Not long ago, a Great Man of Science came to my department, gave some talks, and met with faculty, students, and researchers. I have met him before, most recently ~ 6 months ago, but we do not know each other well at all.
I expected him to be familiar with only one part of my research; i.e., research on topic X, as it was in the context of my work on X that we most recently met. Therefore, during my individual meeting with him in my office, I was amazed to hear him say:
My good friend, Other Great Man of Science, is doing some really interesting work on X right now. In fact, he is transforming the way we think about X, and has some recent results that are very exciting.
I was stunned when he said this, and sought clarification. I thought maybe I heard him wrong or somehow misunderstood.
I was stunned because he was talking about my research group's work on X.
The interesting ideas and results have not been generated by my collaborator, Other Great Man of Science, who is at another university. In fact, the exciting results are primarily the work of one of my recent PhD students, as part of her doctoral thesis work.
Other Great Man of Science was a collaborator on the NSF grant that funded this work, but he has not been the most active member of the group and has not been a driving force behind the research. In fact, although I enjoy working with Other Great Man, his part of the project has been lagging.
My PhD student (now graduated) has been the most visible person doing this research and making the interesting discoveries and interpretations. Great Man also met her 6 months ago and saw her present her research results, at length. Yet Great Man erased her from his perception of the collaboration as well. In his mind, the only person worth remembering or mentioning is Other Great Man of Science.
It was surreal to have my group's research described to me by someone else and attributed to a colleague, as if my student and I did not exist.
My ego, which is generally healthy but not too huge on most days, was wounded, but not mortally so, as I am dealing with the situation by wallowing in outrage and contempt for this particular Great Man of Science (as a person, not as a scientist).
I hasten to say that Other Great Man of Science is not responsible for this situation. He has not taken undue credit for the research. In fact, he has been very supportive of my student and would be the first to confirm that it is primarily her work and that she has made the most interesting discoveries of the work thus far.
It is Great Man of Science's perception of the research that is the problem. He sees his famous friend; the rest of us either don't exist or can't possibly be important. Given the incredible amount of name-dropping he did during his talks in my department, this may be a habit with him.
If you had been in my place when this Great Man gave credit to his famous friend for the ideas and work of one of your students and/or you, despite the fact that you and your student had published and given talks on the research (and Other Great Man had not) and you knew that Great Man had been present at those talks (and had asked questions at the time), what would you have done? Confronted him immediately? Let it slide because who cares what he thinks -- he won't change his ideas and why cause an embarrassing situation, assuming the Great Man of Science is capable of being embarrassed? Expressed anger? Used humor? Nodded silently? Wondered if he was losing his mind?
Later I shall reveal what I did, but for now this post is a cliff-hanger.
10 years ago