Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Get A (Different) Room

To the young couple snuggling in the meeting room during the afternoon session on Awesome Science at the X Conference:

ick

You were sitting in the approximate middle of the room, and there were lots of us cranky old professors sitting behind you, thinking you were being unprofessional and disrespectful of the speaker to have your arms wrapped around each other and to be basically sharing one seat during the session. Although the session was quite well attended, there were plenty of seats for all, so you could have each had your own.

Even some of us who think that academia should be more flexible with respect to work-life balance -- for example, that it's great that parents bring their young children to conferences and that grad students should (occasionally) be allowed to take a vacation or even sleep -- thought that your behavior was inappropriate.

Sincerely,
FSP

But that's just what I think. Let's ask the readers of FSP:

If you were sitting in a conference session trying to listen to Professor Z present her latest research results and to Dr. Postdoc's inspiring attempt to impress potential employers, and you saw a couple of entwined twentysomethings sitting in front of you, snuggling and sniffing each other's hair and necks, would you:

A. Think it was cute, sigh at the romance, and say "Young love, how special!"?

B. Avert your gaze and focus on the talks?

C. Snort in disgust and be very grateful that these young people were not from your institution?

D. Poke them and/or ask them to go somewhere else? (alternatives: toss something at them or do something else unobtrusive but possibly effective, without disturbing the session)

E. Other.

I went for the gaze-aversion approach, and was mostly successful, particularly during interesting talks. I found it difficult to ignore the snuggling couple completely, though, so as soon as I could, I changed my seat to be on the other side of the room and unable to see them when I was watching the presentations.

Before I could move to another seat, I saw a colleague glance in the direction of the couple and then, when he realized what he was seeing, he looked around and caught my eye. The expression on his face -- amusement, disgust, surprise, all of the above? -- made me laugh, so at least the snuggling couple provided some entertainment.


31 comments:

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Definitely A, unless they are being noisy.

It is no worse then reading e-mail, which is what 50% of the old folks are doing in the same conference room.

Anonymous said...

ick is right. Even if they were being very quiet and just were wrapped up together in a silent embrace, I would not want to be the advisor of either of those students.

Anonymous said...

I would find out who they are (if necessary by going up and asking) and then put them on the mental list of people *never to employ*. If you act like an unprofessional moron in what is after all a working environment then you deserve everything you get. Same goes for getting wasted at the conference drinks/dinner.

Janka said...

B.

I don't think that's entirely appropriate, but hey, they are twenty-something. Their behavior probably says exactly nothing about their respect for science, success in their careers, or standards for conduct in 10 years time.

Anonymous said...

I would have gone for D. Regardless of the consequences. I was once in a lecture as an undergraduate and two of my class mates were enjoying eachothers company a little too much. The lecturer stopped what he was doing, verbally roasted them, and banished them from the room. I think that I would do the same. Just more discreetly!

Anonymous said...

Ick! - from a cantankerous twenty-something graduate student. I would do somewhere between b and c. I'm not a snorter, but I wouldn't put much effort into disguising the look of disgust that would naturally appear on my face.

Anie said...

Mostly B for me, with a side of A. I'm a twentysomething academic in love with another academic who happens to live about 3000 miles away, so I appreciate the fact that conferences are a great place to actually get to spend time with your loved one.

On the other hand, when you're in the meeting room, you're at work. Canoodling beyond the occasional surreptitious hand-holding or knee-touching is inappropriate for work---leave the touchy-feely stuff until dinner and drinks. Or at least the hallway.

Science Professor Mum said...

I think both snuggling and reading email/surfing the news etc etc in conferences is rude and should be discouraged at all costs. Actually, if the snugglers were still listening, I'd be less offended by them than the email-readers to be honest. We all know that there are some lectures that are less interesting than others, but letting your mind wander quietly and thinking about something is just as productive (or more so) and less disruptive to others than reading your email.

I'd have done B with a slight smile to myself and raised eyebrows if I caught anyone else's glance.

I once taught an undergraduate class in which I needed to show some demonstrations of refraction and rainbow formation. For this it was necessary to darken the lecture theater. Half way through I realised that two of the students sat in the middle of the lecture theater were actually kissing rather noisily. My solution? Stop talking, turn the lights on suddenly with no warning and let the rest of the class decide their fate...

Anonymous said...

Wow, a lot of Puritans uppa heah, unless the image in their heads is a lot more "making out" than it is "snuggling". Particularly egregious is the comment about putting them on a personal blacklist.

Y'know what? If people show affection in public, it's not going to make the building fall down, or unravel Science, or take away your diploma. Consider getting over yourselves.

Anonymous said...

Kind of off-topic, but...

I agree with gasstationwithoutpumps -- what is it with all the "old" people at conferences who think it is acceptable behavior to sit in the audience at a talk and read email / otherwise work / read the news (or even worse, write email, which also creates typing noise)? Would they find this acceptable if their students were doing it in their lectures? If they are going to read email, why not leave the meeting room and do it quietly in the hall, where they will not disturb the rest of the audience or be disrespectful to the speaker?

Snuggling ... also not appropriate. Maybe session chairs should start off sessions with an etiquette announcement: please turn off your laptops and cell phones, leave you seats in their upright and locked positions, and refrain from public displays of affection.

Anonymous said...

Probably a mix of B and C. Although others have a VERY good point, in that somehow people think it is inappropriate to be affectionate but dismiss use of internet for non-related activities?

I know people have historically done other things during lectures (sleep, crosswords, read publications, grade, etc.), but none of those activities involved a lit screen or typing, which are very distracting.

Alethea said...

Blech. C followed by B. Not canoodling in professional situations is basic manners, which should be able to be followed by any grown-up. And if you're not a grown-up, why are you at a conference?

Sure, young love is great, but so is courtesy and professionalism. It's possible to be in love, and at a conference together, without exhibiting this behaviour.

Allen said...

Ick is the response I would go for. Not the one I would to do, public humiliation as a previous comment mentioned. I have a battery powered water pistol for demonstrating projectile motion in my high school physics class. I hit any corner of the room from my blackboard.

Physics: messing up students since Archimedes.

Anonymous said...

Depends. How much snuggling are we talking about? Just an arm around a shoulder? A serious back rub? A foot massage? Details are relevant.

profacero said...

A. They're not professors, right - and not married to other people we know, right - so.

Anonymous said...

A/B. As others have said, what's important is whether they were quiet and still mostly listening. I find email checking in the front row far, far worse.

Anonymous said...

I would probably go for B, but I wanted to discuss a recurring theme in these comments: e-mail checking. I don't at all see a problem with checking email, editing a manuscript, or reading another paper entirely on your computer during a conference session. Many talks (as recently covered by FSP) have obviously not been practiced or well thought out. Why am I supposed to find the courtesy to sit quietly and patiently when they couldn't find the same courtesy when putting together their talk, which, I might add, I am paying to see at a very expensive conference. I realize they also pay to give the talk, but their motivation should be the opportunity to showcase their cool new science so that I might go out and read their paper and either cite it in my own or point it out to my colleagues who will.

All of this is based in the assumption that anyone can put together a good talk. I believe this to be completely true.

Anonymous said...

Definitely A. I am more disturbed by sleepers, yawners and facebookers. It's amazing that in the 21st century people find cuddling icky!

Anonymous said...

I would have done B but I wonder if the most correct thing would be D. Obviously these two didn't think their behavior was inappropriate yet here were a whole bunch of possible employers secretly condemning them behind their back. As the "older statesmen" who think it is important for everyone to get good mentoring, wouldn't it have been better to pull these two aside at some point and tell them about the general effect of their inappropriate behavior.

Alex said...

e) Make a cell phone video and post it on YouTube.

Anonymous said...

I had this same experience at a conference recently and had trouble resisting the urge to do C and tried to just do B. What was more annoying is that the woman in question was a young hot shot professor who gave a talk in the conference later in the week. I felt horrible for feeling this way, but she is very pretty and has some distracting mannerisms during her talks (giggling/laughing often, wearing short skirts, etc.) that make it a little hard for me to take her seriously anyway, and this made it even more difficult. Adding to my annoyance (about her lack of professionalism and my own judgmental tendencies) was the fact that her boyfriend, who was not in our field, when not making out with her in the halls or in the meeting rooms, was typing away noisily on his computer. I understand that a conference can be a great place to meet up with an old flame, but if you're not going to listen to the talks, why be in the room? There were lovely cafe tables just outside where he could have typed to his heart's content.

Anonymous said...

Give the kids a break. As mentioned, emailing/IMing, etc. can be just as disruptive to the other attendees. And from the speaker's point of view, the sleepers are more disquieting than the lovers. For those who want to choose D for this situation, I hope you're going around and poking the sleepers as well.

Anonymous said...

I don't mind people doing such things if they remain still and quiet. When they start moving or making noise it becomes distracting and disrespectful, just as it would be disrespectful to do other enjoyable but distracting activities like jazzercise or thumb wrestling during a conference talk.

In such cases I would not hesitate to ask them to do their business elsewhere, especially if there was a gap in between talks in which I could talk to them without disturbing the session.

Female Science Professor said...

I don't care if two people are holding hands or whatever during a talk, but active snuggling -- these two were sharing a seat, sniffing each other, and catching the attention of everyone sitting around them -- is not appropriate.

I am not at all bothered by people checking email or doing other computer/phone things during a talk as long as they are sitting in the back and not being loud about it (some keyboards/keypads are quieter than others).

Anonymous said...

I would apply a mixture of B and C.

I had an experience at a conference during the past year that has made me much more kindly inclined toward people who send email/use the internet during talks. While I was at a conference, a natural disaster occurred back home that forced my town to be evacuated and had the potential to leave me without a house (or lab) to return to. Those of us who were at the conference found ourselves frequently checking email, looking for news updates, going to Facebook, watching streaming news conferences (that, at least, in the hallway outside the lecture rooms), etc. Things turned out fine for me, but the experience has made me aware that not everyone using their computer during a talk is necessarily aimlessly looking for more stimulation.

Anonymous said...

Public displays of affection are Ok in most countries. Only a few puritan countries have a heart attack when something like this happens in public.

Grow up! Also be warned: when you go to Europe you might even see topless women in the beach and nude sunbathers near a lake. I definitely recommend you refrain from doing D in this last case.

Anonymous said...

It must be so difficult to go through life as a non-puritan and see no difference between topless women at a European lake and a conference session at a professional meeting. OrmMaybe you go to different conferences than I do.

Katy B said...

Other - they need to have some respect, and apparently nowhere along the line has anyone told them this type of behavior in inappropriate. Then again, maybe they just didn't listen. I would hope I would have the wherewithal to walk by, make eye contact, and politely say, "Not the place," and walk away from them to a row closer to the front so I didn't have to look at them. Maybe it would do them a favor. After all, it's not a movie theater.

just saying said...

I have a student in the back row that picks his nose and eats it in class. What would you do? At the beginning of the year I would just, when I saw him, say "STOP", and now he thinks he is sneaking them. I kind of teach to the other side of the room. I mean, in class? You cannot go 75 minutes? It is totally gross. I would love to have cuddle-bunnies.

Anonymous said...

Worse is when they do this at grad school interviews. Sitting on your bf's lap during your interview with the dean?!! It happened. How clueless are these people?

Anonymous said...

I gave a talk at BYU recently -- lots of young women with babies etc. In my "public lecture" there was a couple smooching right in the middle of the room, though evidently the young woman was listening and indeed asked the best question at the end . So I say -- let's have more of it during lectures!