I spoke at Northwestern’s proseminar for first-year graduate students yesterday. You know that family dinner scene in Say Anything where Lloyd Dobbler realizes he’s started off badly and tries to talk his way out of it and comes across worse and then tries to talk his way out of that and comes across worse still? That’s me. If only I had been holding a boombox over my head and it was pouring rain in the seminar room, I would have been Lloyd Dobbler exactly. Seriously, by the end I felt like somebody who was coming across like he had just stepped off the mothership, and I’m not talking the P-Funk Mothership.
The proseminar has this peculiar format where the faculty member speaks for a half-hour, then the faculty member leaves and the graduate students stay and talk among themselves for a half hour (then a different faculty member comes in for a half hour). So, as I left, not only was I feeling like a freak but thinking, Great, now they are going to spend the next thirty minutes reveling in what a freak I am. (Or, at least, that’s what I would do if I was a graduate student and somebody came in and gave the stream-of-whoa-this-guy-is-such-a-freak-consciousness spiel I did.)
I came in (slightly) prepared to talk about my research, and to answer the questions based on Inside the Actor’s Studio we had been sent earlier. Instead, I was asked to talk first about advice for graduate students based on my own experience in graduate school, or something like that. Whatever wisdom I think I may have about how to go about graduate school, it’s based far more on watching other people than my actual personal experience, which I would not recommend as a model for anyone and which “worked” for me only through a combination of having a fabulously helpful advisor and a certain kind of headstrong naivete.*
I only spent the last six minutes talking about my research, at which point I was already flustered from feeling the freak-brand burned into my forehead, but I insisted on pressing forward anyway in trying to talk up the graduate seminar on “Genetics and Society” that I am doing this winter quarter. A couple people looked away in that uncomfortable way that jurors face a defendant when the foreman is about to read a guilty verdict. I think I can provide a reasonable statement about why the Received View of genetics in sociology is deficient and stultifying and why the search for better ways of thinking/talking about genetics is both worthwhile and not a sinister stealth-trek toward ideological malevolence. However, when I am already feeling like I’ve come off as mildly maniacal is perhaps not the occasion. It’s not like I was expecting overwhelming –or even merely whelming–interest in the seminar anyway, but I do hope it ends up getting whatever enrollment it needs not to be cancelled. Ugh.
* Anyone around me during my last year of graduate school knows full well why I put the scarequotes around “worked.”