Fresh Eyes, Staying Young, and Pure Boys

Feb 23 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

When I was a young sprout ast prof, my best friends were the lady profs in chemistry. Its worth noting, for a long time, these were serial friends, as the chem dept only had one ladyprof at a time. Also at the time the physics dept (of 30-odd members) had no female faculty. The Dean took them to task, and their reply was "well, we keep trying, but there aren't any good females in the areas we need to hire". I didn't particularly like this dean, but damned if he didn't come through in this case, to wit: "well, even in this day and age of financial austerity, I will release two faculty positions, but they have to be women. no women, no hire". And damned if they didn't find two excellent female physicists, who, many years later, have out-performed their male counterparts.

At the time, one of my best friends (and Babz, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, you still have my heart), formulated a concept called "Pure Boys". The tag line was "they sleep in the forest with their manly spears". The concept is a bit worn these days (20-25-ish years later), but, in essence, content is more important than presentation, math is more important than qualitative science, that facts are more important than emotions, and the word "feel" does not belong in a laboratory. Pure boys were those who tattooed these on their manly biceps and took them to extremes.

One of the emergent concepts/ life style choices of the pure boys was "I do not go to scientific meetings because they are ego-fests and human peacocks strutting their research feathers. If people want to know what I am doing they can read my papers". I admit that I argued this one at length. I lost, mostly because pure boys never lose. But I thought of the pure boys when I read In Baby Attach Mode's latest post, When do fresh eyes expire?:

But to come back to the question in the title of this post: when do these fresh eyes expire, how do you notice they have expired and how do you keep them fresh? I guess it's difficult to realize that you've been somewhere so long that you don't realize you do the same trick every time. So how do you prevent this? How can you stay creative if you don't move to a new place every so many years?

And qaz has a great comment:

One can also stay fresh and creative by bringing new people to you. Say by mentoring new graduate students or postdocs. This is the advantage of teaching undergrads, and in developing new classes.

Going to meetings is one incredible way to stay fresh. The older I get (at the same rate as you, my little wiglets, one day per day), the less I like going to meetings. I am lazy, I like my life right now, and travel seems unpleasant. But, I do go, and sometimes something shakes up my head on the inside and one 20 minute interaction redeems the time and effort.

My goal when I go to meetings, now is to go to at least three talks that I would not necessarily chose. I used to do posters as a fly-by, finding the ones I like, etc. At the last SfN, I picked two related aisles and read every poster. Asked a question of every person. It was a small investment. It didn't change my science, but it made me think.

So, go over to IBAM and add your $.02 on staying fresh. I do not want to become an emotional raison or mummified guinea pig fetus. Neither do you.



9 responses so far

  • odyssey says:

    I am never so energized and full of new ideas than in the 2-3 weeks after having attended a meeting.

  • Morgan Price says:

    Why doesn't reading broadly give the same boost to creativity as going to meetings? I don't get it. (Do I not get it because I don't like going to meetings?)

    • potnia theron says:

      I think its hard for shy or introverted people to go to meetings. Part of what is necessary at meetings is to go up and talk with people.

      • drugmonkey says:

        I think it also takes some time in the field for meetings to become less uncomfortable. The longer you've been going to the meeting(s) with the same old crowd, the more likely to have old friends swing by your poster, to see people in the coffee line to chat up, to go out to eat with. You are more comfortable getting up to make a comment at the microphone, to grab the person in the hallway to discuss your / their data and folks from the platform call you out when they know you can answer a question better than they can.

        • potnia theron says:

          This is very very true. On the other hand, the longer you go to meetings, the easier it is to slip into seeing and hearing the same stuff as opposed to interacting (emphasis on *act*) with new ideas and new people.

    • qaz says:

      At meetings you get into dialog.

      The literary world will tell you (correctly) that one has to dialog with great literature (and I would say great scientific writing as well) in order to get the important ideas out of it. However, when in dialog with a text, there is only one creative and changing mind involved in the dialog (Hint: yours).

      At meetings, you are in dialog with colleagues who are as intelligent as you but have different perspectives. Let them come at your ideas and your data. Just as you have at their ideas and their data. Ask questions you don't know the answer to. Lay out your new ideas that you thought were impossible to test. Let the dialog take you into a new direction that neither of you expected.

      [As DM says, it can take several cycles of a meeting to get to know people well enough to really engage them - especially if you are really introverted.]

      PS. Learning how to give a good presentation makes a big difference at these meetings. We teach our students how to give posters and talks so as to engage the audience.

      PPS. Too often people treat meetings as glorified reading sessions, where they sit in the back and let the text be talked at them. The whole point of a meeting is to engage the other individuals. So go up to posters. After a talk, seek out the person and ask a specific question. Etc. Really good are small meetings where food is included, so you are basically forced to sit together with the whole group at lunch and/or dinner.

      • potnia theron says:

        excellent. This is close what I wrote last night and scheduled for posting this morning. Of course, it is infuriating that you can say it better.

  • […] Price's Comment that I blogged on the other day about going to meetings had the following parenthetical end […]

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