All my worrying turned out to be for nothing. The bad interstate was traffic free and the drive to Big Scary University took all of twenty five minutes. Another fifteen minutes to park and find my way to the right building and I had forty minutes to sit in the student lounge and go over my slides slash evesdrop on the undergrads doing homework for their introductory engineering classes. One girl said "I was up all night but only finished two problems." Ahh, memories.
The lecture hall had two huge screens in the front of the room, about six feet apart. I found this immensely confining because I had to stand in the space in the middle and felt like I couldn't move without blocking one of the screens. Instead of my usual scholarly pacing, I was now limited to shifting back and forth on my feet and rolling my heels sideways out of my shoes, giving the impression that I was slowly growing and then shrinking the same two inches over and over again. Instead of an academic, I looked like Charlie when he has to go potty. And I couldn't stop fidgeting with the hem of my suit jacket. What was that about? Oh, right, I was too nervous to eat this morning so I took my morning calories in the form of three cups of coffee.
Despite the feng shui issues with the lecture hall, the talk went great. I managed to not blast through all thirty-five of my slides in ten minutes like I was afraid I would do (and have done in the past). It was more like thirty minutes, only ten short of the goal of forty minutes. I think I stopped making sense at about slide number thirty, when the screen I was using to see what was on the big screens went black and I couldn't figure out how to fix it without making a giant scene. This cool looking professor with an Italian accent sitting on the front row nodded his head through most of the discussion period, so if I needed some moral support I looked to him. The department chair liked my seminar said I did a particularly good job answering questions.
After seminar the department chair and two faculty members interested in my research took me out for lunch at a swanky campus club IN THE FOOTBALL STADIUM.
It was one of those places where you enter at street level in a pleasant but nondescript lobby, then get into an elevator and go up a few floors to a wood-paneled room with beautifully dressed tables, a maitre d', and a decadent buffet. Oh, and a bunch of carts the size of Radio Flyers loaded up with six different kinds of cake. My commitment to professionalism was TESTED today. TESTED I tell you. I am sure that "the chick who ate four kinds of cake for lunch" would be an interesting way to make my application stand out in the pack, but maybe not in the way I would like. Once I ate my real food, to my great delight, the department chair summoned the dessert cart and we were all invited to pick something.
The walk back was made complicated by the near ninety degree weather, my heavy black suit, my heels, and the speedy pace set by the faculty who were A) accustomed to cruising around the hilly campus in the heat and B) wearing appropriate shoes. I only was almost killed by a crack in the sidewalk once and somehow managed not to yell anything profane when I did.
I think they liked me. I enjoyed meeting them and talking with them so much. Everything about the visit was positive. I hope to hear something from them in the future, but even if I don't it is so good to know that I can hang in a discussion about my research with a bunch of faculty at this particular highly regarded research university. I did earn my degree and I do have value in the job market. I left the department chair's office finally feeling like a professional and not a student. Until I slung my computer bag across my chest like a bike messenger (and then headed to the quad for some angst and hackey sack).
As I was walking back to my car from the building (must invest in sensible shoes if I pursue an academic career) I checked my voice mail and got thrown right back into Mom-world when I heard Charlie's teacher's voice. "I mixed up the backpacks and sent Charlie home with the wrong one. His backpack is in the school office and you can pick it up tomorrow." Which was fine, EXCEPT THAT PHENT WAS IN THAT BACKPACK. I went to the church on the way home and appeared breathless and sweating in the main office, still dressed up, probably smelling like I had just completed the Ironman. "My son... left his bag... here... his... lovey... nighttime lovey... is in it." They sprang into action trying to find someone to unlock the school office for me. I don't know who Charlie was more excited to see when I walked in the door, but Phent is the one he grabbed and twirled around the room.
(and by the way, he NAPPED FOR MY DAD. WITHOUT PHENT. Stinker.)
And now I will read my Newsweek GUILT FREE.