The Childhood Nerds of Telecom

Niki Fritz sporting her wolf sweatshirt and banged up knees

Niki Fritz sporting her banged up knees (on the left) and wolf sweatshirt (for her 12th birthday)

By Niki Fritz

It probably comes as no surprise that I was not particularly “cool” when I was a kid. When I was young, I wanted to fancy myself a tomboy but I was too uncoordinated to be good at sports – usually I was walking around with bloody knees from spills on the black top (see photo to the right). The jocks never really accepted me although they were kind enough to usually humor me.  Where my nerd really shined was anything involving the environment. I was an exceedingly annoying pre-hippy, meaning I was just uber concerned with the rain forest and any endangered species my teachers mentioned in class that day. I expressed my nerd by lecturing my friends on the importance of taking short showers and wearing an oversized sweatshirt with a bunch of wolves on it. Those were the good ole days.

Looking back at photos and remembering what a little nerd I was, I have a sense of nostalgia and – I’ll admit it – a sense of pride that I marched to my own, albeit annoying, drum.  But I know I didn’t feel it when I was a youth. What I remember most about being young is how I wanted to be cool but just didn’t have the skills to pull it off. I was a nerd (or maybe a dork; don’t ask me to explicate nerd versus dork versus geek.) Recently I was chatting with some of my fellow graduate students and I realized many of us had our own kind nerdhood as children, that weird interest we were a little too into, that thing that as a kid set us apart from our peers. Here are a few of the Telecom grad student’s stories of childhood nerd.


The strangest thing about grad school is that it has not only made me embrace my former nerd but dive more deeply into nerd culture. I binge-watched BSG and played my first game of Dungeons and Dragons this summer. Now that I’m in grad school I feel like I can fully embrace all of nerdom because being a nerd is a common trait among my peers.  Yes, it is true that in recent years the term “nerd” has become something accepted in the mainstream. Yes it may even be cool to be a nerd (just ask T. Swift). But I think what has really changed is that nerd in grad school really means passion; being a nerd about flow in music or video production or cognitive processes, is really about being so invested in a topic you are willing to spend 60 hours a week in the lab. Nerd now is what drives us, what fuels our studies (along with coffee and sugar) and what brings us together in this department.

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