Millie Dresselhaus Anecdotes: Interactions that I did not Understand at the Time!
Assistant Professor, ECE and MSE Departments, University of Virginia
In fall 2007, I participated in an MRS graduate student competition. We had to defend our research work in front of three judges. One of the them was Millie Dresselhaus. Two years later, I joined Prof. Chen’s group as a postdoc and went to introduce myself to her. “I know you”, she said annoyed by my unnecessary introduction. Later on, I heard from others about Millie’s great memory and how she remembers every person shaking her hand at a conference. (Although, at that competition, I was so nervous that I did not shake her hand!!)
I got to know her and eventually she agreed to serve as my co-supervisor. Ever since, she has helped me through my career as a postdoc, a job applicant, an assistant Prof. at Rutgers and finally an assistant Prof. at UVA.
I remember many discussions with Millie in which she would mention names of other researchers. A discussion on electronic cloaking or modulation doping would continue with a story about how Millie met another colleague and how their lives had changed over the years and, finally, how that colleague could have helped in this discussion. She would say: “He knows something about it.”
I have to say I did not understand any of it at the time. I was too focused on my work! My interpretation was that Millie was tired of the discussion and perhaps enjoyed remembering a friend and that it was time for me to leave. When I was looking for a job, sometimes Millie would ask me to print her out a list of the names of all the faculty members of the department I was applying to. She would then go over the list and would tell me: “if you go there, introduce yourself to x, y, z and tell them that you worked with me.” Well, I never did that, either!
Once, I wanted to start a collaboration with X. I sent X an email introducing myself and requesting an appointment. A month passed, and I did not receive a response. Millie knew about my intention and, one morning, she asked me if I had contacted X.
“Yes, but no response yet,” I said.
“I am sure he will respond to you very soon!” she said, not very pleased.
I smiled and left for my office. One hour later, I received an email from X: “I am sorry for my late response, but I was busy with…. When would you like to meet?”