Friday, December 21, 2007

Short Days, Long Meetings

This has been a week of meetings, and in particular long meetings. I define a long meeting as anything over 1.5 hours, and by that definition, I had 3 long meetings this week so far. Now that classes are over, there is ample time for long meetings.

Today I had a 4-hour meeting. That was a long meeting, but in fact this meeting typically takes 6+ hours. For some reason, the committee was extraordinarily efficient and in agreement today. Perhaps it was a random event, or perhaps everyone just wanted to get things done and have the academic term finally finally finally end. Or maybe everyone is so fatigued that we all just agreed with each other.

I didn’t mind this particular long meeting because it involved a committee that has faculty members from many academic disciplines. The discussions are very interesting and I always learn a lot. Today I particularly enjoyed a conversation with history and English professors about the different ways that we approach our research. Despite huge differences in academic culture, there are important similarities. For example, we are all primarily driven by curiosity and deep interest in our field, and in our discussion today we all mentioned how thrilling it is to discover something – it doesn’t matter if it’s something in an old archive or something in a lab or even something that just occurs to you when you think deeply about a question or topic.

I liked being reminded about what is so amazing about universities. We are collections of people who are thinking intensely and passionately about the universe, life, art and everything. We are learning, teaching, and discovering, and we get to do this as a job. For me, being reminded of that is a good way to end the term.


Anonymous said...

The other day I was having lunch with one of my favorite people on campus - a physics prof. (I'm in humanities). I asked him about what's going on in physics these days, and he told me all about how the things we can observe and measure in the universe are only a tiny fraction of everything there is in the universe. It was fascinating, and I left lunch thinking: *this* is the life!

Ms.PhD said...

Yeah, see, I got spoiled since I was on a committee like this my first couple of years as a postdoc. It really made me want to make the whole academia thing official (in this analogy, I'm living with the university but we're not legal and i'm always afraid the university will leave me for another woman... postdoc).

Lately I don't get to have this kind of reinvigorating intellectual interaction often, or maybe ever, and I can't figure out where else to get it.

In fact, the people I'm working with lately are more isolationist and provincial than any I've ever worked with before. These are not the colleague droids I'm looking for.

Global Girl said...

I realize I'm being a real party pooper here, but.... *six* *hours*??? I cannot imagine myself sitting in a formal meeting for that long. While I might carry on business-like activities involving discussion and negotiation for that long, there better be dinner and drinks involved if it's going to take six hours. I think I'd make an awful academic, even though I love intellectual discussions. And at six hours, the people involved better be good business associates, or well on their way to becoming so. I guess I'm simply not willing to spend that long in a meeting with people that aren't friends of some sort, and at least in my academic environment, people don't seem to desire human connections and work relationships and networks in the same way I do. More like those Ms. PhD works with. Is there a trick to finding people who actually know what "collague" means in the hard sciences?