Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Extreme Conferencing

Conferences are exhausting, but I find them quite fun overall. I like the Science and I like the social aspects. There are all sorts of weird socio-political interactions that also occur (or almost occur, or might have occurred but no one is really sure), but there are many interesting interactions and even exhilarating moments. I typically return from conferences tired but also emotionally recharged from the social interactions.

A certain colleague of mine hurls himself into each conference like it is a mosh pit, and emerges broken and ill at the end. He spends days talking loudly, drinking a lot, arguing, not sleeping much, and racing around stressed out and highly caffeinated. He gets very emotionally involved in certain conference sessions, becoming extremely angry at some talks or posters and thrilled by others. He is sort of a moody guy in real life, but nothing like what he is at conferences. In the best case scenario, he loses his voice at a conference. At two recent conferences, however, he had medical problems, although he is very healthy when not at a conference.

I think that, to him, extreme conferencing is the only way to have a really intense conference experience and to feel like he's made an impact on the discussion. In real life, he is Dr. Distinguished Professor Person, patiently explaining things to students and dealing with insane colleagues who don't really understand his research. At meetings, he is surrounded by people with the exact same passion for his field of Science, and hence the bungee-jumping, ice-climbing, sky-diving, demolition derby type conference behavior.

My concern is that what temporarily wrecked him in his Youth will start to be a problem now that he is Middle-Aged (as evidenced by the health problems, one of which required medical attention, at recent conferences). But if he slows down at conferences, will they be as fun?

4 comments:

Helen H. said...

He spends days talking, drinking a lot, arguing, not sleeping much, and racing around highly caffeinated.


Hey, that's me! At conferences anyway.

"At meetings, he is surrounded by people with the exact same passion for his field of Science, and hence the bungee-jumping, ice-climbing, sky-diving, demolition derby type conference behavior."

Well, yeah, that would be the reason. It's such a welcome change from "Huh?"

I guess I'll regard this as a caution not to take it as far as your colleague does.

Ms.PhD said...

I'm always disturbed by the extreme alcohol consumption I see by these otherwise terribly introverted, formal creatures.

The worst for me is the Dr.Jekyll/Mr. Hyde phenomenon, which ruled out several potential postdoc advisors based on their extremely lewd alcohol-triggered behavior.

Maybe we should add that to the list of things to do with your potential advisors/coworkers: go to a meeting and see if they tend to be drink heavily and become offensive/otherwise dangerous to themselves or others?

I think for a lot of them, these extreme behaviors a poor coping mechanism for being socially anxious and/or upset about scientific competition. It dulls the psychic pain to injure a different part of your body (or induce a hangover).

anon said...

Hmmm... medical problems. Oh well, I say go for it. If you die while screaming at a speaker during a 10:20 am seminar because of a heart attack, it would have been worth it. Go out with a bang doing what you love.

If he wants to live though, he could stop drinking alcohol and coffee during conferences. A simple step that should be easy to make for anyone with enough willpower.

Helen said...

"Maybe we should add that to the list of things to do with your potential advisors/coworkers: go to a meeting and see if they tend to be drink heavily and become offensive/otherwise dangerous to themselves or others?"

Excellent advice. People just have lower inhibitions when drunk, not new personalities. If someone does something objectionable while drunk, you can be sure that they think it's ok on some level.