Monday, October 6, 2008

Uh, because I do research?

I realized the other day that I have started cringing whenever one of my colleagues here at Confused U asks me a particular question. In fact, I have started reacting rather bizarrely in response to this question. It doesn't always play out badly, but it has happened enough lately, that it is causing me some mental angst. To avoid this question, I now deploy my extrasensory conversational detectors and when I sense said question is coming, I perform the conversational equivalent of "Wow, is that Charles Darwin flying through the air with a flock of angels? Oh my, look at the time. Gotta go."

You might be wondering what awful and intrusive question I am apparently being asked. Well, my friends, here it is: "How's your semester going?"

Right about now, I am sure you are quite puzzled. Perhaps I respond badly because my semester is a tragic disaster that I would prefer not to discuss. Perhaps I'm flinchy about accidentally telling my colleagues I'm on the job market. Perhaps I'm an antisocial hermit who hates talking to people. Okay that last one is true, but beside the point. No, the truth is I answer them honestly and the response I frequently receive has begun to agitate me. Here's the conversation:

Random Colleague: Hey River, how's your semester going? You look a little harried.

Me: What? Oh! It's going well (swilling coffee from cup super-glued to my hand),  I'm just really busy right now.

This is when will I know if the conversation is not going to go well. If it is going to go well, then the response to my statement is:

Random Colleague: Ah, yes, I understand. (nods sagely) What all you got going right now?

If it's going to go badly, the response is:

Random Colleague: Ah, yes, I understand. (nods sagely) What class are you teaching this semester?

And then the spiral begins....

Me: Oh, I'm not teaching this semester.

Random Colleague: Oh...(with that puzzled look and tone that says so clearly..."I think you just had seizure because your words make no sense to me")..."uh, so why are you so busy?"

This is where the conversation starts to go really bad. You see, I am lucky in that I have arranged my teaching responsibilities so that I do most of my classroom teaching in one semester, which is not this one. Since I'm currently trying to submit two new manuscripts, revise two other manuscripts for resubmission, apply for jobs, have at least 1 proposal that I need to work on, am actively supervising my very bright and active students, and am on more student committees than I can count on two hands (all of whom seem to be taking their comprehensive exams this semester). Call me crazy, but I feel that I am well-justified to say I am....busy.

And this is when things get awkward, because we blink at each other in shock for a couple of seconds, like we're seeing each other for the first time. On my side, I cannot comprehend how you cannot be insanely busy even if your semester is "only" research, especially since next semester will be primarily sucked up with teaching responsibilities. On their side, it is clear to me that they cannot comprehend how a semester can be considered busy unless one is teaching. Since many of them have the same teaching arrangement I do, it always causes me to wonder why their research semester isn't busy too...

So now I find it much less awkward  if the conversation goes thusly:

Random Colleague: Hey River, how's your semester going? You look a little harried.

Me: What? Oh! It's going well,  (swilling coffee) oh wow, was that a big ball of flame coming from your lab? Well, look at the time! Gotta go!

1 comment:

Comrade Physioprof said...

The only correct response to questions like this is, "Great! How about yours? Good? Excellent! Talk to you later!"