For the past few and the upcoming several weeks the department has been interviewing candidates for a faculty position in physical chemistry. Aside from the obvious free lunches they are completely without benefit for me. I really couldn’t care less who gets the job if it’s not going to be me, I’ll be long gone (hopefully) by the time their lab gets set up.

After the latest candidate’s talk was done yesterday I witnesses the painful extent we scientists will go to so that we don’t have to talk to each other. We exhibit the complete antithesis to the herd mentality, doing anything we can not to have to interact on a personal level with another of our kind. It’s not that we don’t like each other, on the contrary I’m quite fond of several of my fellow toilers. I think we are just so completely entrenched in the search for objective truth we can’t bear it to engage in semi-false trite conversation.

I watched as 30 or so faculty, staff, and graduate students filed out of the lecture and proceeded down the same hallway, in the same direction and speed, but interspersed at extremely precise intervals so as to inhibit chit-chat. We take up a staggered configuration one, two, and sometimes three bodies wide, but with enough space (approximately 1.5-2 ft) between ourselves and the people in front of and behind us making it impossible to talk to either one. (see diagram at left) No one deviates from this pattern. No one speeds up or slows down. No one talks. At all. Complete silence. This continues while we slowly disintegrate as people go off to their respective offices to continue their work in silence.

Maybe there’s some telepathy going on that only tenured faculty are privy to. Or maybe they really don’t like each other. Either way I’m still sitting here in silence, happily doing my quiet work.