After writing the last post I decided that I hadn’t paid enough attention to what faculty (especially of the senior and VIP nature) do. So, at the receptions I attended this evening I spent some time just observing what the senior folk did. Based upon my observations I would like to lay out the game for faculty (you can tell me if I am wrong).
The object: To visit and have relevant discussions with friends and colleagues while successfully fulfilling your obligations to consort with junior faculty, students, job-seekers and other supplicants. The object of the game is to appear interested and accessible while avoiding being trapped in a quagmire of supplicants. Bonus points if you hear about interesting work or interesting assessments of your own research.
Onset of the game: Upon entrance into the space, at least one supplicant approaches. This person is likely someone known to you but could be just an individual claiming familiarity with and an affinity for your work. During the course of the discussion, there will be a growing density of supplicants in the general vicinity – each not so subtly awaiting a turn to converse with you.
Strategies for exit from the quagmire:
1. Passing the baton – one of the most humane and effective ways to dispense with a supplicant is to pass them off to someone else – another senior person or even student with whom the supplicant shares a personal or research interest.
2. Increasing the n – bringing others, including waiting supplicants, into the conversation decreases the extent to which you are the focus of the discussion. However, if all the other conversants are supplicants, you will still find exit difficult.
3. Turning to an equal status colleague for an exclusive conversation makes it clear to the supplicant that your interaction with them is finished. However, the supplicant may choose not to depart (either in the interests of not being rude or because they don’t get it). In this case you lost points because you have to explicitly dismiss the supplicant from the situation.