Wednesday, February 09, 2011

It's academic.

I stared at the car, caught somewhere between befuddled and amused, as it began to honk at length at the gate that would not open. I knew the driver should back up and use the visitor's exit if he had no card to wave at the reader. The gate only knows it's supposed to open when it sees a card - as an inanimate object, said gate had no awareness of or sympathy for his honking demands.

The older driver looked disgusted with the very idea that the device would not bow to his will and rolled down his window as I approached on a nearby path.

"Hello," I said to him, standing back a bit and bending my knees so I could peer in the window and think that his little bow tie looked rather jaunty even on someone so angry.

"I can't get out," he told me, frowning darkly and I nodded.

"I think you need a card," I replied gently. "Are you visiting?"

"I don't have a card!" He glared and I blinked, surprised at his anger toward me.

"Then you should back up and go over to the booth," I offered more sternly. "The man there may be able to help you." And I frowned back at him because his supposed tenure, academic pedigree and jaunty bow tie were no excuse to be mean to me. So I nodded with what I hope was regal grace when he offered a gruff thank you.

Then I rolled my eyes as I walked in the building for the second afternoon of meetings.

In a room of 60 people, there were 3 of us who were on the young side of age 40. And while I've no doubt that I and my fellow youngsters are smart, the truth of the matter was we bought our way in. Invitations were granted only to the elite in this field, but industry representatives were included but individually uncontrolled. So there I was, representing a powerful company but with meager credentials of my own, taking notes and pausing to think and chatting politely with people whose papers I'd devoured in grad school.

"You," I thought of one man, "write like crap." His speech was as dense and indecipherable as his papers and I spent most of his talk glancing around to see if anyone knew what he was trying to say. But his lab does brilliant work and the conclusions I think I could draw were both relevant and interesting. So I reminded myself that some of the most talented speakers don't have anything of interest to say and sometimes the effort required to understand brilliance is worthwhile - different skill sets are quite important.

I looked around, observing squabbles and underlining points in my notes. And I thought of the people - the endless hours, countless errors and breathtaking feeling of discovery - who stood behind each of the figures presented or points discussed. And realized that until my fellow attendees retired or decided to delegate, subordinates aren't getting invited to these special events.

So I shifted in my uncomfortable chair and glanced around the ugly classroom where we'd met and decided maybe industry isn't so bad after all. Because I have no particular desire to join these meetings again. And wouldn't it have been terrible had I worked a lifetime to get in the door and then immediately wanted to rush out to honk at the gate so I could escape?


Amelie said...

Your last paragraph was funny, at least at first. I do wonder about that, too...

Anthea said...

Yes, I'd agree with Amelie, that your last paragraph was funny at first. I think that many people might be thinking that...that what we've worked for, for so long isn't as we'd expected or had anticipated it to be.

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