Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Thanks But No Thanks

It is so gratifying to know that other professors (Angry Professor, for example) also get exciting offers of international travel. Here is one of my own examples:

Dear Professor FSP,

I am an instructor at [insert name of university I have never heard of in the most troubled part of a Very Troubled Country in which Americans and others have been kidnapped and killed with some frequency] and I am very interested in your researches. I have followed your papers. I am happy to tell you that this year is the nth anniversary of the founding of my institute.


A Scientist from a Very Troubled Country

Dear Scientist,

Thank you for your kind email. I congratulate you on the anniversary of your institute.



Dear Professor FSP,

Thank you a lot for your reply and good wishes. I would like to invite you to visit my institute and give a speech as part of our anniversary celebrations. The speech will be on [insert date a few months away]. It will be my honor to show you our beautiful institute.


A Scientist from a Very Troubled Country

Dear Scientist,

Thank for your invitation. I am honored but I regret that I am not able to accept. I have other commitments for travel at the time of your event. Congratulations again on the anniversary of your institute and best wishes for a successful celebration.



Dear Professor FSP,

Your name is on our printed programs as the most special speaker of the ceremony and we cannot change this now, the ceremony is too soon. I have told all my colleagues that you are coming and we are happy for your coming. It will be very bad for me if you do not give us a speech. We are waiting your visit. Please tell me of your arrival time and I will be at the airport to meet you.


A Scientist from a Very Troubled Country

I feel great sympathy for my would-be colleague and the difficult conditions under which he lives and works, but I tend not to respond well to manipulation and deceit, even if accompanied by an invitation to visit an intriguing place.

Is there really anyone who would have replied "Oh well, OK, if the programs are already printed, I will change my existing plans, buy a plane ticket, attempt to get a visa, acquire more life insurance, and jet off to give the speech."?


The_Myth said...

You know, that level of manipulation is often an indication that you are dealing with a sociopath...

Sadly, some people fall for it...but I do hope the "overseas visit" deters most!

Anonymous said...

Um, who prints programs with speaker names *before* the speaker is even asked?

Anonymous said...

Instead of a telemarketer, this is an e-sciency-marketer.

I will never reply to one of those folks if I ever get an email like you and Angry do.

James said...

How sure are you that that was actually from a legitimate scientist? It could be spam of some kind. Otherwise, it's just bizarre

Angry Professor said...

Wow. That's pretty low!

Isis the Scientist said...

I have to give your international colleague credit for the huge guts it took to think that printing the program in advance would get you there.

On the other hand, does he also have an uncle in Nigeria who is about to die and needs to wire you $20 million dollars>

geomom said...

And then there are the requests for a chapter of a book on [name the obscure subject] from [obscure foreign publisher] that they insist you agreed to write!

But FSP, c'mon, if your name is on the program and it's printed already, why not :-)

Anonymous said...

I've seen a similar kind of manipulation in reverse--someone trying to extend his stay in the US. A student from another country expressed what seemed like a sincere interest in working in the department to enhance his learning experience while he was here. He said would be in the country for all of Fall semester. We arranged an undergrad research assistant volunteer position for him (we are at a medical school). A week before he was to start, he tells us that his visa will expire in two weeks, and that the needed us to write a letter to extend it for him. Right, we can influence the INS on short notice.

Apparently, his visa extension had been denied months before. Also, he had simultaneously contacted several other labs and pulled a similar stunt.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the academic version of a Nigerian fraud scheme to me... Is this really coming from a legit university? Seems to me that despite where someone is, they wouldn't want to tick off their colleagues in academia trying to pull this (what do you want to bet 10 or even 20 other professors got the same email?)

Helen said...

I agree with The_Myth that the creepiness factor in that one sounds rather dire.

I'm curious about how people respond to such emails -- what was your next email in the chain?

If it were me, I would probably cut-and-paste verbatim the second reply you sent, since there really is nothing further to say and the researcher apparently failed to read it the first time.

Anonymous said...

Hahahaha awesome. What a tool. I would just say that your PREEXISTING COMMITMENTS have ALSO printed their programs! Already printed! You can't tell them no!!

Alex said...

I think it's legit. I've worked with people at that institute, and we were able to successfully extract and refine some uranium. After selling it on the open market, we found ourselves with quite a bit of money that we need to transfer. FSP, if you would help us facilitate this transfer, we would be happy to give you a portion of the funds as a grant for your researches that we have been reading about so closely. All I need is your bank account info.

Female Science Professor said...

In fact, my would-be colleague is a real scientist. He later tried to submit a manuscript with my name on it.

Alethea said...

I think it's just a matter of cultural differences. I have had similar invitations; they're not badly meant, I believe. I'd be interested how this would-be colleague goes about proving a hypothesis.

chall said...

really? (a comment on FSP's comment in the end) Tried to submit a manuscript with your name on it?

The more I hear about things in the world, the more I am amazed that I have still got my PhD and not bought it from some wierd online uni and that the people I work with actually exist.

It is truly strange. I wonder if these people understand what a disservice they do to people from their own country? And other "lower"/unknown scientists like myself....

Anonymous said...

FSP - tell that whack you have ocean front property in Iowa for nano research, his name is on the paperwork as a collaborator and author, and you need HIS bank account info!
oy vey.

Ewan said...

I would have been *very* tempted to respond a la scam-baiting: "Very well. However, my University forbids the use of funds for purchase of travel to such events; please forward me the $10K needed for my travel arrangements. A money order would be ideal."


Then I would have deleted that reply, on the tiny offchance that it might somehow somewhere be taken seriously or out of context..

SaraJ said...

Hey I go to that school! Or at least one like it. One of the dirty little secrets of foreign universities (mine included) is that we invite big names over for "overseas visits" then list them as "Visiting Assistant Professors" so that when the Times Higher Education Supplement Rankings folks come knocking, we can trot our amazing, international researchers as affiliates.

The guy is a scam artist only to the extent that his institution expects him to scam others so their scham ratings stay the same.

I strongly advise anyone who has done an "overseas visit", to check that they are not listed as "Visiting Assistant/ Associate/ Distinguished Professor" on that university's pages.

another female post-doc said...

There are places in the world where one is recognized or get credit of anything only if he/she is associated with some foreigner, more then anything else. This person's social/professional value increases if he/she knows more Americans, Europeans etc etc. So you get this kind of junk. As someone says in your comments, its more of a cultural difference then anything else (including adding your name as a coauthor).

Science Alien Grad Student said...

I am a grad student in a university in North America but I did my undergrad on a "university you have never heard of in the most troubled part of a Very Troubled Country in which Americans and others have been kidnapped and killed with some frequency".

Reading you post today made me really sad.

Have you ever had any positive experiences with universities from poor (or crappy, if you prefer) coutries like mine?

Female Science Professor said...

Yes, many (most) experiences have been very positive.

yet another angry female professor said...

Invitations can be loaded. I received one to attend a memorial conference for a recently deceased but long inactive researcher where I had to pay my own way and the initial invite was worded rather oddly. The second one on hotels sounded almost irritated saying you may have to stay at a distant hotel yada yada. Quite ungracious for a memorial conference where I have to pay my own way. Presumably they had two female speakers to meet funding agency quotas and didn't need any more women speakers or attendees. Maybe I need to resurrect my blog and vent some about my nasty male-dominated research group.

butterflywings said...

Oooooh where is "Very Troubled Country"?
I would so have gone! I love travel. In fact, can I go and pretend to be you, FSP?

M.H. said...

Actually, as a resident of a middle-eastern country, I feel insulted when people say "that was a cultural difference!". It's as if we have our own set of "human rules of logic" which is twisted enough to not see the inconsistency in that guy's actions. People in third world countries are still humans, and there is an existing code of ethics despite being regularly violated by many. It really hurts to hear people say "It's their culture. That's what they do" because most of us consider what that guy (or others) does as unethical and manipulative.

Those who joke about extracting uranium etc. should also remember that certain citizens of that Very Troubled Country have contributed Very significantly to human knowledge (Nobel prize in physics 1979). It is a pity to see stereotyping advocates within the scientific community.

Female Science Professor said...

Just a note: It would be incorrect to assume that the troubled country of which I wrote is in the Middle East.

eric gisse said...

The only places that come to mind where Americans get kidnapped and/or killed on a regular basis that isn't somewhere in the middle east is south America. Central America too, but Americans caught the pattern long ago.

If you aren't of the opinion that you should never contact him again, would you consider asking why he felt he should print your name before even _asking_ you to visit?