So…remember that time, way back at the end of first semester, when I went to take my 8.012 final exam and had a sort-of-awkward encounter with Alan Guth? If you don’t, quick synopsis: my section hadn’t received our exams when the test started, so (all stressed out) I ran up to a random proctor and explained the situation; he suggested that I was in the wrong building, which irked me (in the wrong building for my first final exam at MIT? please.) and I informed him that “um, yes. 8.012 is DEFINITELY in this building, and we DEFINITELY do not have exams.” Ten seconds later, I realized that the random proctor looked familiar because he was the father of the inflationary theory of the universe – and figured, in a stunned daze, that this would be the closest I would get to a one-on-one conversation with him.
Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when I was staying at my friend Daniel’s house in New Jersey. I opened my computer, and found an e-mail that read:
“Professor Alan Guth has agreed to serve as your advisor. Please use him as a resource for helping you make the most of your time at MIT, and for working towards completion of your Physics degree. Please do stop by and see your advisor on registration day.”
I shrieked and slammed my computer shut. I sheepishly opened it up again, re-read the e-mail, and confirmed that it still said “Alan Guth.” At the bottom of the e-mail, Professor Guth’s e-mail address, fax number, phone number, office number, and home address* were listed.
*That part is a lie. I do not actually have Alan Guth’s home address. However, it’s worth mentioning that for a number of people here, “office number” and “home address” are not entirely distinct.
At this point, I’ll take a little detour and explain the student side of how advisors are assigned, at least in the physics department. I had to send in a form and indicate:
1) Whether I’m more interested in experimental or theoretical physics (or whether I’m not sure yet/have no strong preference)
2) Whether I have an interest in astrophysics, and/or atomic and optical physics, and/or biophysics, and/or condensed matter physics, and/or particle physics, and/or plasma physics, and/or “other”, or am not sure yet/have no strong preference.
3) What advice I hope to receive from my advisor (ex. course requirements, how to plan a career in physics, finding a UROP)
I honestly don’t remember what I put, but I do know that I specified an interest in astrophysics, which is probably a large part of the reason I was assigned Alan Guth.
Anyway, detour over.
My immediate response to the message from the physics department was to e-mail my mom. I quote: “OH MY GOD. I JUST GOT AN E-MAIL FROM THE PHYSICS DEPARTMENT. ALAN GUTH IS MY ADVISOR. I. AM. FREAKING. OUT.”
I sprinted downstairs, came to a screeching halt 2 millimeters from the screen door (phew), flung it open, and waved my hands in the air like a crazy person.
Daniel’s mom: “She’s excited about something!”
Affirmative. I spewed exclamations (no idea if they were even words) for a couple of minutes, before Daniel interrupted with: “do you think he’ll remember you as the girl who yelled at him at the 8.012 final?”
Correction. I did not yell at Alan Guth. I just firmly requested that I receive my exam paper.
Another friend responded to my news with “Hell yeah. Downside is, he might be too busy to advise (?)”
I admit that the thought had crossed my mind – lurking somewhere beneath the “this is the greatest thing ever!” I began having second thoughts. Let’s be honest: Alan Guth is probably a very busy man. According to his faculty page, he “has explored the question of whether it is in principle possible to ignite inflation in a hypothetical laboratory, thereby creating a new universe” – and I’m going to ask him to take the time to explore, with me, the question of whether it is in principle possible to major in physics, fulfill pre-med requirements, do UROPs in observatories and labs, then go on to medical school and become a neurologist. In one very-not-hypothetical lifetime. He’s unravelling the fabric of the cosmos, and I’m going to walk into his office and unravel into a babbling incoherent mess about how I think everything is interesting and don’t know what to do with my life and can barely decide what flavor of ice cream to get, let alone pick classes.
What if that’s just an annoying chore for him, to do along with his *actual, world-changing* work? I expressed my concern to a couple of physics upperclassmen earlier this week, when we were sitting in a room grading the 8.01 Advanced Standing Examination.
Me: So…does anyone here have Alan Guth as an advisor?
Random Girl: Wait, WHAT? GUTH? Dude. GUTH IS THE MAN.
Me: …is he?
Random Girl: YES. GUUUUUTH!
Random Guy: I took a class with him.
Me: Is he nice?
Random Guy: Oh, yeah. He’s a really nice guy. Really friendly.
Random Girl: Yes! He’s SO nice, and really helpful! GUTH IS THE MAN!
That was a huge relief to hear. I guess I won’t know any of this for sure until the school year begins and I actually begin meeting with him – but I have hope.
Earlier today, I got an e-mail from “Alan” about our first advising meeting. He signed the e-mail “Alan.” Eek. Maybe I’ll waltz in on Sept 6 and say “ALAN! Hello, Alan. Can I call you Al?” On second thoughts, maybe I won’t, because he might not catch my reference to the movie Aladdin.
Apologies for all the fangirlism, but I’m really excited.