07 July, 2011

First impressions at EGOS conference

Going to my first scientific conference is one major step towards my dream of being a researcher. Naturally I jumped at the chance of coming here, especially with accommodation and flights paid by the university. Never mind that I’m just in a mere assisting role, observing how to organise the event and thereby making our organising next year easier. It’s still a scientific conference and an important milestone.

Everyone must have heard that you can make a first impression only once. This trip is going to me my first impression of the scientific conferences. Are they exciting or boring? Relaxed or formal? Useful or useless? Drunken feasts or groups of introverts staring at their computers all day long? Something in between the extremes?

With the first 24 hours behind me, I won’t try to make a mountain out of a molehill and claim anything too drastic. Nevertheless, there are some things I’ve noticed while being here:

Scientists are normal people.

Well, duh. You’re entitled to say that in reply, really. But I’ve always had, to some extent, and idea of a successful researcher being a cool, level-headed character capable of observation and not too interested in social games. Someone, whose passion is in a sense the abolition of passions. Someone, who makes the most effort to get out of their own way to ensure objectivity.

That, of course, is a stereotype with hardly any relevance to reality. Even if they are objective in their work, the researchers I’ve met seem to resemble normal people so much I wouldn’t notice their difference without knowing beforehand. They dislike some people, take revenge and form cliques just like everybody else. They drink and have parties not suitable for children. They can even talk about soccer as soccer, not as a social game of behaviour-execution to ensure genetic fitness in a Marxist society.

Scientists bitch about people they don’t like.

If you think about it, it kind of makes sense. Whereas in normal working life, you might get angry about someone hoarding unnecessary cash in their department, being slow to react to your proposals or just failing to do their job the way you wanted them to, in research it’s all the above problems - plus the theoretical fights. If a table loses a leg, and the resulting three-legged abomination fails to stand upright, is it still a table? Neither camp would balk at any sacrifice to gain the final upper hand. The race is still on, after several hundreds of years.

Despite the realisation of scientists being as vicious as the next guy in the street, I’m having a blast. To be in an atmosphere, where the fact you’re sitting with a brick-shaped Foucault in your hand results in a fierce debate rather than a look of “I think you ought to be locked up”, is a fantastic experience. I hope there's more to follow.