Companions in Zealous Research

Blogging has been light of late because I was in the Houston area for the weekend, at the annual meeting of Sigma Xi, the scientific research honor society (think Phi Beta Kappa, but for science nerds). Every chapter is required to send a representative to the annual meeting at least once every three years, and as I'm the current president of the Union chapter, I got to go this year.

In a lot of ways, the meeting was more Boskone than DAMOP, and I'm not just saying that because there were little ribbons for everybody's badges. This is an obvious consequence of the fact that it was mostly a business meeting with a small research conference attached, rather than a scientific conference with a few business meeting activities that take place when most of the attendees are having dinner. It had a lot of the same vibe as parts of an SF convention-- many of the people there clearly had a deep emotional investment in the operation of the organization, and were there primarily for that aspect of things.

This was, alas, less than completely enthralling for those of us who don't have a similar emotional investment in the whole business. As is the case with most con-running discussions, to be honest-- they're sort of fascinating in an anthropological sort of way, but not interesting enough for me to want to go to the Worldcon business meeting. Because, you know, I won't shed a single tear if I never hear another request for a ruling from the parliamentarian.

I did have a few very enjoyable conversations with students who were there for the student poster competition. In the small world file, one of these students was from Davidson College, and knows Greta Munger a little, and another was working with the same research group at Ohio State that one of our distinguished recent alumni was with (he graduated a year or so ago).

The real highlight, though, was getting to talk to Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman from Mythbusters. They were inducted as honorary lifetime members of Sigma Xi, and were great sports about posing for hundreds of pictures, signing lots of autographs, and chatting amiably with random idiots. For the record, they're pretty much exactly the way they seem on tv-- Savage is more excitable, and tells lots of True Lab Stories, Hyneman is more reserved and serious. As Savage pointed out, this makes their lives much easier-- when people come up to them and want pictures taken, they're not expecting them to be playing characters. (Which makes me think that Stephen Colbert's experience of the autograph-seeking public must be a very strange thing indeed...)

Anyway, all in all, it wasn't a bad time. The business meeting parts weren't remotely worth flying halfway across the country for, but the posters were pretty good, and the banquet was a good deal of fun. I also got to visit with an uncle who lives in Houston, who I haven't seen in a few years, so that was a nice bonus. I'll be perfectly happy to let someone else make the trip the next time we need to send a delegate, though.

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Hope they showed you a good time. It's a fabulous place, it just doesn't look it unless people are cluing you in about the city and its joys. Or your the exploratory sort on your own anyways.


I'm glad that you found parts of our meeting enjoyable, and I encourage you to share your perspective with Joe Whittaker (our president elect, who is heading up the committee for next year's meeting.

We have heard from a lot of folks in Sigma Xi over the past few years that they would like a lot more science and a lot less business. We need comments and suggestions from folks like you to improve the process.

We've been talking a lot more about "companions in zealous research" and the importance of the students' research presentations as a key opportunity to enliven our meeting.

By Andrew Velkey (not verified) on 17 Nov 2009 #permalink