Thursday, January 22, 2009

The value of having an alter ego

I once saw an interview with Beyonce where she explained that that she had created a separate name for her stage-self because the person she needed to be on stage was so different from how she saw herself.

I totally get this. I too have an alter ego and she is much better at being a professor than I am.  You see, I find talking to people...draining. I can't explain it any better than that. Talking to people takes a lot of thought on my part, and often involves conversations in my head like, "Okay, what would a normal person say at this point?....pause....oh I should probably ask how their family is doing". It's draining maintaining a conversation not only with someone but also in your head about what you should or should not be saying. As I have recently discovered, however, talking to strangers is a common, actually daily, part of my job. Whether it is students at office hours, my new graduate students, scientists at other universities, attending meetings, there really isn't any aspect of this job that doesn't seem to involve me having conversations I would rather avoid.

So, what is a poor anti-social misfit to do? Like Beyonce, I have created an alter ego: Professor Chaos. She is my professional persona. When in a conversation with a big name scientist, Professor Chaos knows she's doing interesting novel science that is relevant and interesting. She also knows she's smart enough to maintain a scientific conversation with Professor Bigwig. She knows that speaking her mind will not cause everyone to suddenly realize she's an idiot. She gives confident lectures and seminars. She converses with colleagues with ease and grace (mostly).  And when she is done, she is folded back into her box and River Tam reemerges (often a little freaked out and wondering if Professor Chaos just embarrassed her by making her sound like an idiot). The trick of course, is figuring out exactly how to construct an appropriate alter ego. After all, one wrong turn, and I could be giving my seminars like this:

image

While this persona seems to works very well for a musical superstar, I suspect that it might take my scientific reputation down a pathway I would rather it not go!

7 comments:

Isis the Scientist said...

I give seminars dressed exactly like that.

Anonymous said...

Talking to people is draining indeed. wha wha wha. I don't particularly care about X, Y, Z or the data troubleshooting gibber around the water cooler. I go to work to do my work, not to hang out making small talk. Plus the small talk seems to distract me away from own sciency thoughts. The small talk's purpose is ego stroking and I don't do it.

My non-work personality is different than my work personality. I have to be ruthless at work or I will get pasted to the wall so fast my ass would spin. People who meet me out of class or on the street usually think I'm just another girl next door type. It's weird and I don't like having the alter ego switch, but it keeps me sane some times.

DocElectron said...

I understand the need for an alter ego myself... It helps get me through those times when I'm going outside my comfort zone, such as times when I talk to people.

yolio said...

What you describe is the norm rather than the exception, I think. This is why those section meeting parties @ ESA are so in-creh-duh-blee awkward.

On my most recent visit to the airport, I succumbed to the hype and bought a copy of "the art of conversation." It is an odd, odd book. Full of dense, chatty grammatically incorrect sentences and indecipherable slang that I assume is british. Still, I am charmed by it. Anyway, she has loads to say about small talk: the how's the why's and the mis-steps. Probably I am being a terrible bore by changing the subject to myself instead of asking about your Beyonce affinity.

Karina said...

What an interesting idea. I never exactly thought about my professional self that way, but I do have to give myself little pep talks about being calm and confident instead of doubtful and rambling. Perhaps I should think of it as stepping into my Super Scientist suit. I wonder what the suit would look like...

Candid Engineer said...

I have very little problem talking to people, but the issue is that I often say things that are entirely not normal. I'm trying to convince myself that it is possible to be a professor under such circumstances, I will just have to be one of the weird ones. Because for me, it would be entirely too exhausting to have an alter-ego. And I'd probably get confused.

nick trujillo/gory bateson said...

Hello Professor Chaos and other alter egos out there. I'm Professor Nick Trujillo (really), but my internet alter ego is Gory Bateson, the lead singer of the mythic band The Ethnogs. Trujillo is doing a study of people with internet alter egos and would like to interview Professor Chaos and others. If you are interested, please contact him at: nickt@csus.edu.

Thanks! nt/GB