The perceptive reader may have noticed that I encounter a lot of strange people in my work (I am using the word 'strange' loosely again; see previous post). This has been a feature of my entire academic career, and is a topic for many afternoon cafe discussions with my colleagues. Is it random, do I somehow attract strange people to work with me, or is there a complex (positive? negative?) feedback in which I nucleate instabilities in previously normal people? I will probably never know, but I am acquiring lots of data through experience.
Encounters on the Strange Spectrum include those with:
- strange non-academic people; see earlier post on erratic/threatening man in my office a few weeks ago. He has not returned, but I had another random strange person wander into my office last week. He was large but he was not threatening. He pointed at various things in my office and asked me to give them to him. I kept saying no, and eventually he left.
- strange academic people. In my previous post, I presented two general examples from the Strange Spectrum, from somewhat dysfunctional to kind of scary. Obviously there is a lot more to each of these examples than what I wrote, and any decisions I make about continuing or discontinuing to work with a student will involve taking all the information into account.
A key point is that when you supervise a group of students (and postdocs), there are many complex issues involved in figuring out the best and most fair way for everyone to have the most positive and constructive experience and work environment. This is a difficult thing to balance in the best of circumstances in which everyone gets along and works hard, and it can be extraordinarily difficult if one or more group members are dysfunctional in some way.
The dysfunction scale is vast, and includes the socially awkward and the scary (as I described in my last post). Nevertheless, I have a responsibility to everyone in my group, functioning or otherwise, and it is a never-ending challenge to fulfill that responsibility.
6 years ago