Repost: Scientific Meetings, Networking, The Male Gaze and, well, um, Thingmabobs…

October 10, 2012

What with the 2012 edition of the Society for Neuroscience meeting rapidly approaching, I thought I’d return to this critical issue in meeting etiquette.

This was originally posted Sept 11, 2008 on the old Scienceblogs version of DrugMonkey.
Annual scientific meetings have many purposes. One of the most essential purposes that cannot be readily accomplished by other means is the initiation and development of inter-personal relationships. Call it networking, schmoozing or whatever you like. As with any other human enterprise, there are many aspects that are improved by meeting other people face to face and becoming acquainted with them.
There is an aspect of scientific meetings, however, that always presents a very difficult problem for YHN (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Typical Scientific Meeting Badge

Figure 1 depicts an artists’ rendition of a typical scientific meeting badge, in this case for our intrepid heroine‘s participation in the Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. (Are you attending, Dear Reader?)

The meeting badge is a great tool for the absent minded, such as myself. Now we all have a large list of scientific colleagues whom we know fairly well and cannot possibly forget their names. There is also a list of colleagues we have “met” at various meetings, seminar trips, etc on only a single occasion and so it is no social gaffe to re-introduce ourselves.

This leaves another very large list of people who’s names we should probably know. Perhaps because we have met them repeatedly, because they are a very senior figure or because we were introduced just 10 minutes ago two aisles over at a different poster. Perhaps because we are simply experiencing a brief moment of retrieval failure. In any case, a failure to remember a name can be a little bit awkward. A single surreptitious glance at the badge and, bammo, social awkwardness deftly avoided. Good things, these name badges.

Not seeing my problem yet? No? Okay, let me go on a bit of a bloggy tangent.

Did you see this bit of advice Samia gave to her fellow undergraduates?

Look nice, be nice, speak nicely. This appears to be more important for females than males, but such is reality. Don’t dress sexy; there is nothing more awkward than professor eyes on your boobs.

Good point. For both parties really. And we don’t just have to limit this to the office hours visit. Right?

Did you read all the “male gaze is inexorably drawn to the bustline” business over at Zuska’s place (and Greg’s and Isis’)? Read the comments?

Now the problem is this. First, score me as someone who is really not that keen on appearing to be staring at teh boobies in any sort of professional setting. Second, score me as someone who is aware that appearing to be staring at teh boobies in a professional setting is really, really off putting to the person you are speaking with. Third, score me as a lame brain who cannot remember names that easily. Fourth, score me as someone who wishes to be encouraging to any scientists more junior than me and to act as if I include them in my mental sphere of players in my subfield. Fifth….well, you take the point. I’m very frequently feeling a need to get a name from the badge (see Figure 1).

I find it nearly impossible to do so when I am already engaged with the fellow scientist. It is bad enough that one doesn’t remember their name so one has to take a quick glance anyway to avoid being busted checking. I mean, it kind of defeats the purpose to drop your gaze to check the name, doesn’t it? So you sort of sneak a look and hope the badge isn’t turned around backwards (47% of the time, it is).

My little problem is particularly acute when the other scientist is a woman.
Still confused due to my characteristically incomprehensible prose? Okay, how about the following rendition of the problem?
Figure 2: Typical Placement of Scientific Meeting Badge
(h/t: Isis)

The typical placement of the scientific meeting badge is depicted in Figure 2. A review of the figure should make it obvious that the goal of extracting the subject’s name from the badge is sometimes in conflict with a desire not to appear to be leering.

I have not yet found a reliable solution to this pressing problem. Any suggestions from the commentariat are welcome.

No Responses Yet to “Repost: Scientific Meetings, Networking, The Male Gaze and, well, um, Thingmabobs…”

  1. neuropolarbear Says:

    I’m thinking, like, the forehead??


  2. Namnezia Says:

    That’s why I usually wear my badge near my crotch.


  3. qaz Says:

    Everyone should pin the badge to their shoulder (or what I’ve often seen) the shoulderstrap of their backpack/over-the-shoulder bag (which you’ll be carrying to carry water, food, notebooks, pens, and other necessary supplies for survival on the poster floor).


  4. drugmonkey Says:

    Great idea neuropolarbear. I think you are on to something.


  5. Dave Says:

    On the belt near the groin area. Makes the dudes a little uncomfortable.


  6. Bashir Says:

    Every conference I’ve gone to I’ve had at least one awkward “I was just looking at your name tag there” moment.


  7. Alex Says:

    Instead of giving tote bags and lanyards, give one of those big pouches that go around the waist. Some Scottish dudes wear them with kilts.


  8. theshortearedowl Says:

    Google Glasses. Soon you won’t have to remember anyone’s name, just like you don’t have to remember phone numbers any more.


  9. another anonymous person Says:

    I’m reminded of this one at every single meeting I attend. It’s pretty simple: don’t leer. Be as socially aware of the time you spend looking at my badge as you are of my personal space, and the problem is solved.

    A quick badge check is blatantly different than a leer. If eyes drop to badge area and then move away, we know it is a badge check. When the eyes drop to “badge level” and stay there for an extended period of time, that is when we have a problem.

    Analogy: The badge eye flick is a handshake. It’s expected as part of the formal etiquette, and you’ve probably spent conscious attention on how it represents you. The badge leer is greeting me by giving me a hug when I don’t know you, or repeatedly touching me while we talk. Creeeeeeeeep!


  10. H2Whoa Says:

    I must go to cheap-o conferences because I get the “Hello my name is…” stickers. I put them on the bottom of my beer mug.


  11. Hermitage Says:

    Well, now I feel bad for all the dudes whose lives I’ve made difficult by wearing my nametag square across my tits, or, even worse, tied to my belt loop and dangling next to my crotch. Don’t think I’ve ever been oogled in a professional setting, so it never even crossed my mind.


  12. Grumble Says:

    DM, you’re waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay overthinking this. Glance down, note name very quickly, glance back up, and don’t ever glance down again. Problem solved.

    Now, answer me this: WHY can’t SfN badges have the name on BOTH sides, in equally large letters? Then it wouldn’t matter if the badge is turned around 47% of the time. (That percentage accords with my experience, except that the 47% with unviewable badges are always the people whom I faintly recognize but for the life of me can’t remember the names of. If you fall into that category, you *always* have a downturned badge.)


  13. neuropolarbear Says:

    I have actually thought about this a good deal. I think it’s one of those minor factors that make science conferences 1% more uncomfortable for women. (Others include the fact that taller people have an easier time looking at posters, and the difficulty of carrying a purse around at conferences).

    In any case, the SFN could at the very least print the first name in 128 point type instead of 14 point or whatever it is. There’s no reason not to fill up the whole badge. Also no reason not to make the badge twice as big. Anyhow, the moment I run a conference, I am doing this.


  14. qaz Says:

    I once had a senior person reach down, flip my badge around, and say “Who the heck ARE you?” (OK, it was after I had asked a really detailed question at her poster. Turned out she knew who I was but didn’t know my face.) But that was definitely a strange experience. Ever since, I’ve tried to make sure that my badge is right-side up.

    But yeah, why can’t we have the name on both sides? Or have a badge that CLIPS, so it doesn’t flop around? (Which would solve the other problem that DM brings up at the top of this post.)


  15. becca Says:

    My badge always lands on its edge.


  16. yellowfish Says:

    As a badge-wearing-lady-scientist, I feel like this is a scenario where you have to relax and give the benefit of the doubt. Mid-conversation glances to the chest are super awkward in every day life, but at a conference everyone knows that badge reading has to happen somehow. As long as the glance isn’t longer than it takes to read a name (and men trying to sneak in a boob-stare should know that badge-wearing-lady-scientists are all aware of how long that really takes), then it’s not a big deal.

    Plus, the ones who are going to be creepy and stare find a way to do it even without the badge, so that all gets figured out in the long run.


  17. another anonymous person Says:

    Qaz – badges that clip are also confusing for me. Where the heck do you clip it if you aren’t wearing a button-down shirt with a pocket (or a jacket)? Collar clip mikes for seminar presentations, with “clip onto the belt loop” battery packs, also have this problem when encountering women’s clothing.

    Back to the travails of badge location, though, if you have a pin or sticker badge, where the heck do you pin it when your front isn’t flat? Do you pin it above the boob line and let it angle upwards (and risk being covered by your hair)? Hang it off the front? Pin it below, so it is even further from an easy glance and can’t be seen when sitting at a table? Lanyards are so much easier!


  18. idlemind Says:



  19. Dr Aust Says:

    As an middle-aged WM Faculty type, I deliberately tend to ask the person “Who are you, then?” rather then scoping the name-badge, which avoids potential “Noo don’t look as if you’re looking there!” problems. Or one can look at the author list on the poster (conveniently above eye level) and ask…


  20. Drugmonky Says:

    I’m not *quite* old enough to pull off “doddering half blind old fogey”


  21. Echo Says:

    For the badge-wearer, introduce yourself even if you’ve met the person before. I tend to hold the badge out while I do it, to make sure it’s not a problem to read it. For the badge-examiner, an “I’m sorry, I don’t remember your name” is honest, and I find it puts me at ease (if big famous guy has problems remembering names, then I don’t have to feel bad about it; also I know I am not that important, but that over the years I may become so to them, that’s why you keep introducing yourself until they greet you by name). And if a relative noob gets put off by someone not remembering meeting them once?! Well, the sooner they get used to that, the better.


  22. Douche Badge Says:

    The “name on both sides” thing is an issue. That could be easily solved.

    THIS however – is not an issue. Have been going to decades worth of SfN, never had a problem.

    Stop being paranoid and get over yourself.


  23. dat lady Says:

    In general, it would be nice if they provided both the clip and lanyard option. When I got my ID (and replacement ID…) at , they give you the ID clipped to the cheapo lanyard.


  24. gingerest Says:

    Thank you for thinking of this, DM, and being concerned, but women at meetings have had breasts for long enough that we can detect a variety of nuances in chestward gaze – after all, most people wear t-shirts with slogans on them at one time or another and expect to have the slogans read. I often wear pendants of a length to rest on my bosom, and I can tell whether someone is looking at the pendant or staring at my tits. (I accept the risk, though – I’m not trying to entrap people by forcing them to stare at my boobs. I just think big pendants call for longer chains.)
    With the stick-on or clip badge, I can distinguish between a name-glance from a leer simply by the fact the gaze is focused on the side of my chest with my name written on it, but it’s really pretty easy to detect leering.


  25. gingerest Says:

    Uh, I can’t speak for all women. But I think my experience is pretty typical.


  26. Tideliar Says:

    Hey Mate,

    Broad Brush much?

    Not all of us are into breasts.

    Stop stereotyping all men. Please.


  27. […] Make the badges twice as big, make the font for the first name 10 times as big. Minimize the bosom-staring problem until we realize that foreheads and Sharpie markers are meant to be […]


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