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?
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
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.