I’ve noticed over the years that my patience in seminars and talks has been eroding. This started in graduate school – I certainly sat through my share of lousy talks back then, but I was starting to skip out on the occasional one, after a certain level of grimness was reached.
For example, I remember walking down the hall with a new post-doc, when the building’s speakers came to life. “May I have your attention, please. . . “ We stopped to listen. “There will be a seminar in the main auditorium in ten minutes, entitled “Raman Spectroscopy of Synthetic Asphalt Roofing Materials” (I swear that this is a real title, or something very close; it was appalling). The new guy asked, in a slightly worried tone “Do you guys in the group usually go to these things?”
And at that point, one of my fellow group members came lurching out into the hallway, pantomiming elaborate choking gestures as he pointed desperately at the speaker up on the wall, slumping against the wall as the horror of the seminar’s title overcame him completely. We watched him slide to the floor, still gesturing at the intercom, and I said calmly: “No, we skip a few of them now and then”.
Well, over the years I’ve continued to skip a few of them now and then, and my threshold has been steadily creeping up. I realize that many of the topics that keep me glued to my seat are, by any objective standard, rather dry. Give a detailed talk about enantioselective hydrogenation, the thermodynamics of multivalent binding, or even the latest thinking about the patent office’s requirements for obviousness rejections, and I’ll be right there, practically munching popcorn. To me, those things are interesting. But plenty of things aren’t.
It’s to the point now where there are single phrases that give me that “late for the door” feeling. After that hits, it’s a major effort for me to stay in my seat. So, speakers, if you see me out in the audience and think that the ambience would be improved without me, it isn’t hard. Just spend a few minutes going on about “cross-functional goal setting” or the wonders of ISO nine-thousand-whatever. I’ll spray gravel on my way out. One day I’ll probably end up dangling from a bunch of knotted tablecloths, having rappelled down the side of my building from an upper-floor conference room. “Vision statement”, I’ll gasp to the passers-by as I drop to the sidewalk in relief. “They invited me to work on a new vision statement. . .”