Thursday, December 4, 2008

Being on the circuit

I have been traveling an almost obscene amount recently. My travel these days is almost completely driven by a combination of travel for research collaborations and a sudden spike in invitations to talk at various departments and programs. A senior colleague of mine once complained to me about the travel demands of being on the "the circuit" - the series of seminars and other appearances that professors often get invited to - and told me: "you'll see". I'm definitely seeing something right now and am beginning to suspect that this year marks my official entry on to the circuit.

Being on the circuit has been a double-edged sword for me. On the one hand, I realize that this is a great indication that my science is being noticed. And I realize it's a great "advertising" tool for both me and my science because people come to my seminars who might not otherwise read my work and I get to meet and talk science with people I would not ordinarily get to meet. I understand the subtle psychology of the importance of "being on people's minds" which increases a variety of potential opportunities for me because people invite people to do things who are "on their minds". It's also hugely invaluable because I get to hear about research that people are currently doing but not published yet and learn about areas I may not have been exposed to previously.

The downside is that I HATE traveling. I mean LOATHE. Let me explain - I love traveling around the world seeing new places. I hate the physical act of traveling. Airplanes, cars, trains, they tend to make me physically ill and I am deathly afraid of my plane crashing. (Yes, I know it's not logical). This obviously  makes getting work done while traveling....difficult. My advisor seemed like he was most productive when he was on a plane (which was good because he travels a lot) and General Disarray has written reviews and papers on planes, in shuttles and taxis, and all sorts of other places that I am highly envious of. Unfortunately, I have found that projectile vomiting on to one's laptop tends to be the antithesis of productivity. It also results in high anxiety while traveling. You put yourself in a small enclosed space where you are often severely nauseous and also certain you are going to die and see how often you want to put yourself back in that scenario. Add to this a deep anxiety of talking to strangers, and every time it is time for me to leave on one of these things, General Disarray has to pry my fingers off the doorframe and kick me out the door. Our conversations on the morning of my departure tend to go like this:

Me: I do NOT want to go.

GD: I know, honey, but you have to.

Me (hopefully): No, actually, you could go in my place. It's not too late.

GD: No, actually it is already way too late for that. The ticket is in your name and airport security will never believe I am you.

Me: Oh, God, why do I do this to myself. I so do not want to go. This is going to be awful.

At this point in the conversation, General Disarray would normally resort to some version of "You don't actually dislike these things once you get there, when was the last time one of these things went badly". The truth is he's right. These have not gone badly recently and most of my true horror stories really are confined to my days as a post-doc on job interviews. Recent trips are much less stressful and result in exponentially fewer horror stories. Unfortunately, logic does not always work on me - see reference to fear of my plane crashing above. Recently, General Disarray has been employing an alternative argument which I see as sneaky, underhanded and tends to leave me without response:

GD: You do this because it's important that you do this. Think of all the young female scientists that will be there. For many of them, you may be the only young female assistant professor that has been invited to talk this year. You may even be the only female invited to speak period - regardless of rank. You standing up there giving your kickass talk on your kickass research sends a message that they can do this too and that their department, regardless of whether it has its own gender issues, also has sent a message that they too think young females can do research worthy of giving a talk in their department. So get yourself on that plane and go be a role model.

Shit. He's a clever little bastard. But, that is why I married him.


JaneB said...

I can really realte to hating the travelling! I'm OK with the flying bit, but I get incredibly anxious in airports - a sort of location-specific claustrophobia. I also tend to pick up throat infections all the time when I travel. And I just. hate. travelling. when I'm busy at home - it stresses me out! But General Disarray is right, we all need to do some, especially us women who've made it out of the post-doc stage... that doesn't make it fun though does it??

qaz said...

Prof C -

Two pieces of advice for surviving the circuit:

1. Keep very strict rules about maximum travel (for me it's no more than once per month). This allows you to plan how much life-disruption you're willing to tolerate.

Second, if you travel on one airline (yes, that's brand loyalty - a terrible concept I know), you can accumulate miles on that airline. If you can make it across their first level of status, they suddenly treat you a lot better. It doesn't make traveling pleasant. But it does make it more bearable.

Good luck!

DamnGoodTechnician said...

Amazing - I believe I have had precisely that same conversation with Dr DGT regarding the very small number of conferences I have attended (n = 2). I feel a little vomit-y just thinking of a travel "circuit". ::shudder::

Comrade Physioprof said...

Until you have tenure, you absolutely must accept pretty much every invitation to speak that you receive.

saxifraga said...

I travel a lot. Mainly for research collaborations and administrative meetings, and i'm not good at working on planes, in airports etc. I actually like travelling and the idea of being completely away from everything (when sitting on a plane for example), but it's such a big drain on productivity because i'm always terribly behind on everything when I get back from trips. Sometimes I wish i were one of these people who works well while moving around.