Tuesday, October 19, 2010

in which I revisit my brief academic career

Mr. Sandyshoes, in temporary residence at the excellent Oceanography department here at MWCU, gets seminar announcements from the Geology Department as well. He forwarded one to me today. The advertised lecture was about marine sedimentation, and I thought, what the hell. That's a language I used to speak. I should go.

However, I felt as though I had a neon "IMPOSTER" sign on my forehead. It has been almost twenty years since I was in grad school for geology. From time to time I take out my degree just to remind myself, yep, it happened, and this is a real and true thing that came out of it. Then I shake my head in bafflement, put the official paper back in its official file, and get on with the laundry.

Today, though, I dashed off a flip facebook status about planning to sit in the back row with a pillowcase over my head, checked the online campus map, put on my shades, and headed out.

It's nice to live such a short walk from the university. Sure I was lost within ten minutes, but I was lost inside the right building. I walked the hallways a bit, unconcerned about being a couple minutes late, as arriving after the lights went down would lessen the likelihood of anyone jumping up to point at me and shout "HEY! You don't belong here! You should be at the grocery store!"

I passed classrooms and labs, displays and bulletin boards -- the usual Science Building stuff. One small office I walked by was shared by six grad students, each bent over their desks. The stress was palpable even from the hallway. In that brief moment, I had two strong and conflicting impulses: to shudder -- God, I remember how much that sucks -- and to do this. I'm not proud of that one, but there you go. Schadenfreude. It can be funny. At least I'm pretty sure that twenty years ago, my stressed-out officemates and I would've thought it was funny.

Thus cheered, I entered the seminar room, sidled over to an out-of-the-way seat, and settled in to see if any of it would make sense.  Happily, much of it did.

One of the things I've always loved about geology is the vocabulary.  So many delicious words!  Bioturbation, box cores, piston cores, isotopic dating, concretions.  Turbidite.  Paleointensity.  Worm tube.  (Heh heh.  I said "worm tube.")

Audience manners, I noted, have not improved over the years. You're going to tuck into a big crunchy apple during a professor's presentation? Seriously? Unless it's a "brown bag" seminar (implying bring your lunch), that seems kind of rude, no?

Something else that hasn't changed:  the mid-talk sleepiness.  I have never fought so hard to stay awake as during department seminars in grad school.  You try everything.  Coffee, of course.  Also rapid breathing, rapid note taking, blinking, not blinking, pinching yourself.  I used to fantasize that if I were made of money, I'd donate a lecture hall to a science department, and include a private room for myself behind it, where I'd put a really comfortable recliner from which I'd watch and listen to talks with complete freedom to close my heavy eyelids any time.  The talk could be fascinating, but the dark room, the white noise from the slide projector fan... what?  It was the 1990s.  They used slide projectors then.

Quit looking at me like that.  You have your fantasies, I'll have mine. 

Anyway.  I understood enough of the talk to be emboldened to attend another one.  Maybe I won't even be stealthy about it.  But I promise not to bring an apple.


  1. Good for you. Remember some day your children will be grown--grow along with them.

    In my own corner of the world, we have mandatory course credit (12) per year to keep our licenses. All the old timers are complaining, but you do learn new things.

  2. In the course of my week I find myself pretty isolated, as I work pretty much alone. So I enjoy meeting new people and experience all things new. I love my wife, my family and on Sunday I go hiking or biking for a few hours with some friends, each of us looks forward to it as each of us is pretty much alone 40 or 50 hours per week. Do it for yourself.