Monday, August 15, 2011

Retreat Ettiquette

This past weekend, I attended the annual MSTP retreat: a two-day vacation in the exotic paradise of Wisconsin. Having thoroughly read Emily Post's "Essential Manners for Informal Scientific Conferences Volume III," I was prepared. But so many of my peers were unable to handle the complex mix of faculty, administration, and students. For you, here is a guide for proper conference manners.

1. Listening to presentations

Students have spent years of their lives compiling data, tweaking experiments, and wrestling with personal and professional failure to bring you 15 minutes of science. It is acceptable to fall asleep.

Pictured above: Or, as one of my peers demonstrated, you may also design and draw a tasteful headdress for the current speaker.

2. Talking to faculty

Professors are people, just like you. People that have unlimited power over you and hold your career in their hands like a delicate quail egg. It is best not to inquire as to why they are wearing sandals with jeans.

3. Drinking

As a teetotaler, this is not a problem for me. But for you all, you should remember that the type of alcohol is really key here. While it is very elegant to share a fine scotch with the Assistant Director by the fireplace, it is less graceful to be doing jello-shots with the Dean of Students.

4. Activities

Why not play some sports? Oh, yeah. You are a scientist.

Pictured above: "Hey, do you think we could sample some of the lake E. coli?"


  1. 5. Asking questions

    When obligated to ask a question, two options present themselves. Firstly, you could (but should not) raise your hand like a small child, and participate in a public discussion few people care about, as you are delaying their ability to hit up the snack bar between presentations. If it is absolutely necessary to challenge their findings, do so afterwards, infringing directly on the speaker's time and personal space. This will remind them why one should never volunteer to speak publicly, a necessary lesson often excluded from Ph.D. program curricula.

  2. I would love to have some lake e. coli with my Irish whiskey. . . Would you make it on the rock, please.