“The moment my boss busted out the hot plate… I knew I could belong in academia”

My family took a trip to Montana when I was 6 years old. It was my parents, sisters, and me. My oldest sister Joy is 9 years older than me, and my sister Camie is 3 years older than me. Making me the baby of the family, and everyone knows it. I got lots of attention from my Mom… it helped that I resembled my Mom’s younger late brother, my Uncle Lorenzo, who my Mom took care of when she was a little girl. But I was spoiled by my Mom most of the time, minus the time she tried to spank me and the wood spoon broke. That’s what happens when you buy yard sale cooking utensils, they break easy.

Anyways, my older sister Joy and I didn’t have a lot of childhood memories together like me and Camie.  Mostly because Joy was 9 years older than me, and like any teenager, stayed mostly with her friends. Half way through a trip back from Montana I didn’t even notice Joy had left to hang out with family friends in Washington state. We drove almost to Utah, before I asked, “Where’s Joy.” But it’s interesting to me how when we’re kids, we tend not to think much about those who we’ll miss. I find it opposite as an adult, I often think of people I miss and especially when I don’t know when I’ll see them again. One of those people is my research supervisor.

I was saving all my graduate college education stories until after I graduate… because I don’t want a professor to get mad at me before I’m supposed to defend my dissertation. However, this professor is leaving, and she made a big (positive) impact in my life as a graduate student. I was extremely grateful to have her as a boss because of her expertise in research, mentoring, and for creating so many opportunities for me. Especially since there were plenty of moments when I felt like I didn’t belong in academia. But one of the most memorable meetings I ever had was during our research meeting.

I’m normally awake by 4:30-5AM, so my supervisor liked to schedule our weekly meetings around 7-7:30AM. During our research meetings we mostly went over the research agenda, progress in the projects, and she would ask how I was doing in the graduate program. Well one particular morning as we were walking into her office she asked me, “JD, are you hungry.” I said, “sure.” I didn’t eat breakfast, so I thought it would be a good idea. She asked if I wanted a breakfast burrito, and I said, “of course.” Well at this point I’m thinking that maybe we would head out of the office to go grab something nearby, but we continued walking into the office. I thought maybe she had to grab something before we headed out, but then she reached into her bag and pulled out a big hot plate like she was Mary Poppins or something. Mind you, while she is doing all this she is talking to me about our research projects. I can’t focus at this point, because I’m trying to figure out what’s happening. And then all of a sudden, she busts out some eggs from somewhere, and potatoes from somewhere else, and then some tortillas. She is not skipping a beat, and still talking about our research projects as she starts making breakfast burritos. I couldn’t believe what was happening. My brilliant research supervisor was making me a breakfast burrito in her office while talking about research projects. My first thoughts are: 1. Is the smoke alarm going to go off (because that would be hilarious) 2. Can we get in trouble for cooking in an office (not that I cared) 3. This is going to be the best breakfast burrito of my life. Well she finishes cooking and we eat and talk more about the research.

I think about the experience every so often, and it’s a great assurance to my reoccurring mild case of imposter syndrome. Although I didn’t think I belonged in our graduate school, the moment my boss busted out the hot plate to make a breakfast burrito was the moment I knew I could belong in academia.

I know you’re moving on to bigger and better things, but I’ll miss you, your expertise, mentoring, and breakfast burritos professor!

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