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Light. Happiness. Thankfulness.

Few years ago, one of my wonderful quirky acquaintances explained to me that when things seem to go awry all the time, it is all Mercury’s fault. “When Mercury is in retrograde, she said, there is not much you can do. Just try to survive, and don’t engage in important communications during that time.”

Today was one of those days. Each and every communication I had today did not go well. Nothing *bad* just…disappointing. Things that I thought had been approved and decided returned to me. Questions I asked were not answered. Or if they were answered, they sounded snappy. By mid-afternoon I felt enveloped in a dense grey cloud. Then I checked: Mercury is in retrograde February 7-28. Oh well.

What is a geek to do? She goes to the lab.

Some of my current students have fallen into a phase of ugly plates and inconclusive Gram stainings. While we want students to figure out what to do on their own, I felt intervention was necessary. I always feel queasy about too close supervision (due to my historical dislike of micromanaging), but I have also read that structure is good for students, especially those with less preparation. So yesterday I checked and troubleshooted with them, and devised some simple strategies to figure out what was going on.

So the geek goes to the lab and looks over the newly inoculated plates, and she is happy that the plates (streaked with me looking over the students’ shoulders) look great, and that the green sheen suggestive of a P.aeruginosa contamination is not there anymore. And when she opens the incubator and the smell of landfill surrounds her, she is happy that all those pesky microbes are obviously happy.

(On a side note: some years ago I visited a clinical microbiology lab. The lady in charge, one of the awesomest microbiologist I have met, at a certain corner of the lab sniffed into the air and said, with a half-smile “Don’t you like the sweet smell of Pseudomonas?” At that time it seemed a bit extreme, but not anymore. Every time I open the fridge full of soil plates I smell half-rotten fish. I am so curious which of those many colonies smell like fish and why. Yes, I am getting attached to the little buggers.)

But once out of the lab and walking toward my office, the cloud is back. I am not looking forward facing real life.

Oh my. There is a bag on my desk, labeled with my name. I “awww” to myself. It happens occasionally, especially at the end of a course. I am touched, but I do not look inside.

It is only at home, after driving through Friday afternoon traffic, that I look into the bag, searching for the card. It is a sweet thank you card from a former student. I am so moved. The grey cloud has lifted, and I am back where I should be. Thank you so much.

Those of us who teach don’t do it for the fame or the money. In fact, we don’t do it for thank you cards. We do it for the “a-ha” moments, for the light shining up in the eyes, for the times when the students get something they did not before.

But it is nice when we hear back. Another student emailed me last week: “Comparing to your classes, the XYZ test was a cake!” She got in the 99th percentile of the qualifying test for her program, and was bubbly. I had to chuckle.

Thank you, dear students. And honestly, we cannot do it without you. Thanks for joining the ride, as bumpy as it may be sometimes. Really, you make it worth.

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