My invitation to FTB caught me at a busy time. Last week, I was at the APS March Meeting, which is the largest physics conference in the world of the year. There were about 10,000 attendees, and about 50 simultaneous sessions throughout the week, with no lunch breaks.
Of course, I manage to find break time anyway. Quite frequently, it seems that there is not one single session going on that would be of interest to me. I just wouldn’t understand them.
In previous years, I used to find this very depressing. On my conference app, I’d bookmark all the sessions on superconductivity, which is my area of study. Then I’d sit in on a session, and find that I understood not a single talk, not even a little. And every 12 minutes there would be another talk, and another, and another, for hours. Then I’d try going to a different room focused on superconductivity, and the same thing would happen again.
It’s no wonder that impostor syndrome is so common among physicists.
And who is to say that we’re not impostors? Almost half of physics grad students enter grad school wanting to get university jobs, and we’re strongly encouraged to pursue it. But the reality is that during an average professor’s career, only one of their students could ever come to replace them. All I’m saying is, more is expected out of physics grad students than is mathematically possible. A lot of us really are here on false pretenses.
I got pissed off the other day. Someone said that popularizers of science got to where they are by being mediocre at scientific research. You know, I can guarantee that said popularizers have more publications than I do. And if they are indeed mediocre at research, so what? Not every scientist can be above average. If you really want to listen to successful scientific researchers, I recommend sitting in on a real physics conference until you’re cured of the desire.
I had a more positive experience at March Meeting this year. I’ve gotten better at attending conferences, and not necessarily because I understand more of the talks. Instead, I’ve become better at selecting talks that I’ll understand. I’ve gotten better at taking breaks. And now I understand that the small number of positive interactions with fellow researchers is more important than all the rest.
It does leave me wondering why so many people make their talks incomprehensible. Maybe other people besides me are better at processing talks? Maybe people are just bad at talking? Maybe they’re targeting just those handful of bigshot professors, who presumably understand everything? I for one try to make my talks comprehensible, but I wonder if I’m just as bad as everyone else.
I feel good about my talk though. I got multiple questions, and someone asked me for my business card. I’m gonna blow this high-temperature superconductivity mystery wide open! Chortles all around.