That was a surprisingly rookie mistake that I made. It's something that one would expect from a newly minted Ph.D. or a senior grad student. All academics are always just a little too keen to talk about their own research projects, but new Ph.D.'s haven't realized yet that talking about one's research is all about "time and place."
Going on and on in a classroom is one example, but it's hardly the only one. If given even the slightest encouragement, new Ph.D.'s will talk for hours about their current projects without stopping for a breath. During these times, they become oblivious to social cues that the conversation needs to go in another direction. You could tap your foot, look around the room furtively, stare longingly into your empty cocktail glass, or even light yourself on fire. When they are in the zone, there is nothing that will stop them from outlining their current research agenda.
So that you won’t have to resort to self-immolation, I want to give you some handy tips should you find yourself at a cocktail party with a brand-new academic. Actually, you should avoid asking these questions of any academic unless you want to lose the next half hour of your life listening to them:
What do you research?
I always wondered about the difference between [any topic] and [any topic]?
When you are not teaching, what do you do?
I was thinking about reading something in [whatever field of the academic in front of you]. Can you suggest something?
What inspired you to become an academic?
What’s your name?
Those are just questions to avoid being bored. We academics are also a sensitive crew. These are things you should avoid asking unless you want to really piss off a recent Ph.D.
The last time that you walked out into the sunshine, did it hurt?
Do you think that anybody will actually read that?
Have you thought about what you are going to do when you are denied tenure? Or, er, I mean if you are denied tenure?
Aren't you [name of another professor in same field]? Your work is genius!
Wait – Are we just talking about your first footnote? ‘Cuz I am not sensing there’s enough in that story to make a whole article/book.
Look, I am just trying to order a burger and fries here.
Nobody invited you to your highschool prom, did they?
My life suddenly feels a lot shorter after listening to you.
Wow – I can tell how devoted you are to this project given how little attention you have given to your appearance.
What would you have done if you had a real job?
Huh – You smell like a library. (**Warning:** Senior professors will interpret this as a come-on).
Yeah, but will you write anything important?
I just read an article/book about that exact same research topic – only it was a lot more interesting than they way you are describing it.
Now I understand why they never make television shows about academics.
They always say those who can’t do, teach. Maybe you can ask for extra classes next term.
Wow – I can’t imagine spending my twenties in grad school working on something like that. I was way too busy having lots of fun at that age. I mean, you have a Ph.D.! All I have are some truly excellent memories that will last a lifetime and a sexual history that would have made Kinsey blush.
You remind me of a prof I had in college. We used to call him old marble nose. I think that he died alone.
They will publish almost anything today, won’t they?
Oh, I get it! So your next project will be the interesting one, right?
And my tax dollars actually pays for part of this?
I only trust academics who appear on Sunday-morning talk shows.
But could that story ever be made into a movie?
Have you ever had sex? Ever?
Than again, maybe you will meet one of the [very] few sexy academics. If that is the case, here are several lines that will guarantee that prof will follow you to the bedroom:
I wish that [renowned scholar in the same field] had talked to you before writing that last book. It would have been so much better with your insight.
Tell me more about your research. I could listen to you talk all night!
Your gravitas is so refreshing.
Your c.v. must be really long.
I am surprised that you are not teaching at [name of more prestigious university (and there is always a more prestigious university)]!
If there is one thing that you are absolutely not, it's socially awkward!
If you give me a night, I bet that I will make it into your next article’s acknowlegements.
If I had professors like you in college, I would have gone to graduate school for sure.
I would love to see your rare editions.
Let’s go to my place and have sex now.