KUEL LIFE: What are you pursuing now, after 50, that surprises you or might appear to others as if it’s come out of left field?
BARBARA: After spending the first four decades of my life exercising because I was forced to (in my childhood) or because it was good for me (in my earlier adulthood), I took up saber fencing. I now find myself competing in sports at the national level. I am in love with the fact that I am challenging myself and getting better week by week. My oldest friends still have trouble reconciling this with their knowledge of the younger me!
KUEL LIFE: What’s a typical day like for you?
BARBARA: I work from about 9:30-6 (as a Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Boston University), then come home for dinner with my husband. Depending on the evening, I then head out to fencing (2-3 times a week), or go to rehearsal (I play the oboe and English horn in a local orchestra once a week), or just hang out with my husband and friends. But as someone who loves their work like yet another hobby, I am also a workaholic, prone to going back to answer email or edit a paper late in the evening at the expense of sleep (who needs sleep, anyhow?).
KUEL LIFE: With what do you struggle?
BARBARA: Like a lot of people, I suffer from “imposter syndrome,” worrying that any achievements are a fluke and that failure is imminent. But then I remind myself that most people feel that way and get on with my day.
KUEL LIFE: How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?
BARBARA: By constantly re-evaluating out what gives me joy and pride and spending time pursuing whatever that might be.
KUEL LIFE: What advice would you give fellow women about aging?
BARBARA: Combine a sense of humor with a willingness to take risks to avoid losing your mojo! Aging is inevitable, but attitude is something you control.
KUEL LIFE: What does vulnerability mean to you? What has the ability to make you vulnerable?
BARBARA: To me, the definition of vulnerability is caring deeply about something that I cannot control. I have two young-adult sons— brilliant and talented and tackling life. Watching them find their place in the world brings me the greatest joy of all; worrying about them brings me to my knees.
KUEL LIFE: What are three events that helped to shape your life?
BARBARA: My father died of cancer when I was a junior in high school— which ripped away any illusions that life was predictable and permanent, and convinced me to always try to live in the moment.
I changed schools that same year and nearly failed a calculus class that I was ill prepared to take, only to have the teacher spend a week tutoring me to catch up — which put me on the path to becoming an electrical engineer.
Finally, as a young untenured professor, a senior colleague attacked me, telling me everything that I was doing was doomed to failure, that I was never going to succeed. I went from that meeting straight to a meeting with a close colleague and mentor— where I burst into tears. He listened to me, encouraged me, dusted me off, and sent me on my way. If not for him, I am not sure I would have made it.
KUEL LIFE: Who influenced you the most in life and why?
BARBARA: My PhD advisor, who died about a year ago, always assumed the best of me. He assumed I was talented, assumed I would work hard, assumed that what I said mattered. And he had an irascible wit and was always on the verge of bursting into laughter, even when working intensely on hard problems. He inspired me to think big, but to never take myself too seriously.
KUEL LIFE: What is the best advice you’ve been given from another woman?
BARBARA: To not feel guilty for wanting to achieve and to aspire to be great at whatever I take on.
KUEL LIFE: What woman inspires you and why?
BARBARA: Michelle Obama. Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Scientist, Eve Marder. Any woman who is unapologetically competent, while maintaining grace and their own sense of self.
KUEL LIFE: Are you grown-up?
BARBARA: Nope!! But, also yes. I am irreverent and immature, with a smart-ass sense of humor. I play hard, but I also work hard, with focus, and am willing to tackle big challenges.
KUEL LIFE: What do you do for self-care?
BARBARA: I commit time to things that I care about, even if it is “just for me.”
KUEL LIFE: And last but definitely NOT least: What are the top three things on your bucket list?
BARBARA: 1- Represent Team USA in the world veterans fencing championships!
2- Spend a week on a deserted beach in Thailand.
3- See my biological — and academic— children grow into their own.