Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Keep your heart open

 

Some of the visitors in 2021

“Keep your heart open for as long as you can, as wide as you can, for others and especially for yourself. Be generous, decent, and welcoming.” Morrie Schwartz, 1996, “In His Own Words”

 

Vaccinated, then boosted, 2021 has unfolded as a year of ups and some small downs. Our country, and the world at large, is unsettled as much today as it was a year ago, maybe even more. Even more important to read Morrie’s words above and put them into practice.

 

Today’s simple blog highlights earlier Thanksgiving essays. They chronicle my life before and during the pandemic that never seems to end. Please have another look.

 

Advice to Myself 2019

 

Pandemic Thanksgiving 2020

 

 “Your need to feel connected to other people is as vital to human survival as food, water, and shelter.” Morrie Schwartz, 1996, “In His Own Words”

 

Remarkable Tom Cassidy and Joy Oakes, now retired, in 2019

2021: Two years after we held a wedding vow renewal on a frigid day in November 2019. It rained for 5 days straight, only stopping briefly for our outdoor ceremony. The house was packed with people. Little did we know that in a few short months, we’d be locked away from so many for so long. Looking back: such a special time.

 

 

 

Message: Carpe diem (seize the day)!

 

Wedding Vow Renewal 2019

 

 

“Talk openly about your illness with those who’ll listen. It will help them cope with their own vulnerabilities as well as your own.” Morrie Schwartz, 1996, “In His Own Words”

 


Never give up! Let your feelings show. It’s been a year in which my own journey with ALS has hit more physical “milestones” of loss. I now need to use more medical devices to keep going. Ugh…As my son Evan says, “You’ve adapted to a million things. This is just another few hundred.”

 

“Let others’ affection, love, concern, interest, admiration, and respect be enough to keep you composed.” Morrie Schwartz, 1996, “In His Own Words”

 

We’ve gone from no visitors to hosting vaccinated, and boosted, people from all over. Thanks to you for making the often tedious journey to Mariposa.

 

For those I Zoom with on seminars and meetings, thanks for adapting to my small travel circle. For all my “pen pals” on Isogeochem, I love to think and post about your lab quandaries. Keeping engaged is one of the most important aspects to keeping going.

Lecture at Isocamp, 2021

 

This year, I published three of my memoir books on Amazon and have delighted in sending eBooks and author’s copies to friends and family far and wide. Thanks to those who have read the books and submitted reviews.

 

Isotope Queen Author Page

 

In writing, I’ve had the joy to relive wonderful times with people I’ve known since childhood, thought about my early career, marveled at being a young mother then seeing how my children have grown into caring adults, and every day, thanked my Lucky Stars that I met my patient, funny, loving husband who makes every day, a day to enjoy and embrace.

 

Chris and Marilyn, Sea Ranch, 2021

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Don't Yuck my Yum: Millennial to Boomer

 

(L-R): Liz Williams, Joy Stewart, Christina Bradley, David Araiza, 2015 UC Merced

 

            “Remember, ‘don’t yuck my yum’,” my daughter Dana scolded me on the phone this week. “We’ll see you at around 6 pm tomorrow.”

 

            I had been telling her about something going on in my life, I don’t recall now what, but her phrase stuck with me.

 

            My Millennial daughter and her Boomer mother often talk at cross purposes with each other. Talking about problems in society—even when we agree on the problem—can be tricky. As a Boomer, my goal is often to “solve the problem” where her thoughts trend towards understanding different perspectives. Fortunately, we are both liberal and left-leaning, but our strong willed nature can complicate things.

 

            When Dana and her fiancé George arrived, she said, “Me and George are going to help put up Christmas lights this weekend.”

 

            George, listening, piped up, “I learned to say ‘George and I’ not ‘me and George.’ Isn’t that correct?”

 

            Dana quipped, “Language is changing! Don’t yuck my language yum. That could be elitist.”

 

Me and Dana, 2021

            I know this conundrum personally, having been recently embroiled in a debate between Boomer science women and Millennial science women about the use of “me and so-and-so…” in a public scientific conference. I have given this plenty of thought, discussed it with other Boomer science women, and decided to stick my neck out with this blog.

 

            Boomer science women need to take a breath when Millennial science women are offended when we ‘yuck their yum’. I hope that Millennial science women will wait an hour or two before thinking a Boomer’s comments are targeted at a certain group (for example, them) or meant to be offensive.


            We have much to learn from each other.

 

            In my field of isotope biogeochemistry and earth science, there were very few women when I earned my PhD in 1977, perhaps only 10% of us were women. For 30 years earlier in my career, I was the only woman on the Geophysical Lab’s senior scientific staff of 15. Having weathered that difficult time, my strong personality formed because I needed to be a fighter to keep going. There were no female role models. And there was essentially almost no diversity within women science colleagues my age.

 

            Women in science, especially the physical sciences, have not reached parity. Recently at a faculty meeting, our Dean noted that it would take 12 years at the rate UC Riverside is hiring to reach a ratio of 50:50 women to men—a hiring pathway that is unrealistic and short-sighted, as well as ignoring other under-represented groups.

 

I can turn my laptop on...but


            Today, we recognize that diversity extends well beyond gender—race, ethnicity, disabilities, gender identification, social status—are some of the identities that are as important today as just being a woman. The Boomer women scientists I hang with are all well aware of this new push to promote diversity. Until I started as a professor in 2013 at an Hispanic serving institution at the University of California Merced, I didn’t have a great opportunity to do much about the wider diversity issue. After almost 9 years immersed in this culture, I understand more what needs to be done. I think it is too early to tell how diversity, inclusivity, and equity (DEI) thinking will change scientific culture.

             

            What will we see in the next 5 years?

 

            Boomer women will largely be out of the workforce. But like me, a retired Boomer, we can still contribute. Our experiences, while somewhat limited, still chronicle what it took for us in a world where goal-oriented, competitive, and disciplined traits were critical for success. My work ethic remains strong. Dealing with ALS has forced me to continue to be resourceful, disciplined, and mentally focused, or I would have retreated to a shell waiting for disability to over take me.

 

            I would like to continue to mentor. My rhinoceros-hide days are gone, however. I am very sensitive to negative energy.  Adding an “R” for respect to DEI is a new goal: DEIR. I hope to no longer “yuck your yum.” I’ll need help to do this with the sensitivity that is required to work with a broader group of scientists in need of encouragement to enter the important work of making new discoveries, changing scientific and academic culture, and changing how we judge and evaluate each other.

 


            Millennials are right to question the status quo of the hierarchy that they are joining. Social change isn’t easy—and it’s been noted that we Boomers didn’t accomplish what we set out to do when we were in our twenties and thirties. An appropriate work-life balance is often more important to younger scientists than an academic position at a research-based university, where it is expected that you devote 6-7 years of working your ass off without much time for family building or personal growth. In my opinion, this must change.

 

            We’ve got to work together to support the whole person, someone who will promote DEIR during their career and life. I hope to remain in touch with Millennials—and any others—to effect change and to work on DEIR, and will try as best as I can to respect others as much as I can.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Your 60s—Get ready for change!

 

Selfie: Marilyn and Chris at 63, Norway

When the Big Six O comes around, many of us are heading for change. Often a big change—not necessarily good, but not necessarily bad. It can be a decade for coasting into retirement or putting on the gas and firing up for the finish line. Usually it’s up to you to choose what you’ll be doing now that you’re no longer figuring life out as much as you did as a youngster.

 

But, a good situation can be a bad situation; a bad situation can be a good situation. Humility, humbleness in the face of your longevity will make you think. What’s important? What can drop out of our lives? Who are we?

 

Our 60s hold surprises for us, as well as inevitable experiences that come with the decade. Honestly, it’s been a time of such major change and upheaval for me that it is almost impossible for me to think of what life might have been had I not left the east coast for California and if I’d remained healthy. Below are some reflections on things that you’ll likely encounter if you are younger when you reach this decade, or have already encountered if you are as old, or older, than I am.

 

Inevitable: Everyone knows that you’ll be headed for more doctors appointments than you’ve had previously. Cancer is often first discovered in your 60s. Arthritis creeps in. You might have a bad back, a bad knee or an aching hip that will require surgical repair. Your heart may skip a beat; a life of stress may have elevated your blood pressure. Even if you are in peak, tiptop shape, your body will let you know it’s 60+ years old.


Listen to it carefully.

 

With medical advances as they are today, early detection and intervention is key to making it to your 70s and even 80s and 90s. Finding a physician you like, who is caring and committed to your health is important. Without someone to guide you in this decade, not only will you feel frustrated, but also may waste valuable time finding out what is needed to make you heal.

 

Selfie: 60th birthday, on a 5K run

Surprise:
Although today being 60 doesn’t mean you are necessarily “Old,” be aware that just like you were in your 20s, Generation Z and Millennials think you are Old. In fact, it’s likely that you will encounter something now discussed more often—ageism.

 

Ageism: prejudice or discrimination against a particular age-group and especially the elderly

 

Get ready for this. Recently, I experienced being on the wrong end of ageism when I commented on a Facebook discussion board with a group of mostly younger women. I was swarmed; younger, less experienced women found my comments offensive, when I had intended them otherwise. The swarming led to some sleepless nights and introspection. What had just happened to me? Did I deserve the outcry of vitriol I received? This sort of thing can happen to anyone at any age. But in my case, I felt old-fashioned and out of touch with the ultra-sensibilities in vogue today.

 

So, get ready to steel yourself for ageism when you least expect it.

 

Inevitable: Although you might be living alone with just your partner, you could be lucky enough to have grandchildren to spoil! Conversely, you may also have a 90-year-old parent with dementia. Enjoy them both as much as you can. Neither will last as cute-and-sweet or on the earth forever. I was fortunate to have my mother be active, funny and alert for much (but not all) of my 60s. I treasure the time I’ve had with her when she could converse and interact.

 

Selfie: First day of Teaching 2013

Surprise:
You will likely have a younger, less experienced person as your boss or supervisor. It can be very demoralizing to have someone tell you what you should be doing who doesn’t have your wisdom or knowledge. When my husband and I came to UC Merced in 2013, we naively thought we’d be recognized as people on a mission with good ideas and track records of getting work accomplished. Both of us reported to people who under estimated us and didn’t see us for who we were. Chris decided to retire, and I went elsewhere where leaders knew what they were getting. Not being firmly in the driver’s seat in your 60s is something you will hope to avoid.

 

Inevitable: In science, this is often a time that folks walk into their labs and assess whether they have the stamina to do a final upgrade of aging equipment, take on more grad students needing long term commitments, or letting things gently age.

 

In the world of stable isotopes, if you are talented and/or have talented technical support working for you, there is a good chance you can keep your 5-year old mass spectrometer going until you reach 70. If that’s not the case, and the whine of turbo pumps no longer thrills you, perhaps it’s time to finish up that last data set and wrap up actual data collecting.

 

Selfie: Son Evan, me, Chris, Golden Gate 2014

In my case, at the ripe age of 69, I have almost as much unpublished data as I have data that’s in the press. I certainly don’t need more of it—and really what do I need to accomplish at this point in time? I have two or three major projects that I’d like to see worked into manuscripts: more hydrogen isotopes in amino acid papers, ecosystem study in California’s San Jacinto Mountains, and microbe-animal interactions.

I have been mulling over posting some of the mountain of data on Isobank (website) the newish web-based system for archiving stable isotope data. I am just enough of an old-fashioned person to cringe slightly at the thought of copying and pasting bits of data into a website that might be unforgiving. Let’s say it’s not something that “gets me up in the morning,” but I can knuckle down and give it a try.

 

Surprise: Old friends from 40-50 years earlier in your life suddenly are interesting to you. You feel like you’d like to get to know them again after a busy middle age. Now living in California where he grew up, husband Chris is thoroughly enjoying seeing his buddies from the early 1980s when they lived in a big group house in Berkeley. They tell old stories about the big parties they had, the good food, movies, and I’ve also noticed they switch their manner of speech to how they talked back in the day. Another example is my high school class’ 50th reunion happening this weekend. My former classmates are engaging as never before in their past and reminiscing about life as a teenager.

L-R: Paul Sussman, Chris, Linda Dallin, Nella, Yosemite, 2019

 

Colleagues I’ve known for decades get in touch—maybe because of writing this blog. But I get a bigger sense that people just want to reconnect as they age. On Monday, I zoomed with a colleague on the east coast that I’ve known since the 1980s. It tickled me that he beamed and smiled when I appeared via video saying, “Isn’t this wonderful?”

 

Inevitable: People will expect you to retire—often whether you want to or not. Retirement is a very personal thing. Some abandon their life’s work entirely, while others like me continue on a limited basis. Finances change, of course. Sometimes for better, sometimes not. If you’ve reached 60 without a serious effort at putting money away, don’t skip a minute…save all you can.

 

Retirement may bring a change in where you live as well. My friend and frolleague Doug Rumble had a burst of creativity in his 60s, working on the development and implementation of the new large format mass spectrometers. He traveled the world offering advice, testing, and hanging out with the younger scientists who would run the labs. He made a leap from Washington DC to the west, now enjoying mountain hikes and spectacular geology.


Another of my frolleagues likes to make her department Chair squirm when he tries to gauge when she’ll retire. In the United States, unlike some European countries, you can’t be asked to formally retire. Wise universities and business often offer incentives to “move on.” Figuring out what’s best for you is the ticket: do you want to keep your lab or office? Or are you ready to move on?

 

Old Friends: Jean Roggenkamp, me, Todd Miller, 2021

Surprise but Inevitable: Some folks will not make it to their 60s: 15% of my high school class from 1970 passed away before or during their 60s. We often feel we are invincible, but as we approach our 60s that feeling often changes and disappears. I became more vulnerable and humble. Being slugged with a terminal illness certainly colored the majority of my 60s, but it’s not a time to give up and binge watch television. No matter your life, health or work status, continuing to do what you love is more important now than ever.

 

The decade of your 60s will zoom by faster than your earlier years, but I suspect not as fast as your 70s, but they aren’t boring or static by any means. Saddle up for an interesting ride.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Evaluation and Review--A scientist's life

 

L-R: Tom, Doug Rumble, Marilyn, Joe Boyd, 1990

 

A White Dude from the ‘50s

 

Tom Hoering walked to the Geophysical Lab on Upton Street every morning, arriving on campus by about 8:00 am. In winter he sported a long, beige trench coat and a woolen pork pie hat, gloves, and if it was snowy or icy, an old-fashioned pair of black galoshes that slipped over his shoes. Typically he wore a white shirt, an older, slightly rumpled tie, and a pair of trousers, usually khakis from LL Beans. In spring, he donned a sport coat and wore it throughout the day, unless he was glassblowing or using chemical solvents. In summer, he lost the tie, wearing a thinner, short-sleeved shirt.

 

He worked throughout the morning, started by spending an hour or so writing on a typewriter perched to the left of his old oak desk. Then, he’d saunter into his lab, turn on instruments, gather his “tools” for the day and make measurements.

 

If Tom’s phone rang, he’d shout, “A ringing telephone is a request, not a demand!” and keep working.

 

By noon, he’d meet up with his colleagues, Felix Chayes and Hat Yoder, then the threesome would walk down to Connecticut Avenue to eat lunch at the Hot Shoppes. Some days, he’d have a martini lunch, afterwards putting his feet up on his desk and taking a snooze for 30 minutes or so. He’d head back into the lab where he often remained until his day ended at 5:30 pm. Sometimes, but not often, he’d pack up a leather brief case with some papers to take home. In the evening, he enjoyed cracking open a new issue of Geochimica et Cosmochima Acta with its orange and white cover and reading about the latest scientific discoveries in geochemistry.

 

Tom fishing on the R/V Longhorn, 1974

On Saturdays, he strolled into the Lab around 9:00 am, usually in more worn out khakis, older shoes, and an open front shirt. He’d tap some memos out on his typewriter, check out his lab, walk around the building to make sure no water was leaking, or any other not-to-unusual things were happening in the Lab. By lunchtime, he’d head back home.

 

Yearly, Tom worked seriously on one or two projects typically culminating in a Carnegie Annual Report article in June. Often, he published his work only in this informal, yet widely read, medium. If he was into something “hot,” he’d work on it until he was truly satisfied, then would write a proper peer-reviewed manuscript. He usually mentored one postdoc at a time, as well as counsel a parade of scientists both young and old who wanted his advice. Tom loved giving advice and cared deeply about the people in his scientific sphere.

 

On the home front, Tom’s wife Martha took care of their two children, the house, did the shopping and cooking, washed his clothes and took his suits to the dry cleaners. He had very few home life things he needed to take care of in his early years. [This situation changed drastically when Tom was in his late fifties. Then, he took on the health care of Martha, learned to cook and garden.]

 

Tom was truly a White Dude of the 1950s. Over his career, he published about 60 papers in journals along with another 60 or so in the Carnegie’s Annual Report of the Director of the Geophysical Laboratory—not many by today’s standards. He wrote letters of recommendation, probably reviewed 6 papers and a few grants per year, gave a seminar or two, and went to one national meeting annually.

 

Treibs award ceremony, 1987

But he was enormously successful and influential, because the work that he did do was creative and thorough. The standards he set for himself—analytical rigor and novel hypotheses—he looked for in others. He didn’t “count” papers or demand outreach or service. He viewed an early career scientist with an eye to figure out whether that person came up with original ideas that could be tested. He looked for analytical prowess. He recognized a good speaker and a good writer. He also recognized bull shitters, slackers, and fakes. Knowing this, he attracted competent people.

 

Kate Freeman's Speech for Tom's Treibs Medal Ceremony, 1987

Tom’s counterpoint on the west coast was Sam Epstein, professor at Caltech. Sam’s influence in geochemistry is equally influential, if not a tad greater, as Tom Hoering’s. Epstein published about 130 papers in his career, often with one of his bright grad students as coauthor. The two men resembled each other in appearance with curly grey hair, short stature, and slightly formal manner. Both knew their stuff in the lab, could recognize talent, and were very creative people.

Sam Epstein, Caltech

 

Today it is popular for some entering the early stages of a scientific career to think that White Dudes from the ‘50s made up the criteria for which people are judged today. I don’t think this is necessarily so.

 

Communication until the mid-1980s happened by snail mail—letters pounded out on a typewriter or written by hand. Telephone calls were expensive. Personal computers were uncommon. Secretaries typed your manuscripts. Graphics were done by hand or sent out to a professional drafts person. To travel, people used travel agents and held paper tickets. To read the literature, you needed to physically go into the Library, take a book off the shelf, and then Xerox the paper you’d want to read later. Life was slower, much less complicated.

 

How are scientists evaluated today—1950s ethics or something more relevant?

 

For the past two years, I served on AGU’s Macelwane awards committee, reading and evaluating 60+ nominees each year, then having to choose only 5 to get the award. These nominees, all within 10 years of earning their PhDs, have remarkable records of accomplishment! Many of them have published 60 to 90 papers, have brought in millions in grant funding, established new programs, often before becoming full professors. This simply phenomenal rate of accomplishment isn’t based on White Dudes from the ‘50s. 

 

I’m often asked to provide an assessment of a professor for tenure and promotion. Some universities provide a candidate’s written statement 20-25 pages long, not including a separate CV. University “bean counting” makes them list every talk, seminar, paper review, and student evaluation so that people like me can write an assessment. The sheer amount of tasks that early career earth scientists must undertake to be “successful” is numbing. Based on feedback from colleagues at this point in time, it can also lead to burnout.

 

Where did the metrics for scientist’s reviews come from? How often are we evaluated and reviewed in our careers? How often do we evaluate and review others?

 

Here’s an estimate.

 

I published about 200+ papers in my career. For each paper, an editor judged it 3 times, and three reviewers read and commented on it twice for a total of 9 evaluations/paper and 1,800 evaluations for the body of work. For the people who actually read the papers, maybe 10 formed an opinion, adding another 2,000 “reviews” to the mix.

 

Informality years ago...


I submitted maybe 60+ grant proposals during my career. At NSF, for example, a program officer evaluated it three times, three outside peers provided reviews, as well as 8 panel members: 840 reviews in total.

 

I gave about 2 seminars per year and 2 talks or posters at conferences to audiences of about 50 people each time. Say 10 of them formed an opinion—in 45 years, that’s 1620 informal reviews!

 

I came late to classroom teaching--600 students total in 8 years: another 600 evaluations.

 

In the collaborations along the way, I worked on over 200 projects with at least 3 colleagues that commented on all aspects of the work multiple times: 1,800 evaluations of approaches, methods, and data. Add to that coauthor reviews of manuscripts: another 600 reviews and edits.

 

That’s 9260 evaluations, conservatively, about 4 per week for 45 years.

 

Here’s an estimate of how many scientists I have reviewed or evaluated.

 

I probably review 6 manuscripts per year: often twice: 405 reviews.

 

Thirty some postdocs and 40 some grad students were evaluated informally probably three times a year for 3 years each: 630 evaluations.

 

In classroom teaching, 600 students took 3 exams and wrote one paper: 2,400 evaluations.

 

I review maybe 5 grant proposals per year (for 30 years): 150 reviews.

 

I attended about 30 seminars per year and probably listened to, and paid attention to, about 25 talks per year for 45 years: 1825 informal evaluations.

 

Tenure and promotion reviews are much less frequent, maybe three per year for 20 years: 60 detailed assessments.

 


Editing manuscripts I coauthor takes time and I work on them until they seem as good as we can make them. 200 manuscripts edited 4 times each: 800 reviews.

 

At the University of California, I reviewed faculty “files” for merit and promotion increases, usually 7 per year for 7 years: 49 university assessments.

 

6319 formal and informal assessments, reviews, and evaluations. For 40 years, that’s about 3 per week, for 50 weeks every year.

 

The Yin and Yang of it all is clear. People judge you; you judge them.

 

Scientists expect they’ll be reviewed, but most of us don’t like it, particularly if the reviews of ourselves are negative. Here’s what I’ve learned.

 

No one likes a review that starts like this--ever.
 

1. Be thankful for any editorial improvements that your colleagues and anonymous reviewers make on your manuscripts. In general, if someone tells you your sentence is unclear, it probably is. Accept their help. I advise against “let’s submit it now and let the reviewers make it better.” Always submit your best work.

 

2. Grants are panned for different reasons—not enough funds, greater scrutiny when money is involved, and protecting turf. When your proposal is nixed, reflect. Could it have been clearer? Is it your best idea? It’s easy to think your greatest critics are the people who have given negative reviews. Based on my time at NSF, I learned that who you thought panned you, wasn’t usually the case. Re-submit at least once, if not twice, if this is one of your best ideas.

 

3. When you give a talk or seminar, practice in front of colleagues and your supervisor during your early years. Give yourself enough time to revise your presentation. For more seasoned folks, prepare in advance, not just the day of your talk! Make the presentation shorter, not longer. Your audience will be pleased that you don’t talk longer than your allotted time.

 

4. Poll students mid-semester to find out how you can improve as a teacher. Make an effort to see what helps them succeed, while having to keep your own ego unbruised. When you do get student evaluations, take a breath. Many of my own evaluations and those of my colleagues contain criticism about accents, clothing, appearance, style, and computer skills. What irked me the most was when students wrote that I was “unprepared.” Keep a talk about your most intriguing research in your “pocket” when that might happen. I have found students love to be able to sit back and be entertained by something as cool as your personal research.

 

5. For that big tenure review, I’ve seen two different responses by folks at this stressful time: cool and prepared vs. nervous and worried. Some people are by nature nervous and worried. If you are one, plan early and start making personal connections with people who might be asked to write an assessment of you. Is this outright schmoozing? You bet. More likely you’ll make a valuable scientific connection that might serve you both for years.

 

Steady progress is best…a paper a year may not seem like a lot, but by six years, you’ll have six papers. Additional manuscripts from colleagues and your students should supplement your own first author contributions.

 

While it’s good to get your self “out there,” too much outreach, too many talks, too much service can be exhausting and actually dilute what is most important: are you independent and can you “drive your own bus”?

 

Cool and prepared folks have kept a steady but not overwhelming pace. They publish some of their postdoc work to keep the stream of science coming while establishing their labs, find grad students and begin teaching. Personally, speaking up for your self and others, contributing to faculty discussions, and being a positive person helps. Having a healthy work-life balance is, in my opinion, somehow helpful in the process.

 

Back to the question of where did the extreme review mantra come from?

 

I think it’s exacerbated by the fast pace of the internet, email, and even social media. Your citations are no longer difficult to track, but can be easily accessed via Google Scholar. Now, people can see what you’ve been publishing instantly and how well its been received.

 

Students no longer fill out evaluations by hand in class, but can do so at home (maybe after a beer) online.

 

When people give a popular talk or publish a good paper, it can instantly be sent out to the world on social media. [I do this as well.]

 

There are simply more early-career scientists these days—and greater competition for coveted jobs.

 

Finally, I’ll add that it might be that Older White Dudes of the ‘70s and ‘80s may be the department chairs, deans, and directors who are judging your work. The phrase “Back in my day…” is all too prevalent sometimes. Back in my day, the world was simpler. Today it is more multi-faceted and complex.

 

Now, many universities have added accomplishments in diversity, equity, and inclusion as another aspect of academic evaluations. These added criteria are important, but I’ve noticed that we don’t yet have metrics for properly evaluating them—in either BIPOC scientists or Older White Dudes. Eventually, we’d all like to reach fairness and respect for everyone. In my work as College Equity Advisor at UC Riverside, I’ve seen departments that “get it,” while others are struggling to make this work for them. COVID has injected another layer into the mix with work stoppages for parents, early career job seekers, and those with health concerns.

 

I know this is a controversial topic and indeed a tricky time. I hope that we’ll come out the other side enlightened and committed to fair, thoughtful, and even helpful, reviews.

 

 

 



Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Moorestown High School Class of 1970: Memories of some who didn't make it

 

Class of 1970 Moorestown New Jersey

In eighth grade, he stuck a wad of freshly chewed gum on the seat of my desk in US History class. I failed to notice it as I took my seat in front of a classroom of fellow students who silently snickered as I sat down. When the bell rang at the end of class, I gathered my books, then stood up suddenly realizing I was tethered to my chair by a long string of gum on the back of my dress.

 

The class howled in laughter.

 

My face turned red and tears instantaneously sprang from my eyes. I was the butt of a nasty practical joke. The teacher, Mr. DiBaise, did not laugh, but glowered threateningly at the class.

 

“Who did this?” he thundered.

 

Billy Walton, a friend since 6th grade, raised his hand. “I did,” he murmured.

 

The class grew silent. By this time, I think they recognized how awful it would be for any of them to have been the laughing stock of the class. Mr. DiBaise dismissed the class, asked Billy to stay, and went out to find a female teacher to help clean the gummed dress.

 

“Sorry about that,” Billy said pathetically. I wanted to slug him. Maybe I did. I don’t recall that moment through the haze of embarrassment. Billy was given a couple afternoons of detention, minimal impact for the pain he’d inflicted.

 

Mrs. Dunn the typing teacher escorted me to the Staff Women’s restroom where I removed my madras plaid dress, huddled in my slip, while she scraped off the gum and washed and dried the dress. She gave me a late pass for my next class. I walked into that class still angry at how everyone, not just Billy, had laughed at me—not with me.

 

By lunchtime, many apologized for laughing, and Billy Walton had gotten an earful from them as well. Eventually, I forgave him. Gum on my ass was but one of many of my teenage stories during my years in Moorestown Junior and Senior High Schools.

 

Stories like this come to mind as my class, originally with 246 seniors, prepares to gather in early November for the 50+1 year high school reunion. Given my medical status and level of safety during COVID time, I won’t be able to attend. But in the past year, I’ve been thinking, not only about those early years, but about those classmates who didn’t make it to 50+1 years past high school.

 

Billy Walton was one of them who didn’t. In high school we became comic foils for each other. In the senior play, our characters were an old married couple. We dyed our hair grey with spray paint, and he wore my father’s old maroon bathrobe [I was in charge of Props for the play.] He would joke that we were a “couple” and one night at the local teen dance, we tried out how it felt to make out—kissing and doing what teenagers do.

 

Billy on right in play Mother Courage starring Debbie Field

After a while, he said, “Nope. Didn’t work. Didn’t feel a thing.” We then discussed at length what that meant for him.

 

Ultimately, he figured out that he was gay.

 

We kept in touch as Billy’s new life as a gay man unfolded. He still called me “Wifey”, but we both knew it was the name of just a friend.

 

By the early 1980s, AIDS was making its way from Africa to America. I learned about it early on as friends of mine were postdocs in Dr. Robert Gallo’s lab at the National Institutes of Health. AIDS and the virus HIV were identified by the late 1980s and deaths, particularly among gay men, skyrocketed.

 


Billy died in 1994, at the peak of deaths in the United States from this epidemic. When the AIDS quilt came to the Washington DC Mall, I went and found Billy’s square. Fortunately, drug treatments followed and many people who were dying alone in hospitals had a new beginning.

 

For those of you not familiar with Moorestown New Jersey, it was a town with very wealthy people mixed with sections of town where low and middle income families lived. We were all aware of who lived where. I grew up firmly in the middle class of Moorestown, next door to Franny Stein [Kasen]. Our families did well, and stress about money was rare in our house.

 

Danny Dwyer was the 3rd child in a large Catholic family that lived in a substantial new colonial home overlooking prestigious Strawbridge Lake. His older brother Patrick and his sister Kathy were very popular kids, so Danny “grandfathered” into the Cool Kids Club of the Class of 1970. Danny, unlike his older siblings, was short, petite, introspective, and shy. Looking at the Yearbook for 1970, Danny served as Captain of the wrestling and soccer teams. Seemingly, Danny was a happy, well-adjusted young man. He was not known to have a girl friend, however, and was a bit of an enigma.

Danny and I became secret friends in our senior year. I was a known goofball, iconoclast, wild card—a person outside the notice of any Cool guy. Both of us were signed up to attend the Philadelphia Orchestra concerts for students, which took place four times a year on a weekday night. Somehow—and some way—in the parking lot where students were boarding the bus for Philly, he and I decided to drive down to the Jersey shore, one hour away, instead.

 

Capt. of wrestling team

We’d never had a conversation before, but I was intrigued by his relative notoriety. It was exciting to have small adventures like this. One of my talents is getting people to talk, reveal their problems, discuss what’s important. Within minutes of heading east, Danny opened up and talked constantly until we returned to the high school parking lot hours later.

 

The day after that first trip, I looked forward to continuing where we left off. But, when I saw Danny in the hallway where he stood stoically as a hall monitor, he ignored me, looking straight forward when I said, “Hi Danny!”

 

Man, is that ever “high school” behavior. I forgot about him.

 

But then when we met prior to the next concert, we hopped in the car together and started back up where we’d left off.

 

On the third trip, as we ran around the beach on Long Beach Island, he grabbed me and gave me a kiss. Just the one. Sandpapery, short. But a display of affection. I smiled and felt good.

 

By now, I knew the “drill” back in school. We ignored each other. I hoped he’d call some day, but he never did. Looking back, Danny Dwyer was a bottled up guy, who struggled with being his own person—not the popular guy everyone wanted him to be.

 

By the time I took off for Penn State in summer 1970, I left my nerdy persona behind and became a foxy freshman. I was having a ball meeting Cool guys on my own, never mind my time as a Nerd in Moorestown.

 

That first Thanksgiving as returning college kids, many of us met up at the local dance hall to see our old friends. There was Danny—now with long hair, looking shaggy and edgy.

 

“Hey!” I said. “How are you doing?” I assumed he’d left that high school crap behind him like I had.

 

“Want to buy some pot?” he asked. I frowned. Is that any way to greet a friend?

 

I was offended, no longer willing to let people treat me like I didn’t have a personality. I shook my head, said no, and walked away. Danny actually called me a month later at Christmas time, asking me again about buying drugs. I told him, finally, that I was disappointed. He could do better. Where was that excited guy who told me his life dreams? He was gone.

 

Just before New Years Eve in 1975, he committed suicide. Looking back, knowing what I know now about mental health—he was overwhelmingly depressed. The frayed, disheveled guy in 1971, mentally and physically declined and ended what should have been a sparkling life.

 

Our class of 1970 was also dragged into the Vietnam War and a drug culture that went along with it. Boys, soon to be Men, had to consider the Draft as soon as they graduated from high school. In my homeroom class, we had a number of aging “Boys” who were slowly passing through school, flunking classes on purpose, and (I’m sure) taking pretty serious drugs. Marijuana smoke wafted out of the restrooms in the mornings. It was well known that heroin was a drug of choice.

 

Debbie Field (now the famous jazz singer Rachel Gould) and I watched as more and more of the guys sat slumped at their desks every morning. This was tough to see them like this because we’d been in school with these guys seemingly forever.

 

The late ‘60s was also the heyday of rock and roll and some of our friends were cool enough to play in bands. David Fenwick, who I’d known since 6th grade, was one of them.

 

Our class’s first dance in 6th grade was held at the Junior High gymnasium. Several gals had gone with dates, but I went alone hoping to snag the attention of some cute guy—and I did. David asked me for my first dance! Wearing a scratchy grey woolen suit, he looked uncomfortable and was sweating in the un-air conditioned gym. It was a slow dance: we held each other at arms length, swaying stiffly with the music. Afterwards, he thanked me formally—and I, him, and we went back to our segregated huddles of girls and boys on the fringes of the gym floor.

 

By high school, David drifted towards nightlife, lost weight, and was the drummer in his older brother’s band. He was a far cry from the awkward gentle fellow in 6th grade. I worried about him, as I worried about everyone ravaged by the scene at that time.

 

L-R: Jim Duffy, Max Brinck, and the late talented David Fenwick

By 20 years after graduation, I was relieved to see that many of those guys from homeroom now looked vital, had wives and children, and had thrown off those earlier destructive behaviors. When our class learned that David Fenwick had died in 2019, his obituary informed us he was still a musician (!) and also a beloved popular high school teacher. He made it through a difficult time in life and prospered on the other side.

 

Three favorite stories of mine—three songs in remembrance of those who died too young. For Danny Dwyer, the song “Forever Young” comes to mind. For Billy Walton, that classic by Dionne Warwick and Stevie Wonder “That’s what friends are for” produced to support AIDS research. For David Fenwick, who made it out of a young funk, a retrospective “Light My Fire” by the Doors.


Too many of my classmates are gone: 16% felled by heart disease, cancer, and life. For me, who ponders the longevity of my life almost daily, I’ve been blessed to make it 50+1 years past the tumultuous time of high school. It’s a lesson for the rest of us.

 

When the class meets in Moorestown and via Zoom, we’ll be raising a glass to those who didn’t make it. And reminding our selves to live life to the fullest.

 

 

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