A post over at See Jane Compute about Things That Make Us Feel Old reminded me of a phenomenon I wanted to write about:
when students see a reference to a paper by someone with the same last name as their professor and assume that the paper was written by the person they know, even if the paper was published decades before the professor became a professor.
So far, this has only happened to me twice, but it may happen more often as time goes by. The reasons it has thus far been a rare occurrence include:
1 - There aren't that many other Scientists with the same last name as me, so students don't encounter non-me references much.
2 - The few Scientists with the same last name haven't published much.
3 - I have only recently started looking my age, so it used to be obvious (to most people) that I couldn't have published a paper a long long time ago.
The first time a student thought I had published a paper in the early 1970's, when I was in elementary school, I thought it was very funny. I said "Yes, although I was only 9 years old that year, I felt it was time to start publishing", and then I walked away, not sure whether to hope that they would believe me or that they would realize how absurd their assumption was.
This mistaken assumption may become less amusing with time.
I know that it is difficult for young people to gauge the age of old(er) people: anyone over 40 might as well be 50 or 60 or whatever, but it might be a good idea to do the math before verbalizing an assumption that a middle-aged person was publishing > 30 years ago. Just a suggestion.
9 years ago