Monday, January 24, 2005

Pride and anxiety

I spent about two hours on the phone last evening talking with two former physics students. One is doing a particle physics postdoc at Fermilab, working on the D-Zero detector experiment there. (He took several of us on a tour a little over a year ago, and it was amazing and impressive.) The other is in "thesis hell" (his description), finishing his Ph.D. in quantum theory before taking up a postdoc at Caltech. These are two of the twenty or so physicists, men and women, that I've helped to teach over the years.

This is, of course, very rewarding for a college professor. And of course I am proud -- though it is a funny humbling sort of pride. I also must confess a certain uneasiness about the whole thing. Every so often I realize that these ex-students (now colleagues) of mine have picked up some of my ideas and attitudes about quantum mechanics or relativity or whatever. Oh dear, I think. I caught these fellows at a vulnerable time in their intellectual lives, and now they are marked (scarred?) for life. Oh boy, I hope I did okay.

I am egotistical enough to enjoy seeing bits of myself reflected in my former students, but not enough to contemplate this without a certain anxiety. One comforting thought is that my real influence on them is probably less than I imagine. We know how it works. When you talk to an old teacher, you talk about familiar stuff in familiar ways. You want him to feel that he served you well and made a difference for you. It is a way of thanking him. Well, you're welcome, guys. Or am I the one who should say "thank you"?


Post a Comment

<< Home