The challengers can stay hidden for quite a while at conferences or institute seminars. They will sit quietly trough most of the talks; but while have intermittent and impulsive needs to provoke speakers.
- They will ask questions in such a way that it makes the speaker look like a 5th-grader, or like a incompetent abuser of taxpayers money.
- They will typically revoke the entire data set on the basis that they ”just don’t believe it”, or that the contribution to the field is just as high as the latest season of “America’s Next Top Model”.
- The challenger might also interrupt you every 20 seconds during your poster talk, or interrupt you discussions to challenge you on very detailed technical questions about your experiments.
How to deal with them ?
The fact that they might lack basic manners, courtesy, and diplomacy, does not mean you should loose those qualities. Try to stay professional, composed, and logical. Especially if you’e answering one of their weird questions, statements, or opinion in front of a larger audience. You don’t wont to look like a jerk as well.
Loners constitute an other crowd present at any science event, and like the celebrities, and raising stars, they are quite easy to spot.
- They generally stand alone in corners or secondary rooms
- They play games on their phones when everyone else is socializing or hanging out at the coffee break
- They might give awkward glares
- They might try to form a little group of loners at some point
This is harsh, but nobody notices them, knows their names, or even really wants to. I believe science attracts and somehow selects for people with poor or akward social skills, so it’s better to get used to them.
As a nice person, you can make a communication attempt by reaching out to them with a basic conversation opener : “The coffee taste so bad here, no ?”, “How boring was that last talk ?”, “Hey, where do you come from ?”, “May I borrow your pen ?” … bla bla bla. Despite all the efforts, please do realize that it will still probably result in a 5-minute conversation with lots of awkward silences and little eye contact.
After the celebrity, the raising star is the most wooed person of the conference. Probably an ambitious post-doc, or young PI, with one or some papers bringing seminal contributions to there field.
They generally developed cool techniques, ideas, and started tenure-tracks in fancy institutions. They can be divided in 3 sub-categories:
- The ones who are not aware of their status yet, and behave just like another random person.
- The ones who are aware of their status, but stay simple and accessible, and hang out with you at the bar despite the sudden spotlight.
- The ones who are aware of their status, and suddenly feel like they are kings of the world. Will hang out only with other celebrities and other raising stars. You might just be good enough to bring them refreshments during poster sessions, or wax their shoes.
You really want to hang out with the two first categories; the third if you can take it. These people are the future of the field, and you will for sure have great conversations and laughs with them.
Episode 2 of science stereotypes for this lazy saturday : It’s all about celebrities !
Celebrities are one of the easiest species to spot at a meeting:
- They are generally surrounded by hords of people, mainly admirative PI’s, ambitious post-docs, and hysteric PhD’s. They never seems to have a minute alone.
- They might be requested to autograph their most famous research papers and books, to pose for pictures, and give keynote lectures.
- They generally join the conference later, depart earlier, and fly 1st class.
How to deal with them ?
My advice is to tell yourself that they are just people like us. If you want to talk with them, be strategic: spy on them, even if it means meeting them outside of the bathroom, accidentally on purpose. Then, establish contact by mentioning your read all their papers (
I never said you should be honest), and try to switch to your own subject with great delicatesse. Most of the “celebrities” are actually nice and accessible people, and will enjoy the discussion. They will probably not remember talking to you 2 days after, but hey …
This is the first post of a new series I call “Science Stereotypes“. Despite the heterogeneity of the science crowd, I could not resist creating some humorous sub-categories … I’ll describe their phenotypes one-by-one over the next days.
Here comes the 1st category : Sharks
These are the dangerous individuals you need to spot early on during a conference. Be careful, some sharks have the ability to hide their real nature for extended time periods.
Here are some tips to spot them:
- They actually communicate almost exclusively with potential and actual competitors, and people from their sub-sub-field; which means, around 10-15 people tops. Any attempts to attract them to your talk or poster will fail if they cannot see a profit in it.
- They can be opportunistic tough. If they hear a conversation of interest, they will ear drop a bit, and jump right in, disregarding any sense of politeness. Nevertheless, they will keep their poker face on, and not share any of their own research.
- They often go to posters before or after official poster sessions. They can then take snapshots of each poster, write down all juicy details and technical infos without being noticed.
- Sharks don’t drink early in the evening. They will stay alcohol-free while other people get tipsy. This is when they ask a pseudo-anodin series of questions that could make a distracted/drunk person reveal some confidential informations. Without even remembering it the next day. They typically choose weak targets, like a young and naive PhD student, a drunk post-doc; rather then the PI directly. Unless he is even weaker.
How to deal with them ?
As I said, the most important is to spot them quickly, and keep your mask on if you think you’re on their red list. If so, you will probably notice it, because they will track you down, ask about your research in deep details, and keep bringing you drinks.
Stay strong. And take action: play the game pretending you’re not playing it. If you can’t play, escape as fast as you can, nobody wants to be bitten by a shark.