I have not blogged in a long time. This is my return. It does not mean that I will be more prolific. This is just one post.
As many of you know, I am studying Mechanical Engineering part time. I will not bore you with any details, but suffice it to say, this most recent semester was difficult, particularly my linear algebra class. One thing that I do differently as an adult college student, versus my younger self, is seek the help of my professors. My first time through college, I never considered the “office hours” portion of the syllabus. This time around, I take advantage of them. They are the only reason I made it through a couple classes already.
This fall, I signed up for the online section of linear algebra. It was evident very quickly that I was going to need help, so I ventured onto campus to meet with the voice behind the lectures. The first meeting was a little strange, only because I had not seen a professor’s office quite like this.
First, a grad student opened the door to let me in then sat on a computer in the corner the whole time. That is fine. There was a leather couch. There was a lot of random food stuffs on shelves and trash on the floor in some places. My professor wore cotton athletic shorts, a t-shirt, and flip flops. He seemed nice enough, if a little distracted by emails while talking to me. He answered my questions and definitely knew the material. I came out of that meeting feeling better about the subject, even if I really did not understand it well. I knew I would have to put in the work.
And so I did. Once again, though, I knew I needed to go in for help. The material was overwhelming. I was not sure an office visit would really help, but I figured it would not hurt for him to see my face again and see that I was putting in effort. The second office visit went a little differently than the first.
It started the same though. I knocked, and the door was answered by the same grad student. This time, my professor was asleep on the leather couch. Pillow. Blanket. He looked quite cozy, and I ruined it. As he sat up, he muttered something about “working out a problem.”
Rather than get up and go to his desk, he just sat up on the couch and directed me to sit next to him. I did not want to sit on his pillow, so I sat next to it, and uncomfortably close to him. He asked what questions I had, not hiding his irritation too well. I was already flustered at this point, so any questions I did have were escaping me. Admittedly, I had not prepared too many specific questions. Most of my questions were, “This makes my brain hurt. How can it not?” or some variation of that.
Anyway, we were going over a problem in the homework, and he was going all Socratic on me. I was having difficulties answering each question, and he was helping by removing his glasses and rubbing his eyes. At one point, when I was struggling to remember a definition from something in high school math, he leaned over and our knees touched. The whole situation was already very awkward (I forgot to mention that a second grad student had entered the office and was sitting at a desk across from the couch).
So not only did I have an audience for my questioning, but I had to decide how to separate my knee from my professor’s. I did not use the “immediate recoil in horror” technique. Instead, I casually shifted my position, moving my knee away from his. It worked, but it did mean I was closer to his pillow.
Mercifully, he answered the question himself. I felt a mixture of relief and stupidity, because it actually made sense once he explained it. I decided that was a good place to stop the office visit. I did not leave with the same optimistic outlook as the first visit, but I did know and always will know what the root of an equation is.