Monday, October 17, 2011

You may find yourself in another part of the world

Same as it ever was, or at least how it has been for the past 3.5 months, I am going to be spending a lot of time up at 10,668 meters this week. For this final onslaught of busyness before a (relative) respite, I am taking a blog-break this week -- or, at the very least, things will get very sporadic around here for a while.

While I am suspended over various oceans and continents of the world and doing in-seat exercises to avoid deep vein thrombosis, I think it would be entertaining if the readers of FSP would share stories of

THE STRANGEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO YOU AT A CONFERENCE.*

* or workshop or other types of professional meetings.**

** It's sort of cheating if you tell a story of something that happened to someone else, but if it's a really good story, go ahead and tell it anyway.***

***My apologies in advance for delays in comment moderation.

52 comments:

drsandlin said...

Easy- I got scooped at our departmental retreat. But not in a science way, our parody video got scooped.

My lab had been working on a FAB rendition of Ke$ha's TikTok ("Gonna party all night" pretty much begs to be rewritten from a grad student perspective). Our Second years get to do a skit at the departmental retreat, and had about one week to throw something together- they ended up making this AMAZING video. We were proud of them, even though it meant we needed a new parody.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyo49MjFW2I

thedragonflywoman.com said...

The strangest thing that ever happened to me at a conference occurred at a small, specialized conference in my home state, one that I wouldn't have been able to go to otherwise. The meetings are attended by mostly the same group of people every year and I really wanted to become a part of the group, so I was very excited that it was being held somewhere I could actually go. I signed up to do a presentation, drove to the town where it was held, and stayed in a hotel overnight the night before the conference started. The first day of the conference, I showed up at the venue where I had been told to go and... it wasn't there! Instead, I walked into some high school music competition. I walked around the site a bit, just in case I'd just walked into the wrong door, but it was definitely not there. No one there knew what I was talking about either. I drove around town trying to figure out where to go (I was presenting that day after all!), but I couldn't find it. There wasn't anything to do but check out of my hotel and drive back home. Turns out the organizers had needed to change the venue and hadn't thought to tell me. It was a very strange experience, and I can't say that it didn't turn me off of that meeting a bit. I haven't ever tried to go back, though I really should...

plam said...

thedragonflywoman: I've had a similar experience, but it was all my fault for showing up on the wrong day. Oops.

Anonymous said...

The year after I got tenure, I was on a search committee for a position that wasn't in my field, so I didn't know the applicants and they didn't know me. At a huge conference, I encountered two applicants (at separate times) who each saw my name tag and affiliation and asked me for "a grad student's perspective" on the department. One even asked me for "dirt" on the faculty. I said in both cases "I don't know, you'll have to ask a grad student. If I see one of my grad students, I'll introduce you to them." At that same conference, I was standing with a male professor from my department, and yet another applicant came over, ignored me completely, and schmoozed with my colleague. My colleague said "You may want to talk to Professor B here. She is on the search committee." The guy said "Oh, are you the student rep?" I am not particularly young looking for my age, but I think these situations happened because there are many more female grad students than there are female faculty, especially at an institution like mine. It made for a very weird conference for me.

Anonymous said...

While giving a talk that was being recorded for a video to be posted online on a conference website, there was a problem with the projection system. The A/V tech started yelling at me that I had done something wrong with my presentation file (which was just a simple Powerpoint), and then a Russian scientist in the audience stood up and started yelling at the A/V guy and defending me, and then people who thought it was funny started shouting and making jokes. I decided to just keep going with my presentation anyway, and this quieted people down to listen and eventually the projection system came back on and somehow I got through to the end. I have never wanted to go look at the website to see if the video is linked there because it would be too horrible to see. Even just writing this makes me feel anxious all over again. If it is posted, I hope it was at least edited.

Anonymous said...

This is not particularly strange, but the sound systems of the room where I was giving a talk and the neighboring room got swapped, so what I was saying into the microphone was being broadcast into the next room and vice versa.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't there, but my advisor and a couple of grad students were at a meeting in our field and when the speakers were setting up for their talks, they had all their computers hooked up with that switch thing that allows you to switch between computers easily. When they switched to one speaker's computer - an image of porn came up on the screen! Only ~half of the attendees saw it, and it was quickly turned off. The professor apparently looked astonished and speachless and embarrassed!

Anonymous said...

My worst experience at conference as a graduate student has been being pursued by older male scientists. `i was really scared when it happened, as i was new to the country, did not know what my rights were, and just did not know how to tell them off. ALso, it did not help that I had little "woman's intuition" and did not see the flirtation at first, and mistook it as friendly attention. For example, one very famous scientist in my field I introduced myself to, was very approachable and friendly and said since I am new to the city, I should get together with his group of colleagues who are going out after the conference to have dinner, etc. I naively said yes, as I honestly thought this nice senior scientist was taking a personal interest (oh, the irony!) and wished to introduce me to other significant figures in the field. Later that evening, the "group" turned out to be him with all of himself, and thankfully I was assertive enough to insist on staying at public places,but he still touched me inappropriately whenever he got a chance. Looking back, I should have made some excuse and turned away as soon as I saw no one else, but that's why it was a learning experience, `i guess.

Anonymous said...

I saw a room full of scientists - many of them older and highly respected in their field - do the Macarena after the banquet. Obviously this was a few years ago but the pain of that sight lingers.

Anonymous said...

First the session chair forgot I was giving a talk. When she started wrapping up the session, I gently raised my hand and reminded her. I had been added to the session after the programs were printed, but she and I had talked in person the previous day about when I would present. While I was giving my talk, her cell phone rang, and she proceeded to have a several-minute conversation while sitting <10' from me at a table facing the audience. You might've guessed that this didn't happen in the United States. I wasn't sure how polite of me it was to raise my voice to make sure the audience could hear me over her.

Clarissa said...

This post inspired me to blog about my weirdest conference experience. It's a little long, so I don't want to copy it here to avoid hogging the thread. The story is here: http://clarissasblog.com/2011/10/17/the-weirdest-conference/

Anonymous said...

At a conference I ended up at a reception without my name tag. It was late in the reception and many of the other people had already had a few glasses of wine. While talking, my group got really loud and a senior FSP looked over at me and walked over. I assumed she was going to tell us to be more discreet (our conversation wasn't exactly a professional one) but instead she looked at me as if I was her best friend and told me that she was glad she had finally gotten her article in to me. I'm a lowly assistant professor, not an editor or someone senior enough to be telling her what to do. It was extremely awkward as I decided to 1) play along or 2) correct her. I opted for 1 and made a quick exit to get another glass of wine.

Ted said...

Conference in Japan: after the main conference, we spent a day at a traditional Japanese spa. This included nude bathing in hot springs. No, this isn't a story about creepy behavior; the nude bathing was gender-segregated. Nonetheless, it was odd to be sitting in a hot springs with a bunch of more-famous-than-me scientists the day after I'd heard all of them give high-powered talks. Oh, and then later that night, karaoke, too.

Amir said...

I do not think that I am the only one who has had this experience, but I tel my story anyway. I was scheduled to give a presentation on the last day of a conference. The banquet was the night before and a lot of people had already left. I ended up giving the presentation in a room where apart from myself and my accompanying friend, chairmen, and the other presenters, there were less than a handful of people sitting.

Anonymous said...

Probably the time an older male session leader had to apologize for not introducing the next speaker, a young woman, in a timely fashion: "Oh, sorry, I was too busy looking at the speaker"

Anonymous said...

I was at a meeting, and one of my PhD committee members was also there. He propositioned me... And it was ... ickeeeeee.... WEIRD! Unacceptable.

Fast forward - he wrote me EXCELLENT letters of rec - I've got a great job - etc.... So, my turning him down EITHER increased his opinion of me or totally didn't matter or scared him into writing strong letters because I essentially had dirt on him. To hear him tell it, he thinks my group does excellent science. I'm choosing to hold on to that version.

Anonymous said...

Last summer I went to a small topical conference, also attended a Very Famous Big-Name-Award-Winning Senior Scientist. Dr. VFBNAWSS sat in the second row of the seminar room, which held maybe 50-60 people. In one session, during the span of a couple of hours, Dr. VFBNAWSS took FOUR SEPARATE incoming cell phone calls, each time carrying on his part of the conversation in a very loud voice. Yes, he is probably somewhat hard of hearing, and yes, it would have been difficult for him to get up and quickly leave the room. But it was seriously disrupting the speakers' presentations, and no one wanted to say anything out of respect for Dr. VFBNAWSS. The speakers all looked embarrassed but tried to carry on as best they could. I'm always fascinated by the unspoken issues of decorum that arise in situations like this.

Anonymous said...

In the session I was moderating, I stood up to indicate to a speaker that his time was up. The speaker continued for a few more minutes, and then when he finished his talk, he told me that he was sorry for going over the limit, and reached out his arms TO HUG ME!

Anonymous said...

Giving a talk at a conference. The session chair held up his hand to signal 5 min remaining. I said "thank you" to him and the audience started clapping. I told them they weren't off the hook yet! I think I got an award at the conference dinner for being the person least likely to take a hint.

Anonymous said...

Conference in Israel this past summer: we were taken within 100 yards of the Lebanon border, then went rappeling.

Anonymous said...

When I was chairing a session, everything was going well and we were keeping to the schedule, but then one speaker ignored all the warnings about the time being up for his talk. He showed no signs of being even close to done, so I stood up, after he'd gone a few minutes over and quietly told him that his time was up. He hissed (into the microphone) "I don't see why YOUR incompetence at chairing a session should be taken out of MY hide." Bizarre.

The Lesser Half said...

Walking from the conference to our hotel, my TT wife got run over by a dumpster. It nearly broke her ankle, and she limped the rest of the week.

That's right, a dumpster.

As for me, I was walking up to the podium to give an invited 20 minute talk. I was told, "because of time constraints, you'll only have 12 minutes". Halfway through the talk I made a Monty Python reference, and the crowd lost control (laughter, people yelling out lines from the movie). I used the chaos to skip all the science-y "evidence" stuff in the second half of my talk and just gave the conclusions. Perfect timing achieved.

Anonymous said...

My fellow graduate student left for a major conference. Later in the day he called the lab asking "what's the venue?" and what are the directions.
Apparently he forgot to look it up.

And that's the guy who graduated with 10 papers!

Anonymous said...

A speaker started his 15 minute talking by announcing that he would be giving the talk for someone else who could not attend at the last minute. Fine so far. Then he announced that the author had sent him 110 slides, which he would not presume to cut down, so he would just try to get through them as quick as possible. He seemed surprised when the session chair told him he ran out of time.

Anonymous said...

This isn't meant to be a comment for this post, but I was wondering if I could propose another discussion thread.

I stumbled on an online review of my classes. (I teach 100s of students a year, and the number of reviews were in the single digits). One commenter rated me sort of high (4/5 stars) but added that he didn't like my voice.

This was a little disturbing. As a young FSP, my voice is a higher octave and I am soft-spoken. I am from the East Coast, but am hardly nasally. I actually think I have a very neutral accent.

So it makes me wonder if some students just don't like the sound of a female lecturer. I've always joked about the advantage that British colleagues have - the accent adds instant gravitas. But honestly, I can't deepen my voice on command.

Has anyone else had this problem, or is it just me?

MamaRox said...

I was the last talk on the last day of a long conference. About 100 people in the room get up to leave as I'm taking the podium.

The four who remain ask good questions.

Luckily, I recently had it the other way around... the room actually filled up before my talk, but likely because I was the first of four talks on a hot new topic.

Prof-like Substance said...

I went into the archives for this one.

Anonymous said...

Went to a conference to give a talk. It was early in the morning at 9am and the last day of the conference.The only people that showed up till 9 were me and the session chair ! a couple of people joined in the midst of the talk...

funnyresearcher

Anonymous said...

to anon 10/19/2011 02:12:00 AM:

I've never had that particular comment (although weird eval comments would make a nice thread on here - a male colleague of mine once got a comment on an eval that said simply, "NICE BUNS!"). Srsly, though, they gave you 4/5 stars so presumably it didn't effect their overall opinion. I'll bet that other people in the class did like your voice, and this was just a weird (and rather off-topic) comment.

As for the original thread, my weirdest experience at a conference was having my (married with grandkids) PhD advisor tell me he was in love with me (I was a 5th year grad student, about 1 month before my defense). I reacted with horror (I was naively completely clueless), which apparently wasn't exactly what he was going for...

-very anonymous

Anonymous said...

Alas, I have to say it is the creepy male senior scientists who proposition you at conferences that make it the most strange. One was at my very first workshop ever and like the previous anon poster, I thought he was just expressing interest in my work. Ha! Another (years later, when I was married), refused to take subtle hints at a poster session. I finally held up my wedding ring-ed finger into his face and said "No, I am MARRIED" and he said "So what? I won't tell." ARG!!

Since having a child, this behavior has stopped. That is probably because said child travels with me to conferences. When he is old enough to not to do that, I expect the behavior to begin again :(

Anonymous said...

To Anon 2:12 - fascinating - I had the same (or very similar experience). There's a website run by students for anonymous commenting and my students generally thought I was ok but commented on my 'annoying voice'. I actually have a kind of low voice for a woman (still higher than a male voice though). Not sure what they don't like - definitely don't care - little whiners :). I did wonder if it was gendered but these kids are also very provincial - I have heard comments about other faculty along the "she's not from here" lines (aka she's from 3 states over) so maybe it's because I don't sound like them?

Anonymous said...

I have also had several creepy male scientist come-ons. I have been married since I was 22 and the ring did not deter anyone. The worst was the colleague (I thought this was the relationship) who talked to me about his new baby daughter all night at dinner and then proceeded to proposition me afterwards. Jerk. I'm kind of releived to see that a few other female scientist have had similar experience and that I am not the only one! What's up with that anyway? Is this normal in other jobs?

Anonymous said...

I'm an MSP. On a couple of occasions at a conference a woman participant asked me into her room at the end of the evening. I'm married so in both cases I politely declined.

Were they creepy female scientist come-ons? Does it make a difference if they come from a male or a female or if they were senior or junior scientists?

Anonymous said...

As a (female) grad student, I went to a small specialized conference at which many of the big names (all men) in my subfield were giving presentations. The conference was at a resort with hot tubs. Some other students (males) and I got in the hot tub wearing bathing suits, and then the famous guys arrived, got naked, stood around for a few minutes chatting, then got in the hot tub. I was OK talking with them once they were submerged, but I wasn't comfortable being part of the discussions when they were standing or sitting naked by the hot tub. I don't think there was anything wrong with what they did, it was just kind of strange for me.

Anonymous said...

At my second talk as a grad student I was placed in a session where I didn't know the chair but he had coauthored several papers with my supervisor and another student in my office.

He introduced me with "I don't know the next speaker, I didn't invite him to this session so please feel free to leave before he begins."

Anonymous said...

To anon @ 10/19/2011 11:40:00 PM
"Were they creepy female scientist come-ons? Does it make a difference if they come from a male or a female or if they were senior or junior scientists?"

I totally understand and acknowledge your point that this behavior goes both ways. For me, it becomes 'creepy' when (a) there is unwanted physical contact (rather than asking you up to a hotel room, someone grabs your ass and asks you up to a hotel room) and/or (b) when there is a significant imbalance of power (an Advisor, a Committee Member, etc. propositioning a student), (c) when the behavior persists after the subject makes it very clear they are not interested or (d) when someone is wearing a lacy camisole and a kilt during a talk (see PLS's post...). (There may also be a (e) but I can't think of it right now...? Help me out here, people.) There's also a creep factor for me personally if there is a very large age difference. But in general, I absolutely agree that not every unwanted proposition is inherently creepy.

Anonymous said...

So, I have a very loud sneeze. Very high pitched. And, I must be allergic to lectures and presentations, because I always seem to sneeze when it is quiet.

I was at a conference and during the keynote speaker presentation, the first day of the conference, I sneezed! The speaker got really distracted and lost his train of thought. Most of the 300 people in the room started looking around for the person that sneezed...

For the following 4 days, the talk of the conference was "who sneezed an interrupted dr. famous scientist."

I was doing well, until the last day when I sneezed around a smaller group of people. The word got around that I was the "girl that gave that presentation and sneezed loudly!"

Fast-forward 5 months, I was at another conference. I had a couple people come up tp me and tell me they remembered me from the previous conference. They didnt remember my talk but they sure remembered my sneeze.

Anonymous said...

The strangest things that ever happened to me at a conference:

- first conference every: being propositioned by my advisor

- second conference: being propositioned by famous Male Science Professor

- third conference + spending a week visiting a new department: being propositioned by host, also a good friend of my advisor

- etc...

I recently discussed this with some female postdocs at my lab. The conversation was in the common room and more and more female postdocs came in and joined the conversation. The result was that *all* female postdocs of the department ended up in the conversation, and all of them had been sexually harassed at some point as a postdoc or PhD student.

I wonder why women leave academia? (sarcasm)

jamy said...

Years ago, I attended a conference session where my boyfriend was going to present. The speaker ahead of him fainted in the middle of her talk. Everyone was stunned. He rushed to help the woman, who regained consciousness in moments. She refused to go to the hospital, but the hotel staff took her away somewhere to rest. The session organizer said, "I guess we can go on now!" and my boyfriend had to launch into his talk. He decided to throw away his notes and it turned out to be a great presentation. (As far as I know, the person who fainted was fine.)

Anonymous said...

I once attended a conference where the speaker fainted--after a couple minutes she got up, said, "Sorry, that happens to me sometimes" and finished her talk.

Anonymous said...

I attended a national conference when very pregnant. I had a good talk with a European colleague - another professor. Before we parted, he reached out and gave my belly a little rub. Ummm, that's MY body, thank-you-very-much. It made me feel like "you may have thought of yourself as a scientist, but you're primarily a baby-making machine to me." I'm happy with the gender-neutral touching that colleagues do in greeting/departure, which can range from a handshake to a hug to a kiss on the cheek depending on the culture - but I cannot imagine a case in which a male colleague's belly would be rubbed. Perhaps I am not being creative enough and there are many male professors out there who would say "My colleagues rub my belly all the time!"

Anonymous said...

I got verbally attacked by the chair of the organisation that ran the conference. In public. In front of all the conference attendees. Twice.

The first time was pretty fleeting; I thought maybe he'd just made unfortunate word choices, and maybe the others wouldn't pick up on it much. The second time was a couple of hours later at the conference dinner. In the middle of a whole speech that consisted of positive appreciation to all the people who made the conference possible, he inserted a couple of viciously negative paragraphs in the middle to attack me, personally, accusing me of horrible things. I could see the people at the same table as me look at me with a "Uh oh, how's she taking this?" expression. As soon as he'd finished, I fled into the night, and cried on the beach.

The attack was really out of the blue. I was due to organize the next year's conference, and I had been pleased with myself that I had all the organizing up to date, and presented a nice advert for the next year's conference. But apparently some wires must have got crossed, because it turned out that I hadn't done things in the way he'd wanted them done (not that he had said how he wanted these things done).

After that, I didn't wonder any more about why the conference has such a very small proportion of women attending, even for the field.

mathgirl said...

The strangest thing that I have ever seen in a conference is a nice pleasant episode described here:

http://mathgirl2bodyproblem.blogspot.com/2011/06/being-lectured-by-two-cute-baby-cheeks.html

NatC said...

This was more annoying than weird.
I was chatting to a grad student at his poster for a good 20 mins - it was on a protein I was working on at the time, and I had a lot of questions.
As I was saying goodbye (nice work, good luck on your thesis...all those niceties), he said "You've been a Very Challenging Young Lady".

um...what?

I still wish I'd said "Oh, that's Dr. Young Lady to you".
Or just calmly explained why that was NOT OKAY.

Anonymous said...

My story isn't horribly weird, so I guess I've had a relatively normal conference track record. I was at a semi-small conference where most of the people were pretty familiar with each other. As my thesis advisor was starting his talk (the first speaker after lunch) I noticed that the sound system wasn't loud enough to hear him from the back of the room where I was sitting. Since I have a good relationship with my thesis advisor, I wasn't afraid to speak up (I had to practically yell so he would hear me) that the back of the room couldn't hear him. Time itself seemed to slow down as everyone in the room slowly turned and stared at me for 5-10 seconds of silence.

Someone turned up the mic volume, and he continued his talk after checking that everyone could hear him, so everything was fine in the end, but that was a very awkward 5-10 seconds.

Anonymous said...

I had the stereotypical experience; as a young and cute postdoc filling in for my advisor at a conference, I was the object of young-rising-star's attention and flirting. Being single at the time, I checked his left hand. No ring. Conversation was in first person singular (as in, "I take a week-long skiing trip every winter", "I like to vacation in Greece", etc). Luckily the guy was not that interesting, and nothing happened. Fast forward to the end of the conference, when I ran into him at the hotel check-out line. All of a sudden, a wedding band had appeared on his left hand.... How lame is that?!

Anonymous said...

As a young scientist, I gave a talk making some bold claims. Afterwards an older woman scientist called me "cheeky." She clearly didn't mean it as a humorous compliment. She was wearing a thin smile and was very tense and clearly wanted to take me down a peg for stepping out of my place. Sheesh.

Anonymous said...

Up until about this year, the idea that anyone might be trying to hit on me at a conference was horrifying -- it seemed to me like if they were hitting on me, they must not be taking me seriously as a scientist. (I don't know if that's how they felt, but that's how it felt to me.)

Now am I old enough that for anyone to show interest in that way feels like a big compliment-- a) I must still be OK-enough looking, despite the grey hairs and wrinkles, and b) I am established enough in my field that I'm less worried about whether people are taking me seriously. If they aren't taking me seriously, they can f* off and read the list of publications on my web page.

Anonymous said...

Anon's comment, 10/25/2011 09:24:00 PM, reminded me of an incident at my own poster presentation when I was a grad student. A woman had asked me if I had yet published or submitted the results I was presenting. When I told her no, she said "good!" and walked away. I thought scoopage was imminent, but it never happened. I later published the work in a decent journal without any problem.

Anonymous said...

I'm an economics professor (FEP). A few years ago when I was pretty junior, I was seated at a conference dinner next to a very famous MEP who is known (but was not then known to me) as as philanderer. I am pretty clueless so like many commenters I thought the guy was interested in my work.... Wine was served with dinner and he had quite a bit of it before his come-on line: "You look just like Paul Krugman."

Anonymous said...

I was told that the only reason I had ever had or would ever have success is because I'm a moderately attractive female.

Anonymous said...

I was at a small meeting where an invited speaker was talking about how the energy demands of telecommunications, particularly the internet, are rapidly increasing and how his research is contributing towards remedying the situation. A professor in the audience exclaimed that most of it was just porn anyway, so why bother trying to make telecommunications more efficient? There was an awkward exchange for a couple of minutes, throughout which the speaker had a look of embarrassed disbelief on his face.