Haven't I done anything already yet?
Holiday parties, part 2.
More funny things about attending parties with no scientists: the way people try to get to know you by asking about your career aspirations. This is the more polite, friendly, less-condescending version of what I described in this previous post .
Dude: So, what do you do?
YFS: I'm not working right now.
Dude: So, what kind of thing do you want to do?
I pondered a bit over that question, because I couldn't figure out why it was bothering me. It's a perfectly reasonable thing to ask someone you've never met. Right?
In fact, it's probably more reasonable than what most scientists ask, which is past-tense, i.e. "What were you doing before?" or "What's your background?"
Because really, you might not want to talk about whatever you were doing before. It might not even be relevant.
In fact, I got tired of answering too honestly along the lines of, "Well, I'm trained as a scientist but I couldn't find a job and now I'm going to have to switch careers."
I thought the short answer version might send the message:
I don't really know you and don't really want to talk about it.
I'm vaguely aware that an open-ended, future-directed question is where you're supposed to give your pitch. Because you never know when you're going to meet a rich philanthropist just looking for a place to donate for a tax write-off.
So I think I missed an opportunity or two by not having a prepared 30-second commercial for My Potential.
At a scientific meeting, I know exactly how to answer the "What do you want to do" question. I may not have ever been very good at it, but I did get better at launching into my condensed blurb about my exciting research project and how I still want to continue working on it if I only had the money, a (tenure-track) place to do the work, and don't you have a search going on in your department?
But I need to be expecting to be asked anything beyond doing the usual name-handshake dance and nod.
Afterwards, I realized the problem is that I feel like they are making the perfectly reasonable assumption that I have done nothing thus far.
Obviously, because I'm not famous, and I don't drive a BMW.
Things I maybe should have said instead of just standing there clutching my drink and looking surprised:
"Well, you know I got my PhD several years ago and I have published X # of papers, so... Actually, I have already done what some people might consider a fairly significant body of work."
"I write a blog... sometimes."