Oh the indignity

The scene: I’m in my office on a Saturday afternoon, getting on towards evening. I’m wearing Saturday clothes: faded blue jeans with a hole in one knee, that really needed a belt to stay in place, a gray t-shirt with a green LLBean fleece with a toothpaste stain on it. Hey, I’m living in borrowed accommodations, I didn’t have my full wardrobe at my disposal and truly didn’t plan on seeing anyone.

6 pm: I’m walking down the hallway towards my office, coming back from the lab. I run into a colleague. I address him, trying to be friendly.

Me: “hey, what are you doing here on a Saturday night?”

Him: “what are you doing here? (pauses) More importantly, what are you planning on doing the rest of the evening? I don’t suppose you have a 45 minute general interest seminar you could give for a group of 100 high school science teachers?”

Me: stunned silence. “Um, I can look, I’m really working hard tonight, trying to finish my book before the end of the year.”

Him: “I’m really desperate, the keynote speaker for tonight is really sick and we have no one to fill, you can come to the nice dinner afterwards…”

Me: “Um, okay, let me see what I have on my computer. Can you come by in ten minutes?”

Him: “How about 5? We’re really desperate here.”

Me: “Um, okay, let me see.”

6:10 pm. In my office, checking my computer. Colleague comes in.

Him: “Anything?”

Me: “yes, actually, I have something that might work, but I really was trying to get some work done tonight.”

Him: “Please, we need this so badly.”

Me: “Oh what the heck, I can try. I’m not sure about dinner though, I really should get some more work done.”

Him: “No problem, you can duck out after the talk. Oh, and do you have a laptop you can project from? We were expecting the speaker to bring one.”

Me: (relieved) “Yes, I have this (Asus Eee pc in my desk drawer) and can pdf the file to project”

Him: “Brilliant, let’s head there and get set up”

Me: “I’m really not dressed appropriately”

Him: “Oh, it’s casual, don’t worry.”

7:00 pm. I am introduced to a room full of science teachers who are expecting someone else, and a very different topic. I’m nervous as heck, not remembering the precise order of the slides since I didn’t have time to look through them. I do the best I can. Some of the assembled audience are in suits and ties (or dresses) and I’m still in my torn blue jeans and stained shirt.

7:55 pm. The talk is over, lots of questions have been asked, and I’ve probably gotten the strongest applause I’ve ever had from a talk (I’m feeling totally chuffed). I’m packing away the tiny and trusty machine. I’m swarmed with further comments and questions.

Him: “You’re coming to dinner, right? You can answer more questions then.”

Me: “Um, I guess.” (there is no real choice)

9:55 pm. The three course dinner is done, I’ve sat through it in my torn jeans and my toothpaste-stained fleece. I tell my host I really must be going.

Moral of the story 1: It does get worse than giving a seminar at MIT in your pajamas

Moral of the story 2: I was justified in buying a second Asus Eee pc (one for the office and one for home) because if I had not had this one in my office tonight, it would have been a disaster. (See me try to excuse my penchant for gadgetry…)

Moral of the story 3: If you’re called at the last moment (and make sure the audience knows it!) you are not actually persecuted for being dressed totally inappropriately at a work event.

Epilogue 1: The speaker who I was replacing was a very good friend of mine, and I knew he was ill as he had cancelled a meeting we had on Friday. So to him, get better soon!

Epilogue 2: Tomorrow is going to be damned busy trying to finish the things I was doing in my office at 6 pm when this whole adventure started!

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7 responses to “Oh the indignity

  1. Well done you, NFAH, to step in at such short notice, and to be so effective.

    > high school science teachers

    Are you sure your colleague used that term? Although in the UK we have schools with ‘High School’ in their name (they’re generally old and prestigious foundations), the usual term is ‘secondary school’.

    While on the subject of science teaching, have you read the recent TIMMS report? I ask this because in earlier parts of your blog you seem to be somewhat dismissive about the standard of science education in the UK, particularly in comparison with the US. Anyhow, here is a reference: http://tinyurl.com/5dfkrv , which might suggest that your pessimism about the teaching of science in the UK is not fully justified.

    How do you now feel about science education in the US?

  2. Howard, my colleague absolutely did say “high school” and it was probably due to his being not British and his speaking to an acknowledged non-Brit.

    I remain pessimistic about any system that emphasizes exam results over learning, that is not going to change any time soon!

  3. If I were you, I’d be worried any time I was casually dressed. It seems to attract invitations to public speaking.

  4. Oh, Iota, I know, but I seem to find that working 60-80 hours a week is only tolerable if I’m comfortable during the times when I’m not expecting to be “on stage”… but you’re right. I’m going to have to seek out a compromise position for pseudo-professional but still comfortable gear.

  5. > my colleague absolutely did say “high school” and it was probably due to his being not British

    I see! There is something really rather admirable about this reluctance to adapt to the terminology of one’s host country!

    > I remain pessimistic about any system that emphasizes exam results over learning

    Do I detect sour grapes here? The notion that one could gain a high grade in, say, a mathematics exam without at the same time being knowledgeable and well-educated in the subject is, to put it politely, ‘intriguing’!

  6. i love this story.

    also. Lesson one: keep a blazer in your office. (i don’t have one in my office, but since i’m the PIO–public information officer–i’m the one that they’ll throw in front of the news camera should one ever appear at my office…and then i’ll be SO mad at myself. this is definitely on my list of things to do.)

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