It's amazing, but I have this supernatural ability to become invisible. It's almost like being a superhero. Almost, but not quite. I read somewhere that, given a choice between having the ability to become invisible and having the ability to fly, women tend to choose invisibility. Men tend to choose the personal flight option. There were some unflattering interpretations of that (women are sneaky, men are daring etc.), but that's another issue.
In any case, I don't see much use in being invisible. I have some experience with it, including this week, and mostly I find it annoying and, on occasion, humiliating. And the strange thing is that this amazing power to become invisible mostly kicks in around Distinguished Male Professors. The one who visited our department this week was a rather classic example of this species.
How I Became Invisible
A male colleague and I walked up to the Distinguished Visitor in the hallway, and the visitor stuck out his hand at my male colleague and gave him a manly handshake; they introduced themselves to each other. For some reason, I assumed it was my turn for a handshake and introduction. Social horror! He ignored me. I dropped my hand, but I introduced myself anyway, saying something like "I'm on your schedule for tomorrow and am looking forward to talking with you." He glanced at me, confused, then turned back to my male colleague, who was by this point very uncomfortable about the situation and extracted himself from the conversation. When we were out of earshot, he said to me "That was strange and creepy." Yes indeed.
I figured that today, in our individual meeting, the visitor and I would get on track and have a nice scientist-to-scientist conversation. With some of these guys, once they are sitting in my office, which is the usual professor-type office filled with books and miscellaneous scientific things, they have no trouble having a normal conversation with me about topics of mutual scientific or professorial interest. In contrast, during the encounter in the hall, he couldn't even see me.
Well, I didn't have a chance to run the office experiment with this particular visitor. I was the second-to-last person on his schedule, and he decided to go to the airport 3 hours early for a domestic flight, and pass up the opportunity to talk to me and a postdoc. He was probably tired after 1.5 days of visiting with people, but it was still rude. It's probably better that I missed this opportunity, though. I was originally on his schedule for yesterday, but one of my junior colleagues had to reschedule, and I offered to trade times with him. If I hadn't, I would have actually had to spend time with this obnoxious person.
2 months ago