In the past few months, I have given several invited talks at other universities. These trips have all been interesting and exhausting. Among the many interesting aspects of visiting other universities are: talking to lots of people, including students and other people I've never met before; learning about how different departments operate; seeing other parts of the country/world. Among the most random aspects of visiting other universities (not counting air travel and other logistics) are: whether I have a full schedule with a different meeting with a different person every 30-60 minutes or whether my scheduled activities consist primarily of my talk and maybe a meal; and what the person who introduces me at the beginning of my talk chooses to say in the introduction. At this particular moment, I am contemplating the latter (again).
Just over a year ago, I listed different types of Introductions for invited talks. Although I have particular ideas about the kind of introductions I prefer (in a word: short), I noted in the comments on that post that I prefer to gamble with introductions and not try to get too control freaky about what I want said and not said.
The one constant in an introduction is mention of where I got my PhD. Optional items include: place of origin, undergrad institution, postdoc institution, visiting professor position, first tenure-track position, awards and other ancillary things that go on the CV. I don't really care which of those, if any, are mentioned, though if some are noted, it's best if only some (and not all) are mentioned so that the introduction doesn't start to drag on too long.
Before one recent talk, my introducer (who has known me for 20+ years) said that I was "the most famous woman in the world" in my sub-field of science and "the best woman X" (where X = the name for scientists who do the type of science I do). Reasons why I flinched and felt like taking out his kneecaps when he said that:
1 - It is not true.
2 - It is an absurd thing to say in an introduction, even if it were true.
3 - Do I even need to say that I hated the gender qualifier in those statements?
I realize that my introducer was just being nice and trying to impress people in the audience who were from completely different fields of science, and he may even believe what he said (he knows me, he might not know (m)any other women in the field, hence I am the best and most famous.. to him). Even so, I wish he hadn't said it that way.
This problem with introductions is not confined to gender. Although it is very unlikely to hear in a talk introduction that someone is the Most Famous Man in his scientific field, or the Most Famous Vegan, or some other irrelevant descriptive term, a similar situation may arise when someone introduces a speaker from another country. I have heard speakers introduced as One of the Most Famous Scientists in Obscure Field from Small Country X. Slightly better but still weird is this statement: Professor X is not just known in his/her Small Country but is even known outside of it.
Instead of mentioning whether someone is a big fish in a small pond or a big fish in a cosmic pond or the third most famous female fish of the 5 known female fish of a certain species, it's probably best to just stick to the basic facts in an introduction, perhaps adding a personal touch/anecdote if you are introducing someone you know. Even if you admire the person you are introducing, it is difficult to convey that admiration without being obnoxious. And then if you start adding qualifiers.. it's an introduction to insult.
10 months ago