Scientific Meetings, Networking, The Male Gaze and, well, um, Thingmabobs...

Sep 11 2008 Published by under Tribe of Science

Annual scientific meetings have many purposes. One of the most essential purposes that cannot be readily accomplished by other means is the initiation and development of inter-personal relationships. Call it networking, schmoozing or whatever you like. As with any other human enterprise, there are many aspects that are improved by meeting other people face to face and becoming acquainted with them.
There is an aspect of scientific meetings, however, that always presents a very difficult problem for YHN (see Figure 1).


SfNBadge.jpg
Figure 1: Typical Scientific Meeting Badge

Figure 1 depicts an artists' rendition of a typical scientific meeting badge, in this case for our intrepid heroine's participation in the Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. (Are you attending, Dear Reader?)
The meeting badge is a great tool for the absent minded, such as myself. Now we all have a large list of scientific colleagues whom we know fairly well and cannot possibly forget their names. There is also a list of colleagues we have "met" at various meetings, seminar trips, etc on only a single occasion and so it is no social gaffe to re-introduce ourselves. This leaves another very large list of people who's names we should probably know. Perhaps because we have met them repeatedly, because they are a very senior figure or because we were introduced just 10 minutes ago two aisles over at a different poster. Perhaps because we are simply experiencing a brief moment of retrieval failure. In any case, a failure to remember a name can be a little bit awkward. A single surreptitious glance at the badge and, bammo, social awkwardness deftly avoided. Good things, these name badges.

Not seeing my problem yet? No? Okay, let me go on a bit of a bloggy tangent.

Did you see this bit of advice Samia gave to her fellow undergraduates?

Look nice, be nice, speak nicely. This appears to be more important for females than males, but such is reality. Don't dress sexy; there is nothing more awkward than professor eyes on your boobs.

Good point. For both parties really. And we don't just have to limit this to the office hours visit. Right?

Did you read all the "male gaze is inexorably drawn to the bustline" business over at Zuska's place (and Greg's and Isis')? Read the comments?

Now the problem is this. First, score me as someone who is really not that keen on appearing to be staring at teh boobies in any sort of professional setting. Second, score me as someone who is aware that appearing to be staring at teh boobies in a professional setting is really, really off putting to the person you are speaking with. Third, score me as a lame brain who cannot remember names that easily. Fourth, score me as someone who wishes to be encouraging to any scientists more junior than me and to act as if I include them in my mental sphere of players in my subfield. Fifth....well, you take the point. I'm very frequently feeling a need to get a name from the badge (see Figure 1).

I find it nearly impossible to do so when I am already engaged with the fellow scientist. It is bad enough that one doesn't remember their name so one has to take a quick glance anyway to avoid being busted checking. I mean, it kind of defeats the purpose to drop your gaze to check the name, doesn't it? So you sort of sneak a look and hope the badge isn't turned around backwards (47% of the time, it is).

My little problem is particularly acute when the other scientist is a woman.

Still confused due to my characteristically incomprehensible prose? Okay, how about the following rendition of the problem?
SfNBadge2-300.jpg
Figure 2: Typical Placement of Scientific Meeting Badge
(h/t: Isis)

The typical placement of the scientific meeting badge is depicted in Figure 2. A review of the figure should make it obvious that the goal of extracting the subject's name from the badge is sometimes in conflict with a desire not to appear to be leering.

I have not yet found a reliable solution to this pressing problem. Any suggestions from the commentariat are welcome.

47 responses so far

  • River Tam says:

    Absolutely hysterical and true! I actually wear my name tag on my hip a lot. It serves multiple entertainment purposes: 1) I can weed out the real boob gazers from the name-tag lookers and 2) it's always funny when they try to glance subtly for the name tag around my neck, realize they're screwed, and their eyes start darting around frantically looking for it.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    You are evil, RT!

  • Samia says:

    Or you could just ask the woman what her name is instead of staring at her shirt while she's talking to you. I introduce myself early in a conversation. My name sounds strange to most non-Muslims so I'm used to repeating it often. Most people won't mind if you have to ask again. When *I* look at someone's nametag during a lull in the conversation and they notice me doing it, I say something like "I'm sorry, I didn't remember your name" to clear up any confusion.
    I'm not understanding the Boob-Staring Wars on other people's blogs. I really had no idea there was that much to say about the subject, but more power to them. My comments about dress and manner were referring to overtly sexy dress when meeting with a professor/scientist. It's just not appropriate, so I don't do it. But if I look really good in a particular sweater (and I usually do), I ain't apologizing for it and I trust a professional to act professionally. Imagine that.
    Incidentally, I'm planning a networking-related post directed towards females.

  • Lora says:

    Several workable options:
    -Wait for someone else to say the person's name, until then address the person as a generic "she," "he" or "you."
    -Ask for a business card. Refer to it as necessary; if you need to cover your obvious glance, use the business card as a point of conversation: "Oh, you're from University of Wherever! Do you know..."
    -I often don't remember people's actual names but give them nicknames in my head. 90% of the time, these nicknames are not offensive and the people who I call by these nicknames are...uh, well, let's just say you probably wouldn't get too offended if I called you "DM" in real life. Lookin' through my Rolodex here, I have The Nice ChemEng Guy of Tufts U., the Reactor Mixing Guy, Vinnie's Friend at Genzyme, MT Optics Expert...you get the picture. They're probably all named Chris or Dan anyway.
    -In poster sessions, glance at the poster. Otherwise, ask them if they are presenting at any of the sessions, which one, and flip to their abstract in the program. Then make some "oh, how interesting!" comment.
    -Don't be afraid to say, "I'm sorry, I'm terrible with names and I've forgotten yours already." It's less of a social gaffe to ask to be reminded of a name than it is to be caught glancing at the twins.

  • Stephanie Z says:

    Once you're self-conscious about it, you're pretty much doomed. I hope you don't blush easily.
    That said, shake hands when you first talk to someone you recognize and make sure your eyes follow your hand. You've got two chances, one on the way down and one on the way up, to read the name.
    Make a point that involves looking away. She's likely to follow your gaze, which lets you sneak a peek from the corner of your eye before turning your head back.
    Find a reason to have to noticably check where she's located. An affiliation is a much less embarrassing thing to forget than a name.
    If all else fails, get right up to the point of using her name before checking and apologizing. Have to actually break into what you're saying. It emphasizes that you should know it and that this is your memory playing tricks on you.
    One note: these are all offered in good faith, and I trust that you'll only use them when you forget a name.

  • ecogeofemme says:

    I think there's more to it than just forgetting a name. Often people check out badges so they can meet someone in person who they only know from papers or something. So just relying on other name remembering tricks doesn't solve the problem.
    I rarely catch anyone checking out my tuds, but to help the potentially awkward conference situation I usually tie my lanyard shorter so the name tag is up high like where a normal necklace would be. The other person still has to glance at my chest, but it's clear to me what is being looked at and it probably makes the other person more comfortable. Actually, I started doing this because I'm really short; long lanyards make the name tag hang somewhere around my crotch, which doesn't help anyone!

  • Markus says:

    Oh great. I'm bad with names as it is. I don't need this extra pressure. Fortunately I don't go to a lot of badged events.

  • The name badge may also denote professional titles and departmental affiliation. But why wear a name badge and not expect others to look at it anyway? Many people have trouble with names and need a reminder.
    I always wear my name badge down low, next to my codpiece. Wait, what? Wearing a codpiece in a professional setting is inconsiderate and unprofessional? Well so is a plunging neckline.

  • EGF: tuds??!! In my world a TUD is a Totally Unnecessary Drink.

  • NM says:

    Then again if the emminent scientist in Figure 2 doesn't like guys staring at her cleavage then she probably shouldn't go to a conference dressed as a Venetian courtesan.

  • Cherish says:

    I think women ought to carefully tuck their name badges into the edge of the lower-most part of the neckline, covering any unintended cleavage. This gives the men a way out of getting busted when leering while frustrating them that there is more coverage than they'd hoped.
    What I find irritating is when people have obviously been looking at my name badge but can't remember my name or any other relevant information therein...cuz then I know they weren't looking at the badge.
    Great post. 🙂

  • Greg Laden says:

    1) Women at conferences need to (and generally do) figure this out. Forget this hanging around the neck things. They were designed to curtail boob-staring but they don't work because the eyes have to go past the boobs and as you say almost half the time they are turned around. However, all modern badges come with the option of the pin or the hanging lanyard (really, look closely in your conference pack, you'll see, and ao you put the badge, using the pin, high up in the hyperboobie zone and you don't wear a low cut top.
    2) Alternative solution: (Stolen and modified from Kurt Vonnegut Jr) All people should share a very small number of names. For example, all self identified males at the conference can be either Greg or Drug Monkey. All self identified females can be either Samia or Stephanie. That is a lot easier to remember.

  • Becca says:

    For name-badges with clips, I clip them as high as possible (and frequently ignore perilously long lanyards- which not only put name badges where my non-visable cleavage would be, but get caught in my coffee).
    For name-badges that are actually name tags (stickers) I sometimes smack them on my shoulder, facing semi-sideways.

  • drdrA says:

    Very funny- mostly the stumbling around not getting to the point because of embarrassment over using the slang or anatomically correct terms. Isis could probably teach you a thing or two.
    I hate wearing the name badge around my neck, for this exact reason. I wear it on my hip and sometimes I take it off the lanyard and pin it to my blouse- Otherwise I just make a point of shaking hands, looking people in the eye and telling people my name, at which point I show them the name badge as well.
    But I have to say one more thing about low cut clothing in the workplace/ at meetings- I'm all for femininity- but there is a limit- this is a business and everyone should behave as such. For some time I was the only a. woman, b.

  • Ahcuah says:

    Solution: have them tattoo their names on their foreheads.

  • drdrA says:

    oops... missed the middle of the comment..
    For some time I was the only a. woman and b. less than 50 year old person on the faculty in my department. There is no reason I need to display my femininity for these people. Period.

  • I wear my name badge nestled firmly between my D-cups. I consider it my gift to humanity.

  • Stephanie Z says:

    Isis, that's just not comfortable for me. How do you keep it from chafing?

  • Wow, that's weird. I just bind my breasts Shakespeare-in-Love-style for meetings.
    Or, I pin the badge.

  • ecogeofemme says:

    Cath, when is a drink totally unnecessary?
    Tud is my favorite slang word for breasts. A friend and I came up with it (although I'm sure others have coined the same or similar word) so I don't find it offensive. Though I bet some people are offended when I say it. 🙂

  • Vaseline, Stephanie. Vaseline.

  • Kevin says:

    Why not go for off-center using the pin? People rarely ogle just the right boob, no?
    And DM - at least you have good eyesight or wear proper glasses. I have to catch myself from leaning closer sometimes.

  • A terrific post.
    In the boobie wars ongoing at other blogs, folks have remarked about how women don't go around ogling at or grabbing men's penises. But, indeed, it is rare for men to have half of their penis peeking above their garments (unless my patented idea for V-necked trousers catches on - maybe there's a reason my day job is in science).
    My finest Ph.D. student was also possessed of what some men (and some women, not that there's anything wrong with that) may consider desirable breasts. She noted to me that she used that attribute to screen out potential postdoc mentors by how much time they paid to her chest vs. her poster.

  • Kim says:

    A quick glance at a name badge is pretty easy to distinguish from a leer. Glance at face, glance down, glance at face again. If the nametags use too small of a font to work with a quick glance, then they're useless anyways.

  • Sven DIMilo says:

    Oh, I stopped trying to find, learn, or use people's names a long time ago. All males are "Dude" and all females are "Chica." Problem solved.

  • Whee says:

    I tie a knot in the back of my lanyard to raise the nametag up and away from the boobage area. It doesn't take that much skill to come up with a solution, DM. 🙂
    I'm going to SFN. One of these days maybe you guys can set up a vendor booth meet'n'greet. With PP's food.

  • leigh says:

    i usually opt for the pin, and then i put the nametag up toward the shoulder zone.
    most of the nice, dressy shirts i have found that are v-necks are a little too low cut. i've found myself looking for a cheap, nice undershirt to keep from appearing trashy.
    what i find to be personally very awkward is that i have a hard time maintaining eye contact and i often end up staring at someone's chin. i'm also a little above average height, so when staring at someone's chin who is shorter than me, the angle of my glance doesn't look too good. not that i don't appreciate nice boobs- but i've got my own pair and don't really need to stare at anyone else's.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    ROFLMAO...ALL of you! Thanks for playing. ooooh boy.
    One of these days maybe you guys can set up a vendor booth meet'n'greet.
    ha! you have a seriously disturbed impression of our compensation in these parts.
    i'm also a little above average height, so when staring at someone's chin who is shorter than me, the angle of my glance doesn't look too good.
    You know most males are above average female height, right? the angle rarely looks good...
    It doesn't take that much skill to come up with a solution, DM.
    so...you want me for to reach back and knot someone's lanyard for 'em..?
    at least you have good eyesight or wear proper glasses. I have to catch myself from leaning closer sometimes.
    maybe that's my other problem...
    People rarely ogle just the right boob, no?
    hmm, good question. maybe Cog Daily can find us a study of exactly where the sneaky peeks land?
    Isis could probably teach you a thing or two.
    She does every post I read, double-D drdr.
    What I find irritating is when people have obviously been looking at my name badge but can't remember my name or any other relevant information therein...cuz then I know they weren't looking at the badge.
    but...but, your badge was turned backwards...I SWEAR!
    I always wear my name badge down low, next to my codpiece.
    Does one wear that with Abel's V-waisted trousers?
    I trust that you'll only use them when you forget a name.
    Why..whatever else would such tricks be useful for?
    I'm not understanding the Boob-Staring Wars on other people's blogs. I really had no idea there was that much to say about the subject, but more power to them.
    See, now that is the true beauty of the Academic discussion. You got your textual surface, about eight layers of subtext and..best of all, what it is really about* is taking the mickey out of your departmental or subfield rivals. good times.
    *despite the fact that the level of vitriol in the BoobyWarz is greatly enhanced by pre-existing inter-personal friction** there are serious points being made and valuable contributions to read. another delicious duality of the Academic discussion I would submit...
    **I am in the enviable position of agreeing with my traditional opponents on at least one critical point of discussion on this one, hence I get to stay out of it*** for the most part.
    ***of course I can't really help it, hence this post

  • yolio says:

    A vexing issue indeed. The blouses I wear at conferences usually cost me actual money in order for me to find something that simulatneously covers my D cups, looks professional and isn't the most uncomfortable stifling hot thing ever. Therefore, I am loathe to stick a pin in it. Sometimes there are clippy businesses that work okay, but not usually great. I like the lanyard. I wear it a length just above my belly button. When I introduce myself, I hold it up at chin level.

  • csrster says:

    One of my few female colleagues (I'm a programmer, dammit) has taken to wearing a t-shirt featuring a demotivator with a long caption in a very small font. She had to acknowledge the justice of my referring to it as a "please stare at my breasts t-shirt".

  • Lora says:

    Gosh, Isis, I wish I had your...**meaningful pause**...courage. Personally, I pin the badge to my conference-issue tote bag, since I don't want to obstruct the view.
    Anyway, you use violin rosin, false eyelash glue, or double-stick tape, not Vaseline. Vaseline will make the tag slide down and poke the pointy bits, plus it completely ruins a silk blouse. Just sayin'.
    Am I the only one who has been to little bitty regional seminars and conferences where they have last-minute first-day registration--the kind where they hand people name tags and a pen and say, "Here, write your name on this" except nobody ever does, and you end up with a significant number of people with blank tags wandering around? I must also be the only white woman who attends international or SAPA conferences, where everyone's name is written in an alphabet I don't read. I stopped trying to read name tags long ago.

  • Greg Laden says:

    Drugmonkey said:
    " * ... ** ... *** ..."
    Brilliant. I love footnotes. Got a little dizzy near the end, though.

  • neurowoman says:

    very funny. I second the tying-the-lanyard-shorter solution, been doing that at SFN for years. I try hard to avoid low-cut blouses but it's difficult to find things these days, especially now the previously ample bosom is supplemented by nursing mode. Pinning a badge doesn't work well on the light-flowy fabric that most non-broadcloth blouses are made of these days. A practical and useful thing I've found lately is a thing called a winkee (google it), a bra attachment that covers the cleavage zone. It would have been useful during job interviews, where a new blouse I was wearing required an emergency binder clip, which ended up poking out during my interview with the college president (who to his credit, did not have wandering eyes...) sigh.

  • Lora, it is crazy talk to glue something to your boobies. Crazy talk.

  • Interrobang says:

    Any kind of conference like that I've been to, I usually wind up pinning the bloody thing to my lapel. Being as I'm always cold, I'm almost always wearing a jacket, even indoors in the summer (bloody air conditioning). No holes in the (expensive) blouse, and and putative boob-gawkers are easy to spot, because they're about 45 degrees off...

  • Lora says:

    Isis, how could you not? You must have better deportment than me or something.
    See, if you put on such a lovely Venetian costume as pictured and you attend, say, a Renaissance Fair, you quickly learn that in a jostling, bumping, semi-inebriated crowd, there are ample opportunities for inadvertent indecent exposure. In order to keep the lady bits honorably undercover, you must resort to some sort of adhesive. Otherwise, you'll be air-conditioned after one good bounce.
    The first one of you boys who suddenly decides you're heading to the local RenFest this weekend is a scumbag. Ya rly.

  • cashmoney says:

    The first one of you boys who suddenly decides you're heading to the local RenFest this weekend is a scumbag.
    Sorry to all the tuds, twins, et alia but even this troll isn't sufficient to make a RenFair look attractive. sheeesh. Next thing you'll be saying those bloggerz meetup geekfests are worthwhile...

  • DrugMonkey says:

    the kind where they hand people name tags and a pen and say, "Here, write your name on this" except nobody ever does, and you end up with a significant number of people with blank tags wandering around?
    No, no I can't say I've ever run across this. Neuroscience geeks flooding Bourbon street with their badges on? Heck, yeah. But blank badges? hmmmmm.

  • Stephanie Z says:

    Lora, that is a professionally made costume. Unless there's a banana (yes, that's the technical term for the built-in shelf), that look depends on lacing that takes very strong hands and barely leaves room for breathing--known locally as getting a visit from the cleavage fairy. There is no room for bouncing, just a bit of jiggling across the top.
    Speaking of locally, if you don't want people to know where you're from, it's always RenFair. Unless it's changed recently, there's only one place in the U.S. that refers to it as Festival.

  • NeuroStudent says:

    Generally you can tell when someone is looking at your name tag at SfN--it's very distinctive & is probably a reflex for some--if there's been ogling I've been blissfully unaware of it. At least the font on the name tags for SfN is large enough to read without having to pick up the name tag and hold it 2-3 inches from your face (an experience I had with a famous PI at a small conference this past spring...umm...it was weird).

  • joolya says:

    I always hang my badge from my hip pocket because I feel like a giant tool with the badge hanging around my neck. Still reasonably visible and not likely to be interfered with by the secondary sexual characteristics.
    This strategy is not a great one for the males in the room, however. Unless they are particularly cheeky.
    That said, I think the bar for social niceties at your average poster session is set pretty low already. In the bar, feel free to take that name badge off!

  • Alexandra Lynch says:

    re #37- No, you don't fall out with that look. I wear those costumes part time. It is achieved with a combination of tailoring of the bodice and lacing the closure shut, and compresses/lifts the way a sports bra does. Nothing is going anywhere, no matter how much you are endowed with. (They're very comfortable; I prefer them to the modern support systems available.)
    I am of the school of thought that my breasts do enough attention getting on their own, and pin/put my name badges up on my left collarbone, pretty much. The name then registers in the same glance with the face, and it's out of my way.
    And I don't get bothered by simple looks. I get bothered by the person who is clearly working out what color my underwear is likely to be, as well as how best to talk me into a private view, and simply hasn't articulated any of this yet.

  • BB says:

    I am so wearing that dress to my next meeting.

  • Namnezia says:

    Maybe conference organizers should hand out head-bands to attach the badge on your forehead. If everyone does it, then the awkwardness would be minor.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Headbands! Now why didn't I think of that?

  • Lab Lemming says:

    Nametag belt buckles.

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