An Engineer’s Journal: April, 1978… “Tuning My Piano”

April, 2, 1978

Today, is the first day of work in Nutley!

To disregard history is to risk repeating its mistakes, so I glance in my rear-view mirror for a moment, remembering the day three years ago, when I began my tenure at another Pharmaceutical company, as the Project Engineer for the reconstruction of a pilot plant that had been catastrophically destroyed several years earlier.  I was enthused, not only about joining the company on a lovely campus where my Mom was a lab technician, but also about embarking on what I expected would be, a fertile career opportunity. It did not disappoint.

 *****

It was a dream job, with friendly colleagues and opportunity for professional and personal growth, until I hit a bump in the road.  The newly-designated Director of Engineering dispatched from Basel to New Jersey to ride herd on the engineering group, saw me as a novelty – a nuisance, who was not to be taken seriously. This came to a head when I applied for a next-level,  posted position. Based on the stated prerequisites, I was a viable, qualified candidate, and I reasoned that there could be no downside to exhibiting initiative and self-confidence, even if I didn’t get the position.

After several weeks of silence, I met with the Director to discuss the status of my application. He smiled and, with an air of undisguised dismissiveness, said that he thought it was a joke and that I could not possibly have been serious. His parting words suggested that I offer my services to a garden club. Armed with my outrage and the employee handbook, I went to HR. Sadly, this only served to enhance his stature and diminish mine (politically-correct policies notwithstanding). I was disappointed but refusing to be a victim, I turned my sights towards a new day and a new environment where my contributions and talents would be valued, rather than denigrated.

*****

Today is that new day, the first day of work in Nutley!

I may be going from the frying pan into the fire, leaving one Swiss Pharmaceutical company for another, but I am impressed with Richard, my new boss, and my gut is telling me that this will be a life-changing experience. I’m in a positive frame of mind and believe that anything is possible. My featured article, “Controlling Construction Costs” in Chemical Engineering, was well-received and once I successfully navigate the EIT, I’ll be on my way towards earning my Professional Engineer’s License.

I pause at the mirror, staring at the woman in her skirted-suit and blue silk blouse (Malloy’s, “Dress For Success” followed to the letter). Who is she? She is a young woman, wife and mother of two (her true and heartfelt vocation) tackling the challenges of being a woman engineer in 1978.  She whispers that I’ve chosen the right path for my family, albeit a less-traveled path; pushing aside prickly brambles and stomping on decades of overgrown underbrush.

It’s akin to tuning my piano, note by note, tone by tone, moving up and down the keyboard of life, attempting to harmonize with adjacent notes and distant octaves. Hammers striking strings, loosened and tightened to match the reverberating tone of the tuning fork; repeat the insistent crescendo of grating sound, until suddenly, the brilliant clarity of perfect pitch rings out.  

****

This anecdote is recounted from the scribbled, yellowed pages of my hand-written journals, and the indelible memories of these events, so long ago.

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