Friday, October 12, 2012

The Meet-the-Speaker Paradox

When you are young and relatively penniless you may have a great need for credit, for instance to buy a car or pay for school or perhaps start up a small enterprise. But, being young and without a lot of credit history, your creditworthiness is not going to be particularly high, making it hard to get good credit.

Fast forward 20-30 years and you earn a good salary, you have perhaps paid off a house, college loans are history, you have savings. Your creditworthiness is great and everyone seems like they would be delighted to give you credit, which you now have no need for.

Time of the day is a little bit like credit -- when you need people to give it to you, no one will. Once it is no longer important to you, everyone is racing to give you some.

I am hosting a visitor next week and I am again reminded how darn hard it is to populate a visitor's schedule. Most often, sending out emails with the abstract and biosketch results in very few people willing to meet the speaker. Then I have to send out individual emails, virtually pulling colleagues by the sleeve to meet with the guest. Other people do it too, and I tend to relent when the host pleads that I see their guest for 30 min.

For most visiting speakers, it's fairly challenging to fill up their day with meetings, and it's hardest when the speaker is a young assistant professor, who actually really needs the exposure that travel brings. Alas, since they are young, no one knows them and no one wants to bestow their precious time on them.

Therein lies the Meet-the-Speaker Paradox: Professor GreyBeard, who is exceedingly unlikely to benefit in any discernible way from visiting your illustrious institution, will have hordes of people wanting to meet with him and shake his hand and tell him how awesome he is and by-the-way-this-is-what-I-do. There will be standing-room only at his talk, even if the talk is incomprehensible/boring/covers really old work. But for young people, whose careers literally may depend on making connections and giving enough of these lectures, it is a real drag getting enough volunteers to  populate the schedule. This is the main reason I have become gun-shy about inviting people over to give a talk. I don't want to host too many people in order to avoid wearing thin the patience of those colleagues who kindly agree to most of my meet-the-speaker requests. Having been very disappointed on occasion in the past, when I was the speaker, by very scarce schedules because my hosts didn't want to bother, when I do invite someone these days, I go to great lengths to ensure the speaker is very busy throughout the visit, because busy means appreciated: you feel great at the end of an exhausting day, which you spent talking to many smart people about their science and showing them your own cool work. Maybe the young people's "meeting-worthiness" isn't as stratospheric as a GreyBeard's, but I still like to treat all my guests like it is.


Alex said...

I also have problems filling visitor itineraries. Strangely, I even have trouble filling itineraries for people who (I think) are reasonably famous.

OTOH, there are certain people who will meet with a speaker if they think they might have something personal in common and have an enjoyable time over coffee. On one level I sort of get that, but on another level I kind of wish they'd engage their friendly, socially-oriented personality with other visitors, and maybe think about the value of making connections. Even non-famous visitors might, you know, sit on editorial boards, or conference program committees, or grant review panels, or graduate student admissions committees (some cow-orkers are obsessed with sending more students to grad programs).

But if all you want to do is teach your load and go home, I guess that networking doesn't matter.

Anonymous said...

We see the same phenomenon here. In my department we take turns hosting the department seminar. We have a colleague who always demands that such-and-such outside visitor be invited because they will be interesting speakers. But often this person disappears/is rude when the visitor actually shows up, and the poor inviter is left with the task of populating the visitor's schedule!!

Anonymous said...

As a junior faculty, I have had problems getting on people's schedules too!

I am a female junior faculty at an R01 university. Once we had someone I went to grad school with visit the department. He's a couple of years senior to me. I knew him quite well, and we worked together on a paper in grad school, but now we work in different sub-areas of the same field.

When I wrote to his host to say I would like a meeting slot, the host replied to me that he is only allowing work meetings, not social ones!!!!

Anonymous said...

Oh gosh. I'm a grad student and I fear this issue of entertaining a speaker. My adviser and another prof on my committee are co-hosting this professor who I have a good relationship with next week. I've already been asked to play hostess. I am meeting him early just to chat and escorting him to a room where time is set aside to meet graduate students. I am already feeling like I'd better start talking to my friends to get them to come and meet him. Though I'd love to have him all to myself but I know that connections are really important, so I have to get out there and recruit friends. But the good thing is, I hope, that he is speaking the DAY BEFORE so hopefully grad students are impressed enough to come back to talk with him personally.

EliRabett said...

3:42 PM Anon, write to your visitor and ask if he could set some time aside for you.

Hi, I was really looking forward to seeing you again and talking about some projects I have underway which might interest you. I understand from XXX that your schedule will be loaded and he evidently does not realize that we collaborated on a bunch of stuff when we were at YYY so I don't have a slot. If you want to spend a bit of time with me, I would appreciate your asking him to reschedule a bit.