Monday, June 04, 2007

To a retiring professor

Bob probably didn't realize this when he hired me as a research assistant in 1993, but he gave me a lasting gift - the ability to entertain at cocktail parties.

In 1993, I was new to Chicago, having just relocated from the west coast and feeling a touch of culture shock. I went to Bob for advice on job-hunting. After welcoming me warmly to Chicago and attentively listening to my woefully short list of skills and accomplishments, Bob said he would look around and see if he could connect me to any job leads. I left the meeting appreciative of his efforts, but not assuming that the meeting would directly lead to paid work. The next day I got a call; Bob said he'd thought about it and realized that one of the projects he was running could use someone. I jumped at the chance to work on a University of Chicago research team, even if Bob was just doing a favor for the daughter of an old friend.

The project for which I was hired was a now famous study of adult sexual behavior and attitudes. The work was interesting, the colleagues hard working, and I learned a lot about social science research methods. Even better, the job was a fantastic source of party conversation. Meeting new people in Chicago, I got asked about my job a lot. Answering "I work for a sex study" was a sure-fire conversation starter. It has been over a dozen years since I last pre-tested interviews or analyzed data, but my claim to fame a an ex-sex research professional still saves me from the occasional awkward party silence. Sure, Bob has had other lasting impacts on my life, from introducing me to survey methods to helping me decide to go to policy school. I am sure that he has done these things for dozens, if not hundreds, of students over the years. But how many of them can thank Bob for making them the life of the party?

Thank you Bob, for all of your help. Cocktail party chat aside, I can honestly say that you were instrumental in starting me on the path I am still walking today.

(I wrote this for a collection of remembrances that friends, colleagues and former students are putting together for a long time University of Chicago professor.)

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