celebrity

Two days ago a student I’m advising came in so that I could look through her literature search for her senior project. She’s looking to bridge the disciplines of math, physics, and Spanish by doing educational case studies with high school students. She doesn’t know what she’s getting into, but that’s okay.

In the literature review, she had copied and pasted into one megadocument the citations and abstracts (and sometimes full text) of articles she pulled up from searches. As I started scrolling through and trolling over that which she’d uprooted, I stopped quickly at a familiar name. “Bhaskar!” I exclaimed. “I know him — he was at my conference.” It was pretentious, perhaps, but I was completely excited. I knew this was good work, and I knew the author. “He was at my conference” had so many great implications I couldn’t stop myself. What’s more, as I continued to scroll through the long list of publications, I continued to find more authors I knew, including two more that had been at “my conference.”

Personally, I still attribute authorship to rock star status. Not for myself, but for other people. I see the latest table of contents of a journal and I look not at the titles but at the names. When I see someone I know I feel like celebrating, proud to know the person whose name is on the byline. In a local newspaper [I use the word “news” loosely] on the inside of the front page are the tidbits about celebrity pregnancies and appearances; I view the announcement of academic publications as the equivalent. So nice to see that Felicia has a new publication in Research in Science Education. I had nothing to do with it, of course, but I feel like her success is something I can feel, just as I’m so happy for Brad and Angelina’s latest family addition.

Yesterday I ended my day with 4 presentations for elementary grades at the neighborhood school. Kids walk in, recognize me from the previous year and start to gush. “You’re the science guy!” I get high fives when I walk the hall as kids are lining up for corn dogs. I set up two rolling wheels down a sloped table so we can see which one wins, and 100 kids cheer because the blue one beats the yellow one.

They cheer. For the blue disk, beating the yellow hoop. Jesus. My college students sit and wonder if it’s going to be on the fucking test. Soon one of them will be administering your colonoscopy.

Earlier that same day I was a guest for the university’s board of trustees monthly meeting. I showed pictures of the kids and my students doing science in the parks; and I got to show off the latest photos of “my conference” and I got to use the words “National” and “Science” and “Foundation” in sequence. And, as luck would have it, sitting in front of each trustee was a stack of meeting minutes, various memos, and the fresh-off-the-press literary magazine. “Oh, and the interview with the former U.S. Poet Laureate on page 2 . . . I did that too.” It was nice to feel like a bit of a celebrity myself.

But it still wasn’t as good as the cheers for the blue disk.

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4 thoughts on “celebrity

  1. When I was a grad student, I presented my very first poster at my very first AAS meeting in Madison, WI. I was standing there nervously, not knowing what to expect. John was nearby, being moral support. A guy walks by, and I read his name badge, and grab John’s arm in excitement.

    ‘That’s Sun Kwok!’, I whispered.

    ‘Who?’, he said.

    I rolled my eyes. Imagine! Not knowing who Sun Kwok was! Anybody who didn’t know who Sun Kwok was, was barely worth talking to… poor John. He still teases me about it.

    Later, Sun came around to ask me about my poster. I was star-struck, and could barely answer even the questions I understood!

    Years later, I ran into him at a mini-conference. He’d been brought down to earth by then… or I’d elevated my opinion of myself, one or the other. We had a nice little discussion about the state of the field, and it wasn’t til later that I remembered his super-star status. Still, when I see he’s written a new paper, I go out of my way to read it.

    All this by way of saying that everybody’s a celebrity to somebody. You’re lucky that you get to be a superstar to little kids AND college students AND your colleagues! And none of them annoyingly chase you with cameras, like poor Brangelina! Oh, except that one guy from University relations… but we’ll pretend we don’t see him.

  2. Savor the longwindedness. It’s a luxury of sabbatical.

    I think it’s great that an astronomer’s name would be “Sun.” We should name geologists “Rock,” botanists “Leif,” and physicists “massless frictionless pulley”.

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