Today a random grad student stopped by my office to ask what he described as a random question. He said he was going around asking various people a particular question, and even though my research is "not quantitative" and I "probably never use equations", since my door was open, he thought he'd ask me his question anyway. He was asking people which equation editor they use.
I am "not quantitative"? Those are fighting words in some fields..
I did not challenge the student to a duel or shove my equation-filled reprints in his face; I just answered his question, simply telling him which equation editor I use. He was surprised that I use equation editors and have opinions about them, but he didn't comment further.
Not all of my papers have equations, but some do, including a few very recent ones. Since this student has clearly not read my papers, I wonder what about me screams "not quantitative" to him. Of course I have a hypothesis, but then, I just happen to be wearing my gender lenses today.
To many, being quantitative shows that you are a serious, rigorous scientist. I was discussing this with one of my students recently in relation to the main goals of his research. He said that a main goal was to quantify things. I said "Why?" and he seemed surprised, as if quantifying things was an end in itself. This turned into a wide-ranging and interesting conversation about his research and future directions for his work, including discussion of where quantifying things fits into the general scheme of his work.
Another frequent quantitative topic is something I call my you can always get a number speech. This speech has several parts: (1) You can always get a number.. but does it mean anything? and (2) You can always get a number, but even if it means something.. what does it mean? (i.e., the number itself is not an end in itself, you have to think about it).
It is surely a sign of age that I have these little speeches that I find myself giving over and over. There is probably an equation I could write (if I ever did such things) that relates my age in any given year to the frequency with which I give these speeches. Or something.
11 years ago