Academia is host to a number of slightly odd personality types. Many of those personality types are delightful, but some are … less so. Fresh off yet another conference, I’ve started making a list of several especially annoying traits, behaviors that will inevitably earn you the title of “that person.” And trust me, you don’t want to be that guy, or that woman. Distinct academic varieties of “that person” include:
1. That person who asks fourteen follow-up questions. Q&A is not a personal dialogue between you and the speaker. If it’s clear that others in the audience have questions too, cede the floor, instead of interrupting the moderator repeatedly in order to push your point.
2. That person who thinks all work is related to what s/he works on. If the paper is on nineteenth-century China, don’t ask why the author hasn’t cited the literature on sixteenth-century England. Do your papers on sixteenth-century England always cite the literature about nineteenth-century China? No? OK, then.
3. That person who asks unnecessarily hostile questions. You may not agree with the speaker’s methodology, or you may think the argument has some holes. These are valid points of criticism, but they are not crimes against humanity. Tone down the outrage, and try not to sound like you’re accusing the speaker of running over your elderly mother in a Humvee.
4. That needy conference guest. OK, I have a bit of an axe to grind on this subject. The last time I was a conference host at GSU, my guests expected me to a. put them up at my place past the conference dates; b. help one of them make travel plans to return to her University, since she had not booked a return trip; and c. arrange for a cab to take them to the train station, because the 15-minute walk was “too far.” By the end of the conference I was starting to feel like Anne Hathaway in “The Devil Wears Prada” (i.e., like a personal assistant).
So grad students, take note: your conference host is not a free hotel/concierge service. Make your own travel plans, call your own cabs, and don’t assume it will be “fine” if you decide you want to stay extra nights. When a stranger has offered to let you crash with hir for free, “low-maintenance” should be the watchword. Otherwise, your host’s stance on future guests from your school may switch from “welcome to my place!” to “never, ever, ever again.”
5. That person with a bone to pick. If I just met you 20 minutes ago, I might not be the best person to hear your story about how Famous Scholar X is “out to get you” and unfairly trashed your grant proposal, and even though the reviews were anonymous, you still totally know it was hir, because s/he is jealous of you and your advisor and is washed up anyway. Especially if Famous Scholar X is currently advising three of the people in the room.
What other kinds of That Person behavior have you noticed? And here’s another question. If someone you know and like is exhibiting That Person behavior, should you call them on it and point out that it’s not doing their reputation any favors?