This week I went to a talk by a visiting woman scientist, the first such talk by a woman so far this year in my department. She is not in my field, and I'd never met her or heard of her before, but I like to go to department seminars anyway because you never know when you're going to learn something interesting. Also, as a frequent speaker at other universities, I know that it's important to have a good audience, as this definitely affects a visitor's impression of a place.
In any case, this woman was very articulate and gave a talk that summarized many years of work. She had a large audience of interested people, including many in fields closely related to her own. She has given many talks before, including as a distinguished lecturer for a professional organization. Even so, she kept interrupting her own talk to say "I am sure I am boring you" or "I know you're probably all asleep out there" and even "You probably think this is stupid, but please bear with me." When she was asked a question during her talk, she exclaimed "Someone is awake and paying attention!". It was really sad.
Has she had lots of experiences throughout her academic career that make her anxious about being boring and stupid? That isn't hard to imagine as a scenario for a woman scientist, but it would be great if damage like that could be eventually undone. This woman has tenure and was recruited away from her first tenure-track position by another university. She gets grants, has a large group of students, and has received professional awards. There is lots of objective evidence that she is a successful scientist. In talking to her one-on-one, she seemed like a happy, confident person, so maybe those "I know I'm boring you" statements are just some habit she got into when giving talks, but it's still disturbing.
Memo to anyone giving a professional talk: DON'T EVER SAY "I KNOW I'M BORING YOU" DURING A TALK. Maybe you are, maybe you aren't, but don't put yourself down.
6 months ago