The Blessings of Competent Women

Today I reaped the benefits of two fantastically competent women.

The gift of time from a competent woman is a true blessing.  These women never lack for work that needs to be done, so when one of these women makes time to spend with me to smooth my path, I feel extremely fortunate.

The first woman got me over the hurdle of my first day in a new office.  In addition to filling out the standard paperwork, she took time to explain a bit about how the office works.  Because she also explained the personal styles of some of the players, I have a better understanding of what kind of interaction and information each person needs to be kept happy.  As I think about it, I’m aware of a similar interaction in the past among my research students.  When a new student arrived, one of the veteran students would sit down and explain, “Here’s what you need to know about working with Dr. Pence.”  Those stories always made me smile, and now I was on the receiving end.

Going over the emergency procedures was also fascinating.  So many times, those procedures seem to just be to check a box, but in my current location, the procedures have an immediacy and a relevance that is new.  When the building needs to be evacuated, it needs to be done as swiftly as possible, and each office has a primary and secondary designated location outside to gather and count heads.  I’ve certainly been guilty of dragging my feet during a fire alarm in the past, but the philosophy here is that no matter what, seconds count.  Considering the earthquake that rocked the East Coast and caused significant damage to a number of buildings in DC within the past year, those emergency procedures are not just a drill.  There were almost no procedures in place on 9/11, but since then, they have been developed and refined regularly.  I realized that as I was given specific examples of when each procedure was used, it reminded me strongly of the safety training that we do for chemistry laboratories.  Every procedure has been built because of a specific incident that was either experienced or averted because of our actions.

The second competent woman helped me get settled at the University of Hartford when I joined the faculty so many years ago.  She has been triaging my mail in my absence so I won’t return to a year’s work of catalog solicitations or junk mail.  She sent me just a few items for my attention along with a surprise inside.  Some time ago in my Department, the shared subscription to the Chronicle of Higher Education evolved into a game as each one of us would gleefully dump issues we had finished into someone else’s office to clutter up that person’s desk.  Sometimes this process would even be accompanied by a suitable soundtrack such as the Mission Impossible theme.  I had figured that going away for a year was the ultimate way to win the game, but I discovered that was not the case.  My care package from this wonderfully competent woman included a Chronicle that I now have no way to shill off on some unsuspecting colleague.  I think perhaps the advanced level of competent must be classified as devious.

As a side note, for those of you who are wondering about the advice about working for me delivered by my research students, I’m told that it includes

1)  Be on time.

2)  For Heaven’s sake, spell check your work.

3) If you screw up, you need to go confess immediately.  If you confess, Dr. Pence will not be too unhappy.  If you try to hide your mistake and she finds out, she’s going to be severely ticked off.

Yes, my students know me well.


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