At the recent ASA conference in San Francisco, I was reminded that, as audience members, professors are typically no better, and in some cases much worse, than students. I am continually amazed during presentations when professors enter late, talk among themselves, and leave early. I’m also amazed that these professors do not appear to connect their disrespectful behavior to that of their students.
I suspect that they fail to make this connection because they do not believe they are being disrespectful. Rather, the professors who enter a room late probably believe that they were doing Something Important, those who talk to others during a presentation probably believe that they are discussing Something Important, and those who leave early probably believe that they have Something Important to get to. At a conference, these Important Things may be discussions of research but they are just as likely to be discussions with the other survivors of one’s graduate program.
In this way, students are not as different as they may seem. When students enter a class late, talk during class, or leave early they sometimes have what we consider good reasons. Maybe they were meeting with another professor after class, clarifying something we had discussed, or needed to get to work on time. In other cases, however, we fail to see the value in student activities. Students may have been talking to friends in the hallway, discussing plans for the weekend, or trying to get to the cafeteria early. Like the professors catching up at old times during a session at ASA, though, students consider these to be Important Things. Thus, the difference between important and inane, networking and nonsense appears to be a Ph.D.