Sunday, August 21, 2011
I then asked the students about their interests and what their research projects were about. They were soon joined by other women, professors and students, all of whom were apparently fans of my work. We had a great time exchanging stories about our work and experiences (problems, triumphs).
Anyway, this was the first time I've ever experienced this--being asked to have my picture taken with someone...a stranger. I have been approached by students before who liked my papers and wanted to meet me. The request for a photo was new, though. It seemed awkward from my viewpoint, because I do not know this student. However, I realized that she felt she knew me through my papers and especially just having heard me give a presentation. So, it makes sense, I suppose, to want to have a photo of me. I'm not sure what she will do with this photo. Keep it on her computer desktop as encouragement through her graduate program?
I relate this story to make a point, which is that we often don't know how much our research articles influence others, especially students and junior scientists. It's only when they come up to us at meetings and tell us about the impact our work has had on them personally that it becomes apparent.
These students (and their female professors) explained that they followed my work and looked forward to each new paper. They also explained that they had been encouraged (by my work) to pursue a particular area of research themselves. I hesitate to use the term, role-model, but that was what I was thinking when they were explaining how they viewed me and my publications. I had not thought of being a role-model in this way before...for strangers I may never meet or meet only briefly.
Is it better to meet someone you admire (who perhaps will not live up to your expectations) or never meet and maintain your mental image of them?
I recall meeting a Famous Scientist early in my career, someone whose work I admired, and being quite shocked to discover what a jerk he was. It may have been better had I never met him, as I could never look at his papers with quite the same admiration after meeting him.
On the other hand, I've met scientists whose work I had followed for years and who turned out to be great people and very supportive. Some have become good friends over the years.