The absent-minded professor

My academic adviser always says that there are only two types of women who can be successful in science (and before you jump down her throat for saying it, she is a woman in science): (1) those who are constantly chirpy and cheerful all the time, in spite of unfair treatment and (2) frigid ice queens who are cold, but assertive and ambitious (and scary).

Now, I don’t know if this is true, and in fact I do not want to wade into the debate about women in science.  Being also female, and having faced the various problems associated with it and academia, I will remain mute on the issue until I have a more balanced perspective (i.e. time in academic positions other than “student”).

But when I told my uncle, a professor of economics, this little anecdote, he said, “Oh no, that’s not true at all.  There is also the absent-minded professor,” and he raised an eyebrow at me meaningfully.

“What are you trying to say?” I started to reply suspiciously, then, “Oh, the pie is done!” and I rushed off to the kitchen.  Later, when we were discussing something else entirely, I spouted, “I’m not absent-minded!” (which is a complete lie)

The fact of the matter is that I am not yet a professor, and I may never be one, but I fit the bill of absent-minded professor perfectly.  I am easily distracted and extremely gullible.  (In essence, I am the perfect combination of Doug from Up! and Dori from Finding Nemo.)

I still find comments on this site from months ago that I didn’t respond to, even though I try very hard to respond to every comment.  And though I can be extremely organized and precise when it comes to my work, I am often forgetful and lax when it comes to social engagements and conversations.

It’s kind of funny how I can instantly memorize diagnostic characters on insects, and I know hundreds of plants and animals by two or three names, but when I meet a new person, I struggle to remember their name for longer than 30 seconds.  Sometimes I don’t recognize people I used to know, even if we were fairly good friends!  (There is a name for struggling with facial recognition prosopagnosia, but I doubt I have it because I can identify other things with ease.)

I can memorize long strings of numbers, but I can’t remember the name of that one actor in that one movie about the thing.

My mother tells a story about a scientist who was so involved in thinking about his work that he went for a walk, fell down a man-hole, climbed back out, and ended up back at home without ever noticing that he had fallen.  I am rather like that.  Especially now that I am finishing up and writing my thesis non-stop every day.  I am having great difficulty keeping track of people, places, things, and ideas (i.e. nouns!) outside of my work.

Which is to say, the whole point of this post is that…well, I was going to say…



9 thoughts on “The absent-minded professor

  1. Glad it’s not just me. I often can’t remember plots from films or books I watched/read a couple of months ago. This week I forgot the name of the city I’d spent the weekend visiting and the name of the venue I’m getting married at next year. Terrible.

  2. Oh this is so me too not remembering simple, recent things…. When your professor described the science types, they also exist in my profession too. I think it has most to do with working predominantly in a ‘man’s world’ and putting on fronts where necessary. But I found, I had to be both types depending on to whom I was speaking – or the situation presented. The chirpy bubblehead can get information out of people quite easily, stuff they should not even be spilling. Just playing dumb has its tactical advantages.

    • Hahaha, well for me it is not so much of an act! But I can definitely see how it would be an advantage to wear both hats. I think that is probably a much more accurate assessment than people being just one way or the other all the time!

  3. Hah! Between you, Garden Walk Garden Talk, A French Garden, Emily, RH and many others – my tweets are just about WordPress bloggers! Another great post 🙂

    The absent-minded professor is my favourite kind of academic – and though I’m not a scientist I have an affinity for this type as I constantly forget people’s names and get disproportionately happy about the correct use of adjectival hyphens…

    • Hehehehe, I’m always relieved to hear that I’m not the only one! The other horrible thing I do is to mix up similar sounding (or okay not even that similar sounding) names. Like here are some horrible examples that I can’t keep straight: Kate Middleton vs Kate Moss, Mel Gibson vs Mel Brooks…so embarrassing

  4. Pingback: Adventures of the absent minded professor | standingoutinmyfield

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