Helping to Fly the Plane – 8.26.22

One time, I was on a flight from Seattle to Phoenix, when darkness started moving down my head – from the top, into my forehead and approaching my eyes. I felt pressed into the seat, and it was hard to breathe. My first thought was that I was ill, but a glance at my neighbor showed she was feeling the same. A flight attendant was running up the aisle. Without warning the plane went into a steep descent and in seconds we could breathe, and the darkness was gone. Sometime later there was an announcement that we had lost pressure, and that both primary and backup systems had failed. Aha. My second thought was where were the oxygen masks? It seemed the perfect opportunity for these to deploy. Maybe something there failed also. Then the pilot came on, explaining that we were now at 10,000 feet where we could breathe outside air and we would be flying at this height until we reached our target of Denver. With the greater air density the plane could only achieve 250 mph, so it took a couple of hours to fly there, with a great view of the mountains close by. Our landing was accompanied by emergency vehicles and afterwards by an emergency cappuccino. A few hours later we were somewhat alarmingly re-loaded onto the same plane, now repaired, with the same pilot, who had not deployed the oxygen masks. Apart from a good excuse to arrive late at the grant review panel in Phoenix, the incident was a life lesson in a situation out of my control.

Of course, life is packed with events out of our control, and they can be frightening. Sometimes we need to hope for the best. Sometimes we can do something to wrest back control – we can get expert care for body and mind, look after family members, seek help as needed, draw on the comfort of religion, the beauty of nature, the diversion of entertainment, the embrace of friends, the kindness of colleagues.

It helps me every day to know that we have control over our work here in the College of Science and that our work is unequivocally important. It helps me to know that we’re a community where collaboration is our culture, and where each person’s contribution is truly important. I hope it helps you to know this also. Our commitment to provide a top-quality Science education at every level, and to perform the highest impact, most respected research involves every College member. Thank you for your crucial work. Amidst uncertainty, in the College of Science at Northeastern University, we can totally help fly the plane.

Please rest and enjoy the last bit of summer.

Best regards,

dean signature

Hazel Sive PhD
Dean, College of Science
Northeastern University
[email protected]