It was, therefore, with some surprise that I opened an email yesterday morning.
Dear Dr. [Katie's Last Name],
I’ve read your very interesting paper on [useful topic] (Very Good Journal that Gave Me a Cover Image) and we would like to move in a similar direction, eventually adding some [other cool techniques.] I’ve some questions. [Insert various technical questions, all of which I could address in an intelligent manner.]
Have you tried to compare your technique with [this other cool technique]? If not, do you have any thoughts on the application?
To make manipulation more easy, did you develop a dedicated software? If you like Italy, I would be happy to invite you to stay some days in our Centre (eventually by the end of this year or in the next Spring), to teach us about your experience. Of course all expenses will be charged to us.
Thanks a lot for the attention. My best wishes,
[Head of Department in Italy]
Regardless of the email, I respond promptly and offer any help I can. For this email though, I spent a moment wearing a silly grin, wildly flattered that when they decided to pursue this avenue of study, they asked me for advice and help and included an offer - however tentative - to visit Italy.
I started a response last night with my typical wordiness. I addressed each question carefully, offering advice and contacts and yielding paragraphs of tips I've collected over the years of doing this work and meeting collaborators. I also included a section that said I was confident I'd like Italy very much indeed and would love to visit if they'd find me useful. I am also pleased to offer advice by phone and email, but being at the point in my career where I have the time and flexibility to travel freely, helping people perfect experiments I don't have the funding to do, I'm hoping they want me to come see them. I very much want to go.
"Are you going to Italy?" M asked tonight. She's so lovely and positive and easy. I wish she could stay for longer - having her around reminds me of how much I love spending time with her.
"They didn't reply yet." I offered, but smiled. It was an ego boost, even if nothing more comes of it. That the head of a department emailed me and copied several other professors. That in addition to a few people in Europe who happen to read my blog, there are those who took the time to read the paper I wrote and revised and revised some more. That they think my approach might work for them and that I might have useful statements to make.
I tend toward thinking nobody wants to know what I think or do. So I quietly go about my work, presenting when asked to do so, but expecting some degree of criticism. I'm pleased to offer my attention to anyone who wants it and am quite grateful for the opportunity to review some of what I know for this group.
"I actually know how to do this stuff." I told M this morning after I sent the email with attached abstracts and book chapter. "I don't know when that happened, but I sort of know what I'm talking about."
And she smiled proudly while she nodded emphatically, the friend who carried me through parts of graduate study. She coaxed me to study and shared homework solutions and notes, soothed me when I grew impatient with labs and walked with me while we traded complaints over homework or labs or colleagues. When she says I'm doing well, I wrinkle my nose and shake my head. It could be so much better. But at her insistence, I'm started to realize that I've made progress. Italians weren't asking me for advice of any sort when I started studying.
Now they did. So I find myself regarding Italy with great affection at this point and will certainly let you know if I get a chance to display those good feelings in person. I find it difficult to believe they'll actually want to pay for a trip to speak to me, but the very thought makes me preen just a bit. So I'll enjoy it while it lasts.