Every once in a while I give a public lecture on a topic related to my research. These talks are challenging to give in a coherent and interesting way because the audience is so much more diverse in scientific experience than even a typical introductory science class. There is also a huge range in age: in a recent talk, my audience ranged in age from 12 to 80-something.
In this most recent public lecture, I spoke in a large dimly lit auditorium. I used a microphone, paced around on a stage-like thing, showed some cool images, and talked about some interesting research questions and results. At the end of the talk, I answered questions from the audience; some questions were very fun to answer, some were easy, some had no answers, and some were bizarre. After the general question session, some audience members came to the front to ask me additional questions one-on-one.
One man (estimated age: 60-something) came up to me and looked at me very closely. Then he said “I am so relieved to see that you aren’t actually as young as I thought you were.” I pointed to the wrinkles at the corners of my eyes and said “Observe the dramatic evidence for aging.” And he said “I know, that’s what I was just looking at.” He said he’d spent my whole talk thinking I was a “young pup” and it “really bothered” him to think that someone so young could “know so much” and “be so smart”. He repeated that he was very relieved to know that I am not so young.
OK.. whatever. I have definitely learned a lot over the years, though sometimes I think that the wisdom I have accumulated through experience is being eroded at the same (or greater) rate by the effects of aging. At least I can still put on a good (science) show.
I think I could have done without that particular conversation, though, and maybe next time I will ask the person who introduces me to be sure to mention the dates that I acquired my various degrees. That way, the “old dogs” in the audience can do the math and figure out that I am deeply middle aged.
Despite the random encounters with strange people, I enjoy giving these talks. It’s nice to see big groups of real people who are interested in Science, who turn out for an evening’s random Science talk because they want to be there, and who are thrilled when they learn something new.
9 months ago