-op down the street?”
"I did! In Ithaca I was a member-worker at our co-op and actually lived in a housing co-op."
"That’s great! Did you sign up for their mailing list?"
"I did not."
"I’ll make sure your email gets on there."
After a couple more getting-to-know-you questions, Craig said “Well we’re just so glad to have you here with us. Thanks,” and that was that. It had been 7 minutes of 15 allotted.