Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Don’t Take a Scientist to Lunch

Agreeing to accompany a scientist to lunch out at a restaurant, or any meal for that matter, is just not a very smart idea.  Everyone knows that scientists have poor social skills to begin with and then all they want to talk about is their work.

I was reminded of these unassailable facts a month or so ago at a business function when, in a weak moment, I agreed to accompany three food safety scientists out for a meal.  Can you even imagine what food scientists talk about when they’re not “on duty?”  That’s the problem – they are never not on duty!  E. Coli this, and salmonella that!   And those are just discussions about that night’s appetizers. There’s norovirus  outbreaks to be discussed over the main course, plus debates over dessert concerning the hidden filth in kitchen cutting boards and the fine art of sanitary hand-washing techniques.  I sat there in silence, wishing I hadn’t ordered anything that is, you know, edible.  And I’m hoping my poker face doesn’t scream out to my colleagues, “I confess, I leave the butter out on the counter! Guilty as charged!”  Of course my grandmother never put her butter away either and she and my grandfather lived well in to their nineties. But you can’t use those kind of true-to-life arguments with food scientists. They just give you that “You nutcase!” scowl. You can’t win.  So it’s better to just stare downwards at your cream of broccoli soup and wonder if swimming E. Coli are actually visible to the naked eye.  A fun lot these food safety folks, to be sure.

But don’t think about going to lunch with a marine biologist either. I had a business partner once who was a fisheries biologist by training and just as you were biting into your haddock fillet he would share with you the life cycle of parasites in supposedly clean ocean fish.  It’s certainly kept me away from most sushi these many years.

Basically, it might be best all around if scientists just ate every meal by themselves, sitting at their lab benches, reading the latest copy of “Science People” magazine and leave this socialization stuff to dynamic and vivacious folks – like accountants.


james said...

Play it safe. Invite physicists.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Dennis, how are geologists as dinner companions?

Gringo said...

Dennis, how are geologists as dinner companions?

The conversation gets off to a rocky start, but after that things are fine.

Which reminds me of the well site geologist on a well in Pakistan who kept finding reasons to keep drilling, as he wanted to keep snogging the tool pusher's wife. {TP= drilling rig foreman.]Tale told me by another geologist- he wasn't the one in the tale.

Sponge-headed ScienceMan said...

AVI and Gringo - Since I'm not a traditional geologist, I don't often find myself hanging around with traditional geologists. To be frank, their specialties and areas of practice often don't interest me all that much. But in general, we geologists are not great conversationalists! We're more like quirky hermits - so in all rights I should be throwing any stones! (pun intended)

Sponge-headed ScienceMan said...

Opps - I meant "I shouldn't be throwing any stones." Dr. AVI - maybe that was really my mean subconscience talking the first time - my true feelings. What do you think?

Gringo said...

Say what you will about geologists, their profession contributes to a rich mine of wordplay and jokes.

Regarding geologists not being great conversationalists: I beg to differ. I had a lot of contact with well site geologists in the oil field. While some may have been more introverted than the average bear, all well site geologists I found to be good conversationalists- both on and off the rig.

It could be that well site geology jobs select for good conversationalists, because in the job one needs to interact with a wide variety of professions. Those geologists who are not good conversationalists probably do not get hired for well site geology in the first place.

Sponge-headed ScienceMan said...

Gringo - "Well" said.

Gringo said...

Can you even imagine what food scientists talk about when they’re not “on duty?” That’s the problem – they are never not on duty! E. Coli this, and salmonella that!

Many scientists and/or academics are always "on duty." All they see is related to their profession. Such single-mindedness is a key to their success in the profession.

However, it can get wearing for those not in the same profession.