It was well into the evening when Judith Eadler received a call from the White House. The Chief of Staff’s assistant had called to let her know that the time she’d been allotted with the President the following morning would be cut short for a more urgent matter. The National Security Advisor had requested the use of Judith’s allowed time, but he’d promised to leave five minutes for her at the end of his presentation.
Five minutes to go over sixteen topics? How can I do that? She struggled to run a quick calculation. I’ll have to take the whole thing down to just three slides.
The only thing she hated about her job as the Presidential Science Advisor was that it seemed like everything else in the entire world had a higher priority than what she spent the best part of her days working on. The last time she’d been scheduled to present at the White House, it was cancelled merely to accommodate the weather. The winter storm the weatherman had forecast dropped less than an inch of snow over the metroplex. Cancelled for less than one inch of snow, she remembered. And never rescheduled.
She unwrapped the egg salad sandwich she’d picked up from a sidewalk vendor near the Dupont Circle Metro, sat on her sofa with her foot tucked under her butt, and took a bite. Then she reached for her laptop. Looks like a long night, she thought. She opened her presentation, saved a copy to create a new file, and prepared to delete the last sixteen weeks of the exhausting work she’d poured herself into to prepare for this. All the trips. All the meetings. All for nothing.
At times like this, Judith thought she should just go back to her old job teaching at the university. Still, she had to admit that she loved her work insofar as it gave her the opportunity to travel the world and meet with the brightest minds on the planet. But what did it matter if she never got to share what she found?
Raised on a farm in Upstate New York by two religious parents who couldn’t stand one another, Judith’s education had been her escape. She earned her Bachelor of Science in physics at MIT, summa cum laude, and continued as a teaching assistant while she earned her master’s and then her PhD. A prolific researcher who became the dean’s favored grad student, Judith referred to herself as a “one-inch generalist” — a scientist who understands almost everything taught within the first inch of any graduate-level textbook on a scientific topic.
After getting her PhD, Judith went to work for NASA as a planetary scientist supporting the design of several unmanned missions. After ten years, NASA loaned her to the European Space Agency for a time to be the project lead on ESA’s joint mission with NASA to explore the outer planets.
Judith had begun her work at the White House at the invitation of the newly elected President four years prior. When she was recruited by President-elect Kelly’s transition team to become his scientific advisor, she put her teaching career at MIT on hold.
Having made a new copy of her presentation, she selected the first slide, took another bite of her sandwich, and positioned her finger above the delete button.
No one wants to hear about advances in 3D printing of human organs, anyway.
Superconducting transmission networks.
Europe’s plan to build another super collider ten times larger than the LHC.
No one wants to hear about …
Her cell phone vibrated on the table beside her, interrupting her cadence. Glancing at the small screen, Judith smiled. She picked it up and accepted the call. “John! Oh, my God, it feels like a lifetime since we talked. Are you still in Wyoming?”
“I am. Hey, I’m sending you a data package,” John said in his deep voice. “Take it with a grain of salt for now. We still don’t know what this is exactly.”
“Oh? Is it something you’re worried about?”
“We don’t know. Not yet. It’s just … different. We’re analyzing it every way we can think of. I’ll call you again the second we know more, but I wanted to give you what we had so far.”
“Okay. It looks like it just hit my email account. I’ll take a look.”
After a few more brief pleasantries, they ended the call. Judith laid the phone beside her on the sofa, then clicked open the file. Two hours later, she’d set aside her entire presentation for the President to begin the process of creating a new one.