Wednesday, April 14, 2010

“You’re too comfortable…but I like it.”

 The Psyc Conference -- Part II

At first it was strange sitting at the table with high ranking academics at the EPC dinner. I felt unworthy, and a little out of place. But it soon became clear that they weren’t interested in maintaining my delusions of inferiority. They, like me, just wanted to relax after an exhausting day of talks.

So I gradually became less inhibited and, before I knew it, I was speaking as though I’d known these people for years and we started to banter. But I thought I’d gone too far when one of the top vision scientists in Australia said to me, “You’re too comfortable…but I like it.” I shat myself and thought I’d overstepped the mark.

But he went on to tell a story about the late great physicist Richard Feynman. As a grad-student, Feynman stood-up and questioned the Nobel prize-winning Niels Bohr during his talk. Feynman later shat himself when he was ushered to Bohr’s chambers for “discussion.”

But it turns out that Bohr sought out Feynman because most physicists were too in awe of Bohr to argue with him. Feynman had no such inhibitions and said he felt as much respect for Bohr as anyone else, but once anyone got him talking about physics, he would become so focused he forgot about social niceties.

Academic etiquette in the 40s was a little different to the way things are now. I doubt a first-year PhD student like me would be allowed to sit at the same table as full Professors, let alone engage in some pretty risqué banter. I love this change and really appreciate being treated like an equal. (Some have even added me on facebook!)

So whoever your academic heros are, when you read their awesome work and see the impressive things they’ve achieved it’s easy to forget, they’re just people — don’t be afraid of getting too comfortable ; )

Matt Thompson

Click here to see Part 1!!!

Click here to see Part 3!!!

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1 comment:

  1. Now go and watch any of the Feynman clips on youtube mate. This is a contribution of your generation. And you shouldn't have worried (i.e., not shat yourself) given the "but I like it."