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On Failure & Perseverance

On Failure & Perseverance

A National Weather Service (NWS) Meteorologist, several college professors, and half of the Mars Climate Modeling group at Ames have expressed that they have struggled with math.

If that sentence doesn't bring you comfort, I don't know what will, my friend.

When I shadowed the NWS, I was a freshman in college taking Calculus I and struggling. One meteorologist there sat me down and told me that we [meteorologists] all have to take Differential Equations and Dynamics and we all get through it. I thought maybe I wouldn't pass, but she told me she thought she wouldn’t either, and look at her now.

At that time, I'd just gotten a 60% on my first Calculus exam and I went in to panic mode. I went to my professor’s office hours but I just felt mocked. He didn't understand what I didn't understand and the more I tried to explain the more I felt helpless. Then I went to Creighton’s tutoring center but found little help there because they were overwhelmed with students asking for help.

As a last-ditch effort, I posted on my grade’s Facebook page inquiring about math tutors. As luck would have it, one man offered to help me and, bless his soul, he sat with me for up to four hours a night teaching me Calculus - for FREE (S/O to Alex Tarter, I owe at least some fraction of my career to you). I ended up earning an A in Calculus I.

My professor was stunned when my grades improved. He went so far as to ask me what happened (instead of "nice to see improvement, what are your methods?") and I said I found someone that I learn well from and who understands my visual brain. I would later learn that this particular professor was teaching his first-ever college course when I took Calculus I and that he was apparently informed that my class scored high on the math section of the ACT (this is heresy, I don’t know how factual this is). In my later years at Creighton, my peers would laugh about the story of that first Calculus I class and what a disaster it was. Who knows, maybe that’s why it was so hard. Maybe not.


It took me three years of anxious studying for me to figure out a simple fact about myself: my type-A personality was leading me down a path of burnout as evidenced by the number of times I would get sick in a school year. My NASA mentor remarked about my high GPA and I started wondering if its really so necessary to have the best grades. Turns out, it's only human to be good at some things and not others. It’s one of those things you know but you don’t understand until you learn it on your own.

Between my 3rd and 4th years of college, at the NASA internship, I decided to make some changes.

First, I picked a cut-off time for homework each night. I wouldn't work on anything past 10pm if it wasn't due the next day. I have never pulled an all-nighter in my life and I don't plan to start now!

Second, I made time for myself each day. One full hour or more to Netflix, a manicure, meditation, reading, going out to dinner, whatever. The key to me-time is it only works if it is done intentionally. It's an active form of relaxing.

Third, I got real with myself about what actually matters in life. Did I really need straight A ‘s? My transcript already had a B in it so what’s the harm? I ended up graduating Summa cum Laude anyway, highest honors, without straight A’s.

By the way, one of those B's is in "Beginner's Racquetball." I kid you not. It pains me to admit this because I’ve won many awards for playing competitively. That's a story for another time, though.

The reality is, people at your workplace will care that you can do the work for the job. NASA cared that I wanted and was willing to learn when I applied to the internship. I had no coding knowledge or training before my internship. Mel taught me everything I know on that subject.

Finally, the fact is grades don't really reflect what you know. Extra credit, curves, group projects, and even the process of calculating the minimum grade you need to get on a final to keep an A or B in a class proves this. I took a Remote Sensing class - probably the most relevant thing I've ever taken for my career - and I got a B+ in it but I could tell you nothing about Remote sensing other than that it is a means of classifying objects in photos.

So, the moral of the story is as long as you're doing the best you can and you're making time for yourself and you're building a life that makes you happy… you. are. okay. and you're human. You will get a job. Get some rest and try again tomorrow.

When College is Challenging

When College is Challenging