Friday, March 02, 2007

Some Days Are Stranger Than Others

Today I met for the first time a certain scientist from another country. I had read some of his papers a while ago, and I was interested to talk to him. He was also interested to talk to me, so a colleague arranged for us to meet today. When I was introduced to him, he looked really surprised and he stared at me in a rather strange way. I just started talking anyway, but after a few minutes, he asked me if I were really the same person who had written the such-and-such paper in 19xx and the so-and-so paper in 19xx and some others he listed. Yes, indeed I was that person. He just shook his head and said "I was not expecting you to look like you do." Hmm. If I had more social skills than I do, I might have had a ready response to that, but as it was, I was perplexed into silence. I waited for him to explain, or not. Finally he said "I've been reading your papers for so long, I expected you to be old and have gray hair." "And glasses?" I asked, helpfully. "Yes, and glasses!" he replied. Then, with that out of the way, we talked about Science for a couple of hours. It turns out we are the same age and have been publishing for the same length of time, so I don't know why he expected me to look so much older than he does.

8 comments:

etbnc said...

I like to interpret such comments as, "You show wisdom beyond your years."

Works for me!

Cheers

gs said...

Since everyone I know (including the image in mirrors) is aging except for me, I understand his surprise.

Somewhere I read a bleaker version of the above: the heartbreak of age is not from growing old, but staying young.

Anonymous said...

Why was he surprised to see you in the beginning ? Was he expecting a male ? Do you have a unisex name ?
Or is it just because you look younger ?? :)

In a normal (read non-scientific) world, one would think that you are suffering from "dumb-blond syndrome". And since you say that you lack social skills (not surprising for a scientist), please let me make sure by telling you that this term doesn't necessarily mean that you need to have blond hair ....

He was just making a compliment about your looks, so take it easy and be happy. If you think you don't look your age, then you should be flattered instead of thinking that he was trying to suggest "you look too dumb to be smart". And if you DO look your age, then it should be even more flattering :)

Female Science Professor said...

I was neither flattered nor offended, I just thought it was strange. I suppose I don't form a strong picture of what someone is likely to look at just from reading their papers, but this person must have.

Anonymous said...

I think sometimes, when we are somewhat impressed or well-read of a certain person, form an image of wisdom surrounding that person and generally that image includes things that for men include beards and for everyone almost always include glasses and grey hair. The glasses thing is somewhat of an unusual one: a very bright friend of mine is always surprising people when they learn she does NOT wear glasses or contacts, as if to be particularly intelligent one MUST have done so.

maria said...

i think i can understand his surprise. as someone starting out, I assume that the people who are well respected by myself and my boss must be more advanced in their careers, probably at least in their forties. twenties years down the road, if i hadn't met them, i would assume they had aged from my original assumption by 20 yrs. however, it has turned out on multiple occasions that these well respected scientists are significantly younger than i assumed.

Anonymous said...

At a recent international meeting I met someone whose work I respect a lot, but whom I had never met (both of us are male, so gender doesn't come into play). I had imagined him to be a senior German Professor type, grey hair and the rest of my own stereotype, and thus was shocked to find he is ten years younger than me (i.e., late 30's) and looked much younger. I aslo remarked to him after his talk that I was surprised at his youth, meaning it as a complement for the staure he had acheived at a young age, and not thinking he might find it otherwise. I can see your point, but would encourage you to take it as a complement.

Ms.PhD said...

Yes, I think that was a compliment, despite being a sad commentary on our society.

I find myself doing that, too. I just found out that a guy whose papers I've read and referenced is starting as a postdoc in a lab nearby. I know him as Author, Guy, so it's kind of hard for me to fathom that he's actually several years younger than I am, and already so accomplished that I'll never catch up.

Somehow publishing is a very distinguished act. Which is probably why everyone assumes that all of my papers were primarily the work of my older, male, gray-haired PIs, who are listed as senior author, rather than 99.99% mine.