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Sometimes it take 15 years....


Sometimes, fortunately rarely, but sometimes, the most brilliant comebacks take 15 years to be realized. And tragically sometimes, even more fortunately rarely, the target of the comeback is dead.

My sophomore year at college, might have been my junior year, I was taking Physics 7 something, which was a classical electrodynamics physics laboratory class. We were doing all sorts of experiments dealing with electromagnetics, magnetism and the like.

I hated this class. I was awful at physics. I was terrible at seeing how formulas came out of data. I was terrible at seeing how data could be confirmed with formulas. I did the calculations but never really understood the theory or how to apply it to new situations. I couldn't stand the class. I had no patience for the experiments. In a nutshell: was doomed to be a failed, frustrated scientist if I chose research in my future.

I was saved from that fate by a boyfriend (who woke me up, turned me around and helped me change in ways he'll never know, for which I thank him, but that's another story for another day). But before I was saved, I was humiliated.

I hadn't been doing well in the class. My TA was a friend, Andrew Kaluzniacki, a housemate (which means different things at Caltech than it does in the Real World or even other colleges), and that made things more complicated (or maybe I projected complication onto the situation - at that time, everything was complicated).

During one session, the professor of the class comes up to me and starts asking me questions about the experiment I was doing. I suspect the questions weren't hard, and I should have known the answers, but I didn't. I was frustrated that I was doing poorly and felt the professor was badgering me to deliberately humiliate me. It didn't help that I didn't like the professor, who I thought was a drunken waste of potential.

At one point, the professor asked me what results I should expect from the experiment I was doing. I didn't know. I humbled something incoherent, got up and walked out of the class. I don't recall if I finished the class or dropped after that. I definitely dropped the Physics major soon afterward.

I believe dropping the physics major was a Good Thing (tm). However, my answer to the professor should have been, "I have no expectations for this experiment. If I did, that would affect my results, biasing them towards what I expect the data to be."

If only I had the foresight, intelligence, wit and confidence at that time to answer the question correctly.

Sometimes comebacks take fifteen years. And sometimes, the monkey jumps off at the same time.