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Millie Dresselhaus Anecdotes: Interactions that I did not Understand at the Time!

Mona Zebarjadi shares some anecdotes about interactions with Millie that she did not understand, at the time, but which are now deeply meaningful.

Published onMar 20, 2018
Millie Dresselhaus Anecdotes: Interactions that I did not Understand at the Time!

Mona Zebarjadi
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?”