evolgen

Do you ever sit in a boring departmental seminar and scope out the other folks in the room? You’ll pick up some odd behaviors. Like the guy picking his nose — gross! Or the secret couple that can’t be open about their relationship because it breaks some university policy sitting a bit too close to one another. Well, here are a few folks that you’ll probably see in every departmental seminar:

  • The nodder: This guy affirms every part of the talk with a nod. The background information — he gets it. The data — he gets it. The conclusions drawn from arm waving and rampant speculation — he gets it. In reality, he’s just trying to show off how smart he thinks he is. With every nod, he’s saying, “Look at how smart I am. I understand all this stuff. Do you? I bet you don’t.” At the end of the talk, I’d like to make sure he gets it. And by “it” I mean my fist. And by “get” I mean square between the eyes.

  • The critic: Unlike the nodder, this guy don’t dig the balls the speaker is throwing. He ain’t playing that game. The speaker puts up a suspect piece of data, and the critic shakes his head. Uh oh! You know this guy will be asking some hardcore questions at the end of the seminar. He’ll be busting chops like chops have never been busted before. This motherfucker may even leave the speaker curled up in a ball soaked in a pool of his own urine on the floor. That’s the speaker’s urine, not the critic’s. Peeing on a guy would just be gross.

  • The pisser: This guy finds one tiny, miniscule, insignificant point and asks a long drawn-out question about it. Unlike the critic, who asks intelligent questions that get at the underlying assumptions and theory of the work at hand, the pisser is just taking a piss. He’s stupid, uninsightful, and doesn’t understand science.

  • The pre-schooler: This dude uses the departmental seminar as his nap-time. He sits in the back, and when the lights go out, he’s nodding off faster than River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho. Someone get this guy a good-night’s sleep.

  • The rookie: The pre-schooler knows seminar time is nap time. The rookie is an undergrad or first-year grad student who’s new to the whole departmental seminar thing. He’s overworked, he undersleeps, and he’s sitting in the middle of the room. He nods off throughout the seminar, and everyone’s looking at him. Wake up boy, and get your act together. And next time, sit in the back of the room with the pre-schooler.

  • The grand advertiser: No matter how unrelated, insignificant, and uninteresting this guy’s research is, he’ll find a way to link it to the topic of the seminar. And no one will give a shit. The speaker will pay lip-service to the question, but we’ve already died a little inside because the grand advertiser has wasted our time advertising the crap his lab studies.

What’s missing from the list? And if you don’t recognize one of these, it most likely describes you.

Comments

  1. #1 thebaltrus
    February 15, 2008

    another way to diagnose the grand advertiser…

    after one or a couple of questions where the speaker pays lip service they say “well, we can talk about this afterwards”

  2. #2 Michael Clarkson
    February 15, 2008

    You forgot the Master — the senior professor who sleeps through the entire seminar, wakes up for the Q&A, and makes a single comment that demolishes the whole talk.

  3. #3 Jason
    February 15, 2008

    What about the White Noise Generator — the person who will happily cough, sneeze, shift about, play with paper, etc. throughout the entire talk, distracting most of the room. A close relation to the Cell Phone Bandit

  4. #4 hibob
    February 15, 2008

    Comment #2 – “The Master”. I’ve heard stories about one, he’d have his eyes closed for the entire seminar. Instead of paying attention to the slides he paid attention to changes in the tone of voice of the speaker, waiting for him to sound nervous. Weak spot identified, it was on to the kill …

  5. #5 Alloteuthis
    February 15, 2008

    One of my labmates was the Nodder. Furthermore, he was the senior student in the lab, and whatever field experience you’d ever had or ever would have, he’d had several that were cooler, lasted longer and were far more dangerous.

    He was also the guy who — when he gave talks — would show at least sixteen tiny graphs per slide, repeatedly noting that we probably couldn’t see the details, but that was o.k. because they weren’t important. After six or eight such slides, he’d wake everyone up by showing a slide featuring a beautiful picture of a colorful animal. Then back to the graphs. I learned a lot about how (not) to give talks from him.

    Ah, those were the days…

  6. #6 Matthew
    February 15, 2008

    There’s also the very emeritus professor that sits in the front row and asks a confusing off-topic question, which, after an awkward pause, is graciously humored because everyone is too polite to embarass him publicly.

  7. #7 Anon
    February 15, 2008

    The Hatfields and McCoys. Perhaps within one talk, perhaps trading talks, they ask questions designed to take a jab not at the current topic, but by proxy at another. “I see that your conclusion is thoroughly at odds with Hatfield’s (2005) speculation–would you care to elaborate on that?” “I see that you make the same mistake that McCoy (2006) does, in operationally defining your dependent variable”…

    If this is ongoing, department member have long since chosen up sides; there may or may not be adulterous relationships involved.

  8. #8 Argent23
    February 15, 2008

    The control freak. Closely related to the critic, but there will always be only one kind of question he asks: What about the control experiments?

  9. #9 "GrrlScientist"
    February 15, 2008

    then there are those many who are the audience. they are the ones who like to watch the fireworks (or the tennis match, or whathaveyou) as it unfolds in real time in front of them. they sometimes bring snacks to the seminar, just as they would to a sporting event.

  10. #10 Karl
    February 15, 2008

    Just a piece of serious information. I was for a long time a “pre-schooler”. My wife insisted that I go to a sleep center. It was determined that I had obstructive sleep apnea. Even if I “slept” for 9 or 10 hours at night, I was getting only a few hours of restorative sleep and was sleepy, sometimes irresistably so, all day. Since I started using a CPAP (continusous positive airway pressure) machine I get by on a normal 8 to 8 1/2 hours of sleep without feeling sleepy all day. If you have such a person, suggest that he/she visit a sleep center and get evaluated.

  11. #11 anon.
    February 17, 2008

    I recently encountered a more severe form of the nodder: someone who audibly made an “uh-huh” sound every minute or so through an entire talk.

  12. #12 CET
    February 17, 2008

    The Socratic – a younger grad student who thinks they are hot shit an asks smug questions that they already know the answer to in order to show the faculty how smart they are.

  13. #13 IanR
    February 18, 2008

    How about the opposite of the Master – the senior faculty member who habitually sleeps through the entire seminar, and then asks a question that was covered on the second slide.

  14. #14 Steinn Sigurdsson
    February 18, 2008

    “I have a question.
    Actually it is a comment and a question.
    Well, it is more of a comment.
    Let me tell you about MY research…”

  15. #15 rob
    February 20, 2008

    The token questioner. This person is hosting the talk or the session. This is the person who thinks an introduction is reading the title of the presentation off the first slide. This is just painful since everyone in the room can read it too. After a boring or confusing talk when no one has anything to ask since they were asleep or need to pee and get out or there are just far too many questions about the presentation to possibly even start, this person is then forced to ask an uncomfortable question to be polite.

  16. #16 Prof. Bleen
    February 20, 2008

    The pisser: This guy finds one tiny, miniscule, insignificant point and asks a long drawn-out question about it.

    That should be minuscule with a u, heh-heh.

  17. #17 Ellery
    February 20, 2008

    There is also The Old Coot, which is was happens to The Master before he becomes The Very Emeritus Professor. He half-heartedly tries to stay awake during the seminar but doesn’t try too hard because he is (1) pretty much disengaged from the department and (2) sleepy because he has to use the restroom four or five times a night. He will wake up (mostly) when the lights come on for questions. He won’t even try to ask an informed question, but he might make a comment based on a judgment made about the speaker before he/she ever opened his/her mouth.

  18. #18 Greg Downey
    February 20, 2008

    There’s also the ‘I’m-only-here-for-wine-and-cheese’ types. We had a few who would wander into talks where I was doing my PhD; some would even check out the food ahead of time before deciding if they would stay. Then, as soon as people started to adjourn for the after-talk refreshments, these folks would be pouring themselves huge plastic tumblers full of the cheap wine and sawing fist-sized chunks of smelly cheese off the blocks.

    And the ‘co-conspirators,’ usually pairs of academics who sit and whisper comments, snicker and carry on as if they can disguise the fact that they’re swapping clever insults at the expense of the speaker. In my experience, co-conspirators, however, never ask questions as speaking out loud would risk exposing their brilliant shared insights to the scrutiny of peers, or maybe just let someone else in on the junior high-caliber clique they’re setting up.

    But the worst is definitely the advertiser. I’m an anthropologist and you can always tell these folks in our presentations because they always want to talk about wherever they’ve done their research no matter how distant and disconnected from the speaker’s region of research. In anthro, the identifying symptom would be the phrase, ‘Well, that’s fine, but in X, where I do field research…’

  19. #19 Sarah
    February 20, 2008

    What about the Disrupter? The person who comes in late, no matter what time the seminar is at, and in the process of finding a seat, encounters at least two of the following issues: 1) squeaky shoes, 2) running into chair/desk/person, 3) locked door, thus knocking at door to gain entry, 4) louder than necessary whispering to clear a path to chosen seat (middle of row, near front of room), 5) noisy unpacking/settling (because this person has brought a laptop, a coffee, and some papers to read)

  20. #20 YoungFrankie
    February 21, 2008

    Then there’s the ridiculously drawn out background to a finicky irrelevant question guy. This specimen spends so long giving detailed background information to his question (which usually involves a reference to his own work…akin to the advertiser) that when he gets to the part where he says “so my question is…” nobody can actually remember how it is relevant. This length of his background speel is proportional to how long overtime the seminar has gones.

  21. #21 BRC
    February 21, 2008

    This is perfect, RPM. Thanks for the post.

    (But no jackal?)

  22. #22 Son of Priam
    February 21, 2008

    There is also The, uh… Leg Graden who, at some point during the seminar, will claim to have invented some part of the speaker’s research: the entire field, some method of analysis, etc.

  23. #23 Dr Eye
    February 21, 2008

    Related to the Grand Advertiser the “uh… Leg Graden”, the
    old guy who got the same, or very similar results 20 years ago. Well, no, they weren’t published, but there was a parallel talk at a conference in 1973 where the results were shown and why isn’t THAT even referenced.
    What should this one be called? Arcanus Iritatus?

  24. #24 Herb
    February 21, 2008

    I don’t have a clever name for him/her, but how about the person that comes and works on a laptop the whole time? It’s like the seminar room is their own personal Starbucks (and I don’t understand why people like to set up shop on a tiny table in a Starbucks either). I’m sometimes guilty of this at long conferences, but there are people who will attend seminars in their own department, seemingly for the ambiance.

  25. #25 Sheril R. Kirshenbaum
    February 21, 2008

    So eloquent and so true…

  26. #26 steven
    February 21, 2008

    A variation of the Grand Advertiser:
    the work of the questioner is important, but the questioner believes no other work to be important. He asks whether the work presented has any connection to his work, and if the answer is no, falls asleep during the questions or leaves the seminar at that point.

  27. #27 Aa
    February 21, 2008

    The Worker

    The person (usually a senior and very distinguished professor) who works on a manuscript(s) during the talk, looking up occasionally to glance at the data on a slide…then at the end asks a zinger of a question along the lines of the critic.

    I worked for one of these as a postdoc. Man, he was impressive!

  28. #28 Kurt
    February 21, 2008

    As someone who is guilty of being a “nodder”, I’m a little surprised at the response it evokes from you. Am I really that annoying? I have to ask, because I have a habit of doing that in casual conversation as well. Hmmm, maybe that explains why I don’t have many friends…

  29. #29 Brian Reed
    February 21, 2008

    You forgot one major category. The Observer. You and I would definitely fall into this category. This is the person who doesn’t pay attention to the talk at all, yet he sits there and looks at everyone else and tries to categorize them.

  30. #30 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    February 21, 2008

    There’s the Prof. Bleen, who makes a pedantic “correction” without checking his dictionary first.

  31. #31 Eric
    February 21, 2008

    @ Alloteuthis #5:

    One of my labmates was the Nodder. Furthermore, he was the senior student in the lab, and whatever field experience you’d ever had or ever would have, he’d had several that were cooler, lasted longer and were far more dangerous.

    That sounds like a Me-Monster.

  32. #32 nunatak
    February 21, 2008

    Where to begin? *rubbing hands*

    The Stretcher, who starts to raise their hand to ask a question but then has second thoughts, thinking, for example, that their question might have been answered in the introduction, which they missed because they came in late (see Disrupter) or weren’t paying attention (see Pre-schooler/Rookie), so they then just abort mid-hand-raise and pretend to stretch and/or scratch at their suddenly itchy scalp.

    The Surgeon, who is well-meaning but whose question deftly incises the speaker’s weakest point or asks a question the speaker should really know the answer to but doesn’t, whether due to stage fright or genuine ignorance. The Surgeon’s question may induce the speaker to cry later at home upon reflection.

    The Laugher, who, at some point in the middle of the talk laughs out loud. I am not kidding, we had one of these in my grad department.

    Related to the Disrupter, the Loud Typist, who likes to advertise the fact that they are far too busy or important to pay attention to the speaker by typing loudly on their laptop keyboard.

    The Punctuality Police, who 1) shakes their head in disgust at people who come in late, and 2)thinks a special level of hell is reserved for speakers who go over the allocated time. In severe cases, when the second hand reaches the moment that the seminar should have ended, they might even stand up noisily and stomp out.

    The Paradigm Shift Hawk, who asks “so, are you saying that [insert outrageous claim that is far beyond the speaker’s stated conclusions]?”

    The Rescuer (Type A), who, at the first sign of a technical glitch, leaps from their seat and comes to the front to help the frazzled speaker by proudly wielding their IT wizardry.

    The Rescuer (Type B), who, when the speaker doesn’t know the answer, answers it for them. A deviant form will answer the question even before the speaker gets his chance.

    There are more, many more, but that should do for now.

  33. #33 tai haku
    February 21, 2008

    The “disinterested curious” attends a talk or lecture outside their field as a result of topicality, curiosity, a passing interest, a cool title or love of academia only to be bamboozled by it being far more technical than anticipated and therefore unintelligible to them. In an effort to mask their growing disinterest and discomfort the disinterested curious will frequently mimic nodders or critics unsuccessfully.

  34. #34 Inoculated Mind
    February 21, 2008

    From personal experience – this has to be included in the list:

    The Rehashers: Two or more tenured professors who use the question/answer session after the talk to re-hash an old debate that they had in an unrelated seminar 3+ years ago. They will draw the attention of the audience members who will either think that there was some profound scientific debate that they missed out on or think that the Rehashers are stroking their egos. (Both are probably wrong in their positions anyhow) No one will be able to add to the debate because it has nothing to do with anything, and the speaker will be left with an awkward pause before closing the questions because everyone wants to leave.

  35. #35 Simon G.
    February 21, 2008

    You forgot:

    The Grad. Student – is there ‘cos there may be free food afterwards. There’s usually a small flock of these at every talk who, after having only eaten ramen noodles for 6 months, make the Grad student rush towards the free wine and cheese table after the talk. (No, I’m not bitter!).

    & I’ve been on the receiving end of a question from The Master before. I swear I could hear the guy snoring through my talk, and then he woke up, dropped a killer question, and floored me. Painful.

    –Simon

  36. #36 LM
    February 21, 2008

    What about the Note Taker? These are generally first year grad students who have no clue what the talk is about but fervently jot down everything on the slides just in case they can use any of the information later on.

    I was one of these people. I never used a single shred of info that came from any seminar I ever attended… :P

  37. #37 Infophile
    February 21, 2008

    The Sophomore – The Rookie with a few months more experience under his belt. After being caught sleeping a few too many times, he experiments with asking random questions throughout the talk just to prove he’s paying attention. He then goes back to sleep.

  38. #38 trying not to be peeved
    February 21, 2008

    Oh what the hell. On behalf of all the XX scientists and XX others who also attend these things:

    Jonathan, you forgot the WOMEN (who apparently are the only ones doing it right, as they’ve not made it into your XY focussed account).

  39. #39 Bob O'H
    February 21, 2008

    I don’t want to add any more, but just point out that I recognise myself in far too many of the suggestions.

    We did once have a pre-schooler in our departmental seminar who sat on the front row. Unfortunately for him, the speaker saw him nodding off, and prodded him sharply with the pointer.

    Bob

  40. #40 I wasn't this guy
    February 21, 2008

    What about the mandatory attendance guy? You know, the 90% of the audience that’s there because they have to be there and look like they’re listening/being thoughtful/taking notes but in reality are working on their own stuff. I mean, who really needs a calculator at a seminar presentation?

  41. #41 corporate drone
    February 21, 2008

    Hmm, looks like many of those aren’t peculiar to the academic sector.

  42. #42 The Backpacker
    February 21, 2008

    How about the Noob; (this is me) the person who sits in the front row and hangs of every word the presenter has to say. Gets to the end and asks a question so simple that it is instantly obvious the whole thing went right past him like an ice boat on a windy day.

  43. #43 Nan
    February 21, 2008

    You forgot the one person everyone dreads in a crowded seminar room: the disheveled, reeking of rancid sweat grad student who’s apparently too busy working on his thesis to take the time to bathe.

  44. #44 Steverion
    February 21, 2008

    How about the Creationist…oh, wait….they don’t attend actual lectures.

    My bad.

  45. #45 Rick MacPherson
    February 21, 2008

    two others stand out from my grad days:

    A subclade of the Rookie, Grand Advertiser, and Paradigm Shift Hawk (boy would I like to see a phylogenetic tree of all these “species”) is the Jargonizer: the person who absolutely must throw out the most obscure/irrelevant bit of jargon as part of the question. My two faves that I recall:
    1) Would you say that this work can serve as a heuristic?
    2) Could you offer us a pre-Hegelian example that contrasts your position?

    The other is the Whozzat: some strange, anonymous, quasi-crazy individual who is not enrolled in any program yet makes all the seminars and manages to ask a nutty, off-the-wall question, leaving people to ask: “Whozzat?” Again, like the Old Coot, people are usually too polite to say, “What the fuck are you talking about?” Unless of course the presenter was James Farris.

  46. #46 Clare
    February 21, 2008

    In anthropology talks from time to time I’ve come across one or two BFFs or senior scholars who did their research at the same time, in the same general area, and start swapping insider stories along the lines of “funny things the natives did when back in 1972 when we all got worms and it rained for 40 nights and 40 days” and on and on without noticing or caring that no-one else has a clue what they’re talking about.

  47. #47 Carolyn
    February 21, 2008

    The Pity Questioner (perhaps a subtype of Rescuer?), who, at the end of a talk so boring or pointless no one in the room has anything to say, asks a question after 30 seconds of silence, just so the speaker won’t be embarrassed. (This is often the seminar organizer.)

    Also, The Graders, TAs who don’t care at all about the topic, but, since the department has mandatory attendance, bring a foot-high stack of papers to grade and proceed to ignore the talk.

  48. #48 RPM
    February 21, 2008

    Here are two more:

    The ship in the night

    The person who asks a question that the speaker doesn’t understand. The speaker answers the question in a way that the questioner doesn’t understand that the speaker misunderstood the question. The questioner doesn’t understand the answer, and proceeds to reword the question in a more confusing manner.

    The lifeboat

    This one rescues the ship in the night by clarifying the question. When the speaker blows the answer, the lifeboat may also rescue the speaker.

  49. #49 Kathryn
    February 21, 2008

    The Compounding Questioner. This person starts out by saying: “I have 3 questions. Long-assed Question 1, and if not longey-long Question 2. and if so, Longest of all Question 3. by the time they quit talking no one has any idea what they asked in any of the three questions. This type of audience member makes me want to poke my eyes out.

  50. #50 Steve T
    February 21, 2008

    And the Speechifier, the one who uses the Q&A as an opportunity to mount their own soapbox. Rarely an actual member of the academic community hosting the seminar. Commonly found in seminars on environmental topics. Thus, a seminar on new approaches to using satellite-based measurements to assess thermal exchange between the troposphere and stratosphere will prompt the Speechifier to deliver a 10-minute diatribe about how global warming is bad, really bad, bad I tell you, and did we all see Al Gore’s movie, and shouldn’t the government be doing something about this because global warming is bad? Aaaaaaaaaggghhhhhhhhhh!

  51. #51 Luis
    February 21, 2008

    The Reference Librarian: all of his questions are of the form “Have you read [insert bibliographical reference of at least medium obscurity, complete with author, journal, year of publication, and fully accurate rendition of the title]? ‘Cause it might be relevant for you”. Not to be confused with The Advertiser: as opposed to the latter, The Reference Librarian never cites his own stuff. The most advanced individuals can also direct you to specific sections of papers and, in the most extreme cases, even footnotes.

  52. #52 Electric Monk
    February 21, 2008

    The Advisor:
    He / She doesn’t actually ask a question but suggests a host of research directions that the speaker should follow… often the same person as The Reference Librarian above.

    The Ill-Advisor:
    Who suggests that the speaker should follow a research direction which the speaker has already undertaken, and has just finished speaking about. Often thinks that they are “The Master”

  53. #53 Inoculated Mind
    February 21, 2008

    The other is the Whozzat: some strange, anonymous, quasi-crazy individual who is not enrolled in any program yet makes all the seminars…

    Great Darwin’s Galapagos – I knew someone like that!

  54. #54 natural cynic
    February 21, 2008

    The one person that was feared the most by grad students [at least the ones in my group] was called The Knob. This person might be some kind of occult or apprentice Master. Everyone at least knows who the Master [or Masters]is/are, but the knob is the younger person that nobody knows who asks a master level question. Sometimes it is somebody from across campus that happened to be interested in the seminar and has knows something very relavant to the topic. However, the Knob frequently shows up at national conferences and asks the killer question. And nobody you know recognizes the Knob.

  55. #55 sparc
    February 21, 2008

    Closely related to The Reference Librarian is the name dropper. The only difference is that he doesn’t give the actual reference and often even doesn’t even mention the last name of the author he’s citing.
    Another category are the native speakers especially from Northern England, Sotland and other obscure places where people have strong accents. They are often taking a piss on those poor guys from China, Japan etc. who just manage to memorize their talk but don’t have the skills required for an English conversation.
    Quite annoying are whistle blowers who never take part in Q&A but instead discredit the presenter in the aftermath.

  56. #56 sparc
    February 22, 2008

    One should not forget Big Biologist Alex referred to in his brillant post The Daily Transcript’s Taxonomy of the Sciences. Usually these guys will say something about their visions about how systems biology, proteomics, recombinant inbred mice, etc will have changed in twenty years.

  57. #57 sparc
    February 22, 2008

    sorry, I forgot “biology” in the last sentence of comment #56. It should read:

    One should not forget Big Biologist Alex referred to in his brillant post The Daily Transcript’s Taxonomy of the Sciences. Usually these guys will say something about their visions about how systems biology, proteomics, recombinant inbred mice, etc will have changed biology in twenty years.

  58. #58 Pinko Punko
    February 22, 2008

    There are both good and bad nodders. There are the friendly helpful nodders that buoy the speaker (the grad students or post-docs that are nevous) as well as the show-offy kind you mention.

  59. #59 Louis
    February 22, 2008

    In our mutual (and hilarious and accurate) rush towards cynicism we have omitted the one or two people (of either sex) who were actually genuinely interested, took notes because they were listening to a topic which they found genuinely interesting, maybe even asked a useful question (at a push, let’s not get ahead of ourselves), and weren’t either too precious or too pompous. The Swot? The The Genuinely Interested Modest Person (GIMP for short)?

    There were some out there IIRC. I’m hoping I was one of them…well when I didn’t fall into the lamentably recognisable Pre-Schooler or Rookie categories that is.

    It may be a synthetic chemistry phenomenon, I doubt it’s unique though, which as grad students we used to refer to as “Waving The Chemistry Dick”. It combines elements of the Grand Advertiser, the Hatfields and McCoys, The Pisser, The Socratic, the…uh Leg Graden, and a host of the others mentioned. The oh so not subtle variaion being that all they are trying to do is show how much larger their chemistry dick is than that of the speaker. The conversation runs, politely, thus:

    Questioner: “Thank you for your interesting talk, here is a slant on the topic and an obscure reference which shows that my chemistry dick is larger than yours.”

    Speaker: “What a fascinating question, I anticipated it of course and prepared a slide which I will now show you. This contains sufficent mechanistic complexity and obscure references to demonstrate that in fact my chemistry dick is imponderously huge, far, far bigger than yours.”

    Q: “Well, obviously you were only looking at the tip of my chemistry dick, if you’d looked closer you’d have seen the enormous length and girth of my positively gargantuan dinosauric chemistry wang, which is actually so much larger than yours that your chemistry dick looks like a before shot. As illustrated by this complex mechanistic suggestion which will involve at least 2 PhDs worth of kinetics studies to investigate and a slew of obscure references”

    And so on ad extreme nauseum.

    Chemistry Dick Waving was usually the province of middle to senior academics who didn’t like the speaker, but was also found in many technical meetings at many levels. It was funny, and fun to bet on (i.e. who would win the chemistry dick waving, Home Team or Away Team) but rapidly became boring.

    Louis

  60. #60 debbyo
    February 22, 2008

    O’m’god – I’m a co-conspirator. I sit next to the most cynical academic on campus and snicker at the post-modernists. (I’m in the social sciences so you can imagine the stuff we have to listen to). I can’t help it – it’s fun. Am I evil?

  61. #61 hinschelwood
    February 22, 2008

    What about the Generic Questioner? This is the one who always asks exactly the same question, regardless of what the talk is about. These are usually people who are trying to make a name for themselves and get noticed.

    I was at a conference once and encountered somebody who asked rehashed versions of the same question at two different talks (the rehashing involved throwing in a bit of background knowledge in the speaker’s field). I saw the guy a year later at another meeting and he did exactly the same. It worked for him – he got a tenured position in the end.

    A graduate student in our group did the same trick at departmental seminars for some time until we made fun of him and he stopped.

  62. #62 Anonymous
    February 22, 2008

    I just couldn’t get past the sexism. Do you really imagine that all of these people are men? They are all described to exclude women, which only makes the reader think that you imagine your “seminar” with all men.

  63. #63 Ian Paul Freeley
    February 22, 2008

    The Jiggler: Consumes a 2 liter of coke or entire pot of coffee during the day leaving him with a horribly twitching leg that quickly matches the resonate frequency of an entire row of chairs.

  64. #64 W.A.
    February 22, 2008

    well well, this little social study shows way deeper insights into the characters and social skills of the “scientists” who post/wrote this than of the people they complain about. By the end of the day, everyone agrees that he/she ist the critic and of course, the only true one. Cause we are all so smart, arent we?

  65. #65 Kurt
    February 22, 2008

    W.A., I’m nodding at what you just said.

  66. #66 gerald spezio
    February 22, 2008

    Louis unquestionably has the biggest and funniest dick of all the male sexist academic dicks.

    Louis will be killed any day now by enraged feminists waving the socio/anthro gizmos/cunnys/tools??? for not including them and theirs – which he shouldn’t or couldn’t have said anyway.

    Best bunch of witty blogs on any website ever.

    And PZ Myers is concerned that scientist types have a bad image because they are too dour and staid.

  67. #67 gerald spezio
    February 22, 2008

    Does anybody membah the mad dog musical group, The Fuggs, and their red-neck hero – Johnnie PissOff?

    Not that Johnnie was just a mere pisser either, because if I reads these here blogs correct enough, I sees Johnnie PissOff everywheres in science studies git-togethers.

  68. #68 ethyl
    February 22, 2008

    This is a subset of the Critic, and is related to the Biggus Dickus phenomenon summarized by Louis. I call him the Pointless Questioner, and was just at a professional society meeting infested by this species. This is the guy, usually somewhat well-known and respected, who thinks that his small amount of recognition means he can interrupt the talk willy-nilly, asking questions that the speaker is clearly leading up to answering. You can spot them by the speaker’s cry of “Yes, I’m getting to that…”

    Also, I’m a lady scientist and I don’t find this sexist at all — when I was in grad school, these characters were all men. Dunno why, but I’ll be as more women enter science fields, we’ll see the gender distribution equalize.

  69. #69 gerald spezio
    February 22, 2008

    Q When the Cal Tech studenten displayed the banner “We love you Dick” were they overtly invoking the powerful Feynmnan Dick as a gargantuan sexist ploy learned in scholarly seminars and therefore possibly actionable at Law?

  70. #70 AnonFuturePhD
    February 22, 2008

    Another sheepish Nodder checking in… I promise to reform.

  71. #71 gerald spezio
    February 22, 2008

    Ethyl, as the gender ratios equalize, lets hope that the result will be more outright nuttiness as displayed by these science nuts in this magnifico blog.

    Science is the best way of knowing so far discovered, and whacko humor like this is the best way to keep us sane and clear headed.

    Louis, as well as many others, had me in stitches.

  72. #72 Charles Betz
    February 22, 2008

    In my seminars I also encountered The MD. He comes to your seminar because your institute is affiliated with the university hospital, and because he feels the urge to stress the fact that he is as good a researcher as he is a clinician. Usually he comes in late, wears a coat from the hospital that may or may not have residual blood splatters on his coat. His beeper will go off for the first time right when you’re about to introducing the topic. He compulsively wears a stethoscope around his neck, and after you finished presenting you cell culture and animal model work, he asks if all THAT has any relevance in humans.

  73. #73 gerald spezio
    February 22, 2008

    Charles Betz, the great comedian Ernie Kovacs did a entire tv show many years ago about a guy who has many enlightening experiences inadvertently impersonating a doc in a hospital setting.

    The non MD guy played by Kovacs was once in a hospital elevator with a stethoscope sticking out of his suit pocket.
    While riding in the elevator, Kovacs is mistaken for a medico doc. by a really and truly medico doc.
    Moreover, Kovacs is asked for his opinion on some very convoluted technical questions about a patient by the real doc.

    It all leads to Kovacs getting off on playing doc and being consulted on the most pressing issues simply by having the stethoscope in his pocket in plain view.

    An non-medico professor of ethology, long since departed, always appeared in a giant medical center in a white medical jacket.

  74. #74 PeteK
    February 22, 2008

    These categories are too American for me to understand

  75. #75 gerald spezio
    February 22, 2008

    PeterK, for some Americans all these categories are not only accurate but hilarious.

    It illustrates American science at its self effacing and self critical best.

  76. #76 PeteK
    February 22, 2008

    gerald: I know, I agree, was just being a bit culture specific and facetious 8-)

  77. #77 liveparadox
    February 22, 2008

    Thanks for the laugh! I guess I’ve been the Rookie, but I hope I’m improving. ;)

  78. #78 Indy
    February 22, 2008

    God, I fear the Knob. The Masters, yes, you know the blow is coming… but the Knob… gahhhhh!!!!

    //I totally crashed and burned as a first year grad student… at the end of the seminar, the only other grad student to speak to me, while avoiding eye contact, just softly said “Way to hang tough.”

    mistakes I will never let myself repeat.

  79. #79 Zeno
    February 23, 2008

    These creatures have been observed in environmental niches other than seminars. My English comp professor in college was a Nodder. We found out the degree to which he was a Nodder when he had us read some of our papers to the rest of the class. One of my classmates wrote an essay on the role of the Cartesian coordinate system in mathematics and she was asked to read it to us. The professor nodded sagely at the end of every statement she made. My classmate blundered and misstated a basic fact about Cartesian coordinates. The professor nodded solemnly. My classmate caught herself and corrected the error. The professor nodded as wisely as if he had been aware of her error all along. It was really quite entertaining.

  80. #80 gerald spezio
    February 23, 2008

    PeteK, I once used the phrase, “kill the dog” to express “wasting time” in polite conversation with a beautiful bi-lingual Costa Rican lady student.

    She was so shocked that she backed away.

    The phrase “kill the dog” is very New England, USA, and this humble experience taught me much.

    I almost surely “read into” your short phrase, and it too teaches me much about mis-communication, peeyar, framing, and the whole agit-prop business that we are finding everywhere.

  81. #81 debbyo
    February 26, 2008

    Gerald said “Louis will be killed any day now by enraged feminists waving the socio/anthro gizmos/cunnys/tools??? ”

    I’ve brought the popcorn.

  82. #82 Jonathan Eisen
    February 27, 2008

    I have a suggestion for turning this blog into something bigger. We should come up with a top 20 list of types and then at conferences you can play a few games with this.

    1. Bingo where you try and come up with a list of examples of each type

    2. Charades. Put the types in a hat. Select with a set of friends from the hat and then you have to act out each type in the next session.

  83. #83 Diane
    February 28, 2008

    I have another category: the Shrinking Violet. This is the person who has thought of a question but is so sure that he/she misunderstood the talk and the answer is painfully obvious to the rest of the room that they can’t bring themselves to ask it. Often, the question ends up being asked by someone else anyway, probably because the SV was thinking it so hard that the other person picked it up via ESP, and it turns out to be an excellent question after all. During post-seminar refreshments, the SV will grumble to his/her friends that he/she was just about to ask that question when so-and-so beat them to it.

  84. #84 Blogbharti
    March 3, 2008

    Pingback from Blogbharti: […] Evolgen presents a series of hilarious classifications of the kind of people who come to listen to talks and seminars in grad school […]

  85. #85 Travis
    March 6, 2008

    The Volunteer

    The volunteer is an undergraduate student, generally sandwiched between the cocky, thick skulled freshman year and the glazed-over senior year. The volunteer is a minion to everyone, including the graduate students, and is just happy to be a part of the action. She fiddles with the projector and makes sure the wine and cheese are set out. The volunteer is especially active during keynote lectures by important researchers.

    The Foundation Guy

    This is the guy from, you know… the Foundation. It is an organizer from the “Friends of Your Department”, or “Your Department Associates”, or “University Science Foundation Friends of the Thingamabob” who are neither faculty nor student, and often aren’t even alumni. They are generally pretty well tolerated because they generate good PR for the department, and raise money. Beware the Clueless Foundation Guy, who has a title, but actually knows nothing about the subject of the day, though they pretend like they do. The clueless foundation guy is also pretty well tolerated, but tongues are a little bit bitten in his presence.

  86. #86 BHB
    March 21, 2008

    I’ve seen all the seminar phenotypes listed here and laughed as I assigned names to them. But I feel compelled to defend myself and my fellow nodders (@Kurt). I smile and nod through talks — because speakers often make eye contact and I’m giving them positive feedback. Because I am genuinely interested and because it contributes to an inherent dialog between a competent speaker and an engaged audience. Or because the speaker is so painfully nervous he/she needs a little reassurance during the talk.

    And admit it — don’t most of you really want to be a master or the very emeritus professor? I can’t *wait* to be emeritus and be able to ask crazy questions that make people wonder whether I’m crazy or just drunk.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.