“Work the problem.” It’s a phrase I often heard growing up, and I always believed it was specific to engineering. I was an aeronautical engineer’s daughter, so this made sense. I knew how my father used it—when I didn’t understand how two variables worked in trigonometry and the broken pencils were gathering under the dining room table at my feet (why was I taking trig anyway? I wanted to be an English major!), my father would say, “Just work the problem!”

It was a frustrating thing to hear because it suggested that solutions were simply lying under the surface, just beyond my attention. If I could truly see them, if I could calm my mind and focus, I could … work the problem.

This was also the advice my brother’s high school chemistry ...

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