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Y'know I was told when I got to grad school to be nice to the department secretaries, because they have all the power. And they do. And they have bailed me out (often of messes of my own creation) dozens of times. And personally I find them a lot easier to get along with than most of the other scientists. That sense of relief that has washed over me when I have gotten my payroll sorted out and found I *can* make rent this month after all, or got a part ordered in a hurry from a new vendor, without which my research is a standstill, has made me a fangrrl of good department secretaries.

No kidding. {And a *bad* - or simply uncaring, unhelpful - admin person can basically fubar everything. Take, for example, the Purchasing folks at my current institution... but I digress :)}

Also: where did you get the suit? My 6 year-old space-mad son would love it!

I got his flight suit from the space store. JPL had some that were less expensive, but they were either orange or blue. Had to be a white suit.

This reminds me of my ow early days working for the American Physical Society -- the first time I'd ever encountered professional physicists. Changed my life, changed my attitude towards science, and I got a shiny new career as a science writer in the end. It's the humanizing aspect, I think. Just goes to show, one never knows what simply answering a basic question from a non-scientist can accomplish in terms of changing how they think about scientists... and the world around them.

Awesome. And the best part is, when YOU love scientists, you can put that science into terms that the rest of the lay world can hopefully understand, appreciate and then support.

I know how your metrologists feel. Once you're surrounded by all manner of atomic clocks, wearing an imprecise instrument like a wristwatch, perhaps as much as a million times worse in performance, would just be silly. I have arguably the best clock system in the world not far from my desk. What do I need with a wristwatch?

when they tie up my scientists with a four dollar discrepancy on a rental car, SCIENCE IS NOT HAPPENING, JACKHOLE.

We have some great secretaries in my departmental office, but my university needs more assistants like you! :)

I second that comment that you must always make friends with the departmental secretaries and admins. I found this out my first day in grad school and it was one of the most valuable lessons I ever learned. And I, too, got a shiny science writing career out of grad school, along with cosmic knowledge, thanks in large part to our admin, secretary, and, of course my advisor (who was the one who tipped me off to the right way to treat them).

Cheers to you!


That was a great read. I can't say I've ever wandered the halls without my shoes, but trust me that the bad manners and ridiculously poor social skills aren't us being rude on purpose.

"...if some government bureaucrat gets in between you and your travels, I will cut a bitch..."

Now if that ain't love, I don't know what is :)

I like you.

-David Kessler, Ph.D.

Alyson, as a secretary at JPL, I thank you for this. Because that is really how I feel.

Mind you, I've been a science groupie since before I started working here, so the fact that I work with astrophysicists brings me no end of joy, but I firmly believe that my job is to make my bosses' jobs easier. Otherwise, as you say, "SCIENCE IS NOT HAPPENING, JACKHOLE."

Which may now be my most favorite line ever. Along with, "[...] but if some government bureaucrat gets in between you and your travels, I will cut a bitch to make sure you get to your conference."

Hell ya.

Wonderful article. I wish I'd thought of rolling in glue, that would make mornings so much easier.

I have learned to deeply respect a good department secretary. Your group is lucky to have you! And yes, I have wandered the halls with my shoes off.

"Rain gun"?

You've given me a whole new perspective to being a PA to a science department. I want your job ;)

Great article, but is it "like they rolled and glue" or "like they rolled in glue"?

Ha! I edited and now you look crazy!

Thank you all so much for the very warm welcome, this was a lovely surprise!

WOW you reminded me of how much i love the two women in our department who protect me from all of this. i just wrote one an e-mail to tell her how much i love her. thank YOU for allyou do too :)
-A shoeless graduate student

I loved your post.

It would be great to walk down your corridor and have you as secretary. My wife saved me from being one of those that dress like they were rolled in glue and then attacked by clothes hampers on the way to work. All I do nowadays is put on whatever she hands me out.

You must be one of a kind.

Loved this, but must take you to task about _The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress_; what Heinlein used was exactly a rail gun, although I don't remember if he used that term- but from his descriptions, it's a rail gun.

To repeat, though: loved the post!

I'm suddenly reminded of watching grad students from the CU math dept try to figure out a bar tab after an evening at the local Irish pub.

Now I really miss living in Boulder.

I came in from the Bad Astronomy blog becase Phil recommended it. I just couldn't avoid the single tear that wanted to creep out. I love how you love scientists.

That's a wonderful story! As I head towards my graduate career, I hope to be as lucky with the office staff as your scientists are in you.

Keep the love alive!

Ah, so you understand why I went to attend a poster session about biology during my lunch break yesterday, and asked professors and grad students to explain in layman's terms why they think autism is related to intestinal flora, or how the mammalian immune system learns to recognize intruders.

The term I used to describe myself was "science groupie". I can't do the research myself, but I can certainly admire those who do.

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    Physics Cocktails

    • Heavy G
      The perfect pick-me-up when gravity gets you down.
      2 oz Tequila
      2 oz Triple sec
      2 oz Rose's sweetened lime juice
      7-Up or Sprite
      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
    • Listening to the Drums of Feynman
      The perfect nightcap after a long day struggling with QED equations.
      1 oz dark rum
      1/2 oz light rum
      1 oz Tia Maria
      2 oz light cream
      Crushed ice
      1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
      In a shaker half-filled with ice, combine the dark and light rum, Tia Maria, and cream. Shake well. Strain into an old fashioned glass almost filled with crushed ice. Dust with the nutmeg, and serve. Bongos optional.
    • Combustible Edison
      Electrify your friends with amazing pyrotechnics!
      2 oz brandy
      1 oz Campari
      1 oz fresh lemon juice
      Combine Campari and lemon juice in shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Heat brandy in chafing dish, then ignite and pour into glass. Cocktail Go BOOM! Plus, Fire = Pretty!
    • Hiroshima Bomber
      Dr. Strangelove's drink of choice.
      3/4 Triple sec
      1/4 oz Bailey's Irish Cream
      2-3 drops Grenadine
      Fill shot glass 3/4 with Triple Sec. Layer Bailey's on top. Drop Grenadine in center of shot; it should billow up like a mushroom cloud. Remember to "duck and cover."
    • Mad Scientist
      Any mad scientist will tell you that flames make drinking more fun. What good is science if no one gets hurt?
      1 oz Midori melon liqueur
      1-1/2 oz sour mix
      1 splash soda water
      151 proof rum
      Mix melon liqueur, sour mix and soda water with ice in shaker. Shake and strain into martini glass. Top with rum and ignite. Try to take over the world.
    • Laser Beam
      Warning: may result in amplified stimulated emission.
      1 oz Southern Comfort
      1/2 oz Amaretto
      1/2 oz sloe gin
      1/2 oz vodka
      1/2 oz Triple sec
      7 oz orange juice
      Combine all liquor in a full glass of ice. Shake well. Garnish with orange and cherry. Serve to attractive target of choice.
    • Quantum Theory
      Guaranteed to collapse your wave function:
      3/4 oz Rum
      1/2 oz Strega
      1/4 oz Grand Marnier
      2 oz Pineapple juice
      Fill with Sweet and sour
      Pour rum, strega and Grand Marnier into a collins glass. Add pineapple and fill with sweet and sour. Sip until all the day's super-positioned states disappear.
    • The Black Hole
      So called because after one of these, you have already passed the event horizon of inebriation.
      1 oz. Kahlua
      1 oz. vodka
      .5 oz. Cointreau or Triple Sec
      .5 oz. dark rum
      .5 oz. Amaretto
      Pour into an old-fashioned glass over (scant) ice. Stir gently. Watch time slow.