Someone Needs Remedial Math

And by “remedial,” I mean, “sixth grade math.”

At work, I was assisting with a proposal and was tasked with various items to assist the process.  When I asked my project manager if he needed anymore help with the proposal, he said, “Yeah, there’s some problems with the units on the table you put together.  Can you take a look at it?”  “Sure thing,” I said, and began poring over the table.  In remediation, the Environmental Protection Agency compiles a list that tells us what acceptable contaminant levels in certain media (groundwater, air, or soil) are.  One of my tasks had been to find the guidance levels for the chemicals we were interested in, and convert the guidance levels from milligrams per kilogram to micrograms per kilogram.

Easy (or so I thought).

The units I had converted admittedly looked way too tiny to be feasible, but I did the math again – divide by 1000 to get from milligrams per kilogram to micrograms to kilograms, right?  I put together a spreadsheet showing my work in case they questioned it again.

Oh, they questioned it alright.  One of the project managers stopped by my desk afterward and said, “Jen.  Your units?  You’re shifting them the wrong direction.”  And then floods of shame hit me as I realized the enormity of my ignorance.

I needed TO MULTIPLY by 1000. Not DIVIDE by 1000.


The shame was enormous.  I mean, I’m the engineer, right?  I went to grad school.  I’m not saying this makes me the sharpest tool in the shed (because obviously, I am not).  But I mean, I had to get through Calculus 3 and differential equations and the horrible Dynamics and Vibrations class that stole our souls (I still don’t know how I passed that class), and then crazy math in grad school, but I can’t CONVERT UNITS PROPERLY?


I decided I was past the point of redemption, and went into my project manager’s office to apologize and see if he needed any more help.  In a moment of vulnerability and the need to create some kind of rapport, I said, “I felt like a dumbass when I realized I messed up the units.”  “What?!” my project manager asked, sounding shocked.  Then I realized that at work, everyone knows me as sweet, quiet, polite Jen.  Which I am all of these things outside of work, but if you read my blog, then you obviously can figure out that I also curse frequently, which is not something I do at work.  “I er…felt stupid,” I corrected myself.

And I left the office in more shame.

I guess I shouldn’t feel too bad about my mistake, right?  It’s pretty minor in comparison to NASA’s unit conversion mistake, which caused them to lose an orbiter.  All I lost today was my pride.


3 thoughts on “Someone Needs Remedial Math

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