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welcome to the league kid

November 4, 2010

Some years ago when I was a junior graduate student (year 2 maybe) I attended one of the big conferences in my field. The timing is important here. Year 2 is about there time when the literature was first starting to come together for me. The big theories, findings and names.

So I’m sitting in this symposium that is on my  specific area of research. My advisor might have actually been speaking, I don’t quite remember. Either way I had decided to sit all the way up front (row 3 of 20). As the symposium ended I looked over my schedule and wondered what to do next. At this conference many of the talks seemed somewhat interesting. Remember I was only a 2nd year so it was all new to me. Interesting is good, but rarely had the talks been exciting.

The next series of talks in the same room weren’t at all in my area. They seemed a bit more general and theoretical. I wasn’t super familiar with the issue, but it sounded interesting enough that I just barely decided to stay. So I just sat in my seat during the 10 minute intermission. Just gazed off, didn’t even turn around.

Well I really should have. The room went from about half full to well over capacity. All chairs were taken and about a dozen or so people were standing in the back (I believe they call that standing room only). The crowd itself was not typical. There was a much higher proportion of professors, and fewer students. Shocked at this development (and how I manged to zone out) I quickly scanned around the room.

Isn’t that Dr. Know-it-all who’s book just came out…oh look it’s Professor They-named-a-theory-after-me, I recognize him from his website picture…and there there’s Prof Smarty Pants, didn’t he have 3 articles in the latest issue of Science?…oh look, Dr. Famous from the nearby university is right behind me. Crap she just said hi. Should I say hi back?…

What the hell are all these people doing here?

Apparently the topic was much hotter & controversial than I realized. Everyone had come to either denounce it as a passing fad, or praise it as revolutionalizing the field1. A veritable battle for the soul of the field (at least that’s how they put it). The moderator even coined a word to refer to the supporters. What followed during the Q&A section of the talks was one of those Algonquin round table discussions that people think happen all the time in science, except we know they don’t actually, only this time it actually kinda did. I would call it a kerfuffle, but not quite a bruhaha2. Thoroughly enjoyable, even though I had no opinion on the matter. I just sat there marveling the whole exchange, and though to myself.

Some day, I want to be one of these people.

That’s why I’m still here.

1. Years later my vote is for interesting fad.
2. Got in the middle of a bruhaha years later. Quite literally. I was sitting between two professors who were going at each other somewhat viciously. Kind of awkward.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. El Picador permalink
    December 14, 2010 2:58 am

    Was there spittle?

  2. December 29, 2010 12:34 pm

    Me too.

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