My mother, who is not a scientist and not an academic and who therefore understandably doesn't really know what my professor job entails, recently asked me the question in the title of this post. She knew that I have given talks at different conferences this year, and she was wondering if I gave the same talk at each conference.
Just to clarify what she meant by the question, I asked her:
"Are you wondering if I give the exact same talk each time, or whether each talk is on a similar topic, but with updates of ongoing research?"
It turns out that she was asking whether I give the exact same talk each time. For example, when I went to a conference in City X/Country Y to give a talk last fall, and to a conference in City A/Country B to give a talk this spring, did I give the same talk?
I said no, I didn't give the same talk.
Then she said "But why not? The people who live in A/B weren't at your talk in X/Y, so you could give the same talk."
It turns out that she thought that only people who lived in the immediate vicinity and/or the same country as the conference site would have been at my talk in each place. She didn't realize (and why should she?) that these conferences were international and attended by thousands upon thousands of scientists (not all of whom attended my talks).
The fact that I traveled some distance from My City, USA, to go to these conferences might have been a clue that people came from all over the world to attend these conferences, but for whatever reason, this was not a clue.
I have been going to conferences and giving talks for decades, but it never occurred to me to explain to my mother what these conferences are like in terms of size or people or themes or what we even talk about when we give a talk.
I should have known. A few times over the years I have been invited to give talks at colleges and universities in the state of my ancestral home. Each time my mother asks "Did they invite you because you are from here?" So I did have some inkling about the depths of her misunderstanding, but I never really explained how these things work (talks, conferences etc.).
I always think it is a little weird when I see someone's parents attending their conference presentation (unless, of course, one or both parents are scientists or the offspring is getting an award), but I guess one way to show our non-scientific/non-academic relatives what our world is like is to bring them along to our conferences.
I think I will skip this particular mother-daughter experience and attempt instead to do a better job of explaining more about my work.
Tomorrow's topic: more on giving the same/similar talks at conferences.
12 years ago