Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Did you really just say that?

Lately I'm having so many awkward conversations with senior PIs who have zero social skills and even less clue.

Some quotes to file in this category:

"You don't look like you could be old enough to have a PhD, much less be a senior postdoc."

"There you go, now you're thinking like a PI!"

I went to a talk yesterday by one of these guys (all guys of course). The speaker was very old, clearly presentimg the work of his postdocs, and not very well. It was one of those that just stood out as someone who should have retired 10+ years ago.

One PI said his thesis advisor just retired. Guess how old he was. Guess.Just guess.



At 7:57 AM, Blogger Becca said...

That's not zero social skills- that's mislearned social skills. Both of those comments could have been intended as compliments!
Granted, they are in that category of "wtf?" (usually) unintentionally backhanded compliments (like "you aren't as fat as I remember you").

At 8:48 AM, Blogger butterflywings said...

Re: guessing age - 94?! :-)

Hmmm, I get sick of the "you look so YOUNG" comments too. How rude. You would never say to someone that they looked really old to still be doing their job, would you?

At 9:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what are you going to present when you are a PI? Are you going to be in the lab doing the work with your own hands? Maybe for a year or two at the very beginning, but the whole point of moving to a faculty position is to hire a staff (including postdocs). You have to have a compelling, long-term research agenda that expands beyond your capabilities. Otherwise you should find a benefactor and be a happy staff scientist.

Would you just pass down invitations you get to speak to your postdocs? C'mon. No one would invite you to give a talk if you got that reputation. I mean, you're the PI who theoretically can frame the question in a meaningful way, you provided the material support for pursuing the work, you probably did the lion's share of the intellectual work (no matter what the postdoc(s) think) and it's your name recognition that will get the postdoc their next job.

At 9:40 AM, Blogger Jennie said...

If your department is like mine I'll say the retired adviser was/is 75

At 9:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got introduced a few years ago for a faculty job seminar by the search chair as "she looks young, but she's smart as we will see from her talk" - the entire crowd laughed, while inside I was privately thinking of ways I could stick my hair in pig tails and ask for a lollipop while not getting my suit dirty, interrupting my slides, or pointing out how whacked the search chair is.

My guess - the dude's 87.

At 10:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


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At 4:50 PM, Blogger Psych Post Doc said...

my guess is 100

At 4:55 PM, Blogger Unbalanced Reaction said...

The lady at the DMV argued with me for several minutes that I wasn't old enough to teach at the college level.

I just wanted my damn license, which I'm just going to have to replace in 2 months.

At 7:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So... just to humor you, but isn't this like saying "you look too old to be running a lab?" (Not that one would ever say that, but this could be a good comeback, no...)

At 9:41 PM, Anonymous ancient physics postdoc said...

Patronizing crap from smug faculty members is all to common, unfortunately. One of the more memorable ones I've had (after just arriving at a new postoc job and being introduced to someone) was

"Ooooooo watch out for the faculty. We're very scary!"

If I had been more quick-thinking I would have replied with "There's nothing scary about your publication record, dude. Did you get your job by [performing obscene act on] famous prof X ? Now that really would be scary!"

At 3:37 AM, Anonymous Alice said...

80? 85? ooh tell me, tell me :) Your post gave me an idea for my next post.

At 12:02 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

These comments made me laugh- except one, which will require a whole other post to address, but it's a good topic so I thank that person for bringing it up.

He said the guy was 83.

I actually have two collaborators who are 75 or older (I didn't ask their actual age!).

Guess what I'm afraid of? Just guess.

I love this response about maybe they're looking too old!! But actually I think I get these kinds of comments just as often from young PIs as from decrepit ones. Ageism/appearance-ism is everywhere.

And I'm not immune myself. After I wrote this post I saw a talk by a woman who, at least onstage, looks my age but whom I know is 10-15 years older than me.

It IS distracting when there's such a disconnect between what we ALL EXPECT to see, and what's clearly in front of your face.

But you can't fight it unless you're aware of what's distracting you. Otherwise you just tend to focus on the feeling that something is wrong, and it's easy to displace that onto everything nearby (including the data the person is presenting).

That's a problem with my science right now, too- my results are hard to deny, but they're so unexpected that everyone has a knee-jerk response. AND I look young, so a lot of people just feel queasy when they look at my data, and they look at me, and I'm betting they can't step back and ask why.

I think this talk was one of the only times I can recall finding it really hard to be objective and focused on the data because the disconnect in her appearance was so startling.

And I can only imagine it's even more common for our elders to have trouble adjusting to the Very Young Looking Female Scientists.

The other thing I got asked a lot, which I doubt I would have been asked if I were not one of these, was

"So are you planning to stay in academia?"

To which I usually respond that if I hadn't been planning that all along, I would have quit a long time ago.

Someone suggested I should make a joke about how I actually was hoping to be a postdoc forever, but I'm not sure that would be understood as sarcastic.

At 2:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my old department there is an 83 year old who is still hobbling around writing papers, doing talks, going to conferences, and writing grant applications. She's nice, though :)

At 7:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I get the "you don't look old enough .." comment, I usually reply that waiting until I looked old enough didn't seem like a financially wise decision.

Or sometimes I just smile and say, I use a lot of sunscreen.

At 3:00 PM, Blogger JaneB said...

Right now (nearly 40) I'm planning to retire as soon as I possibly can! I hope to have a whole other exciting life after that...

I get the 'you look too young' comment - I just say something like 'thanks, I've been doing this for x years, glad to see it hasn't marked me too obviously!' and smile. It bothered me a lot more in Canada because I was young - 25 and PhD'd - and the reaction was frequently 'oh your PhD/PhD programme/knowledge of the field can't be any good because you got it so quickly'. Er... great, yes, that one was a challenge to counter - at least having gone to an Ancient-and-Venerable-University I could usually counter the quality thing just by commenting that it couldn't be that bad since X of Canadian-uni's faculty/famous people in field had been through the same programme, if I was really riled - usually I just let it go.

Sorry if this is a bit vague, my new/second-hand/adopted cat (who arrived today! Yay!) is distracting me by exploring corners of the room and knocking stuff over.

At 1:56 PM, Blogger laurieparker said...

"I got introduced a few years ago for a faculty job seminar by the search chair as "she looks young, but she's smart as we will see from her talk" - the entire crowd laughed, while inside I was privately thinking of ways I could stick my hair in pig tails and ask for a lollipop while not getting my suit dirty, interrupting my slides, or pointing out how whacked the search chair is."

Haha, my analogous introduction at a faculty interview talk was "This is Dr. LP. Although she looks like she could be one of our students, she is ACTUALLY here to apply to the faculty position." I laughed out loud, but nobody else got the joke as well as I did. A lot of them slept through my (kind of bad) talk and I did not get that job, lol. :(


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