Becoming the proverbial absent minded professor

i-9dc84d4d9156dccb30d5f62466b4219a-swblocks.jpgI work in a three story building. My office, lab, and teaching space are on the first floor. The departmental office, kitchen, and chair's office are on the second floor. The third floor contains some colleagues' offices, labs, classrooms, etc.

Obviously, most of my time is spent on first floor, but most days I wander up to second floor at some point. I get to third floor 90% of the time, on my way back down, I get off at second floor rather than first. Despite the fact that the doors are painted different colors coming off the stairway. And I always feel like an idiot. I am consoled only by the fact that my fellow first-floor residents report having the same problem.

If you are faculty, how are you becoming the stereotypical absent minded professor? If you're not on the faculty, share your favorite stories. Make me feel better please!

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The professor in my Death and Dying course assigned us a paper but the week before the paper was due he said he would be out of town on the due date. When the paper was brought up he just moved the paper to finals week, lucky he did too, it was an extremely busy week during the original due date.

Another professor was scheduled to show us the film Sicko for my Medical Sociology course but he thought class was an hour later than it was normally. Keep in mind that this was the end of the semester and he had made it to class on time the rest of the semester.

These are just a couple examples but they stand out from my other experiences.

"Obviously, most of my time is spent on third floor"

Um, did you mean to type 'third floor' or 'first floor'. If the latter, you just confirmed yourself to be an absent-minded professor!

Elf Eye - good catch. Yes, living up to my own worst traits. Off to fix it now.

well i left science but im still absent minded. my company has floors 3 and 4 of our office building and my office is on floor 3 but i often have to go to floor 4. i would say at least 50% of the time i go to the stairs to go between the floors and find myself at floor 2 or floor 5, having gone the wrong way on the stairs...

for a professor story there is my dad who was at a mathematical conference and went for dinner with a group of friends.
the bill comes, they divide it by 6, all put in their money, count it and its not enough...
they take back the money, do the calculation again, put it in again, still not enough...
finally someone looks around the table and says "wait, there are 5 of us!"

In one of my interviews for graduate school, a PI stopped mid-rambling about her research, peered down at me over her glasses and said "Wait, what is your name and why are you sitting in my office again?"

It may be too early to declare a winner - but Julie is in strong contention for winning the thread!

Several years ago, I had just gotten done telling an undergrad that I had to some tissue preps (which means flaming forceps with ethanol repeatedly) and that I needed to clean off some benchspace. Then I opened my big mouth and told him about the time (years before) that I lit a plastic baggie on fire which is why I needed such a big clean space. And I swear to God, with my undergrad trainee watching from a nearby bench, I lit the damn weighboat on fire with the tissue! I came into lab the next day and there was a red "danger" sign above my bench.

By CalamityJen (not verified) on 13 Aug 2008 #permalink

When I was a teen, my goal was to grow up to be an absent-minded professor. I never got to be a professor, but did get the absent-minded part. Be careful what you wish for I guess :-).

A few years ago, the admissions office emailed me to ask if a prospective student could sit in on one of my classes. I agreed and also requested to meet with the student before class, since the student was a woman who was considering majoring in computer science. The student came to my office at the appointed time, and we had a really nice conversation. She left my office about 10 minutes before the start of class, and I even remember telling her "See you in a few minutes!" 20 minutes later, I was standing in the hallway chatting with a colleague when another colleague walked by and said, "um, Jane, don't you have a class right now?" Oops! I sprinted down the hall to my classroom and was so rattled that I gave what I thought at the time was one of the worst lectures ever.

The story does have a happy ending, though: the student ended up coming to my institution AND majoring in CS. I'm so glad I didn't scare her off!

In early July, I spent a day in the field with my new senior thesis student. I took him back to some outcrops I had seen the previous summer, and got him thinking about what to look for in his work, and, after a long and satisfying day, headed back to the car. I was pretty thirsty, so I decided to stop for something to drink at a small store. When we got there, I shut the car windows, locked the door, got out, and shut the door.

With the keys locked in the car.

And the engine still running.

It took about an hour for my husband to get there with a spare set of keys. (Fortunately, I did have phone service there. And I had a husband with a spare set of keys. And I was doing field work close to home.)

The student told me that he had seen me lock the door, and he knew the engine was running, but he assumed that I knew what I was doing.

I told him that was the first lesson of doing research: if your supervisor does something that doesn't make sense, ask. If she's got a good reason, you learn something. If she doesn't, you might save an important piece of data... or maybe just time and gas.

Being absent minded is a pre-requisite in science!

On a mapping excursion I managed to get the vehicle stuck and not just an ordinary use the jack etc stuck - oh no I was horribly stuck. In the end I had the entire mapping team urgently attempting to 'save' me. They failed.

Eventually, the NSRI (National Sea Resuce Institute) were called in to rescue an extremely embarassed and sheepish me. I was freed 11pm after 10 odd hours of waiting.

The first land dweller to be rescued by sea dwellers?

If you're used to coming down one floor and being on "your own floor", then coming down from third to second simply meets what habituation has taught you. I don't see that absent-mindedness has anything to do with it.

The only way to beat this is to quit multi-tasking as you walk! Instead of thinking of more important or more pressing things when you walk down the stairs, simply keep chanting over and over "This is not my floor. This is not my floor"!

I'm guessing you don't want to degenerate into that.

One of my professors, during the course of one semester, handed out 11 syllabi. That's not a misprint - she gave us 11 syllabi, roughly one every 3 or 4 classes, correcting something on the last one. We finally stopped paying attention to them!