Ecogeofemme wrote a nice post this week that touched on the social aspects of conference attendance. I've always been pretty outgoing (well, since I left high school anyway) so I've always initiated lots of conversations, and I've had a grand old time with the people I've met at some smaller meetings. However, not every conference is conducive to meeting new buddies. This particular drunk dancing scientist anecdote concerns the latter type of meeting.
During my first year in my PhD lab, my postdoc buddy (PDB) and I went to a small-ish meeting at the University of Warwick. We soon discovered that lots of labs had registered en masse, and were hanging out with each other being cliquey. We still had fun, but PDB was failing in her PI-assigned mission.
You see, a rather distinguished potential collaborator was in attendance, and PI wanted PDB to approach him to try and initiate a collaboration. This was quite intimidating for a first-year postdoc, but she gave it her best shot. Unfortunately, he was always surrounded by his own clique of fellow bigwigs and we couldn't get anywhere near him. We contented ourselves by trying to guess which one of the bigwigs was Ed Southern, who was billed to talk on the last day.
The last day and the obligatory conference social came around without any success. They'd chosen a ceilidh*, which suited us quite nicely, coming as we did from a Scottish lab. At one point, PDB had gone for a rest and a drink of water while I stayed on the dance floor. The callers started to arrange us into two concentric circles, women on the inside and men on the outside. As they walked us through the dance moves we learned that after rotating the two circles in opposite directions we would dance a short set with the person facing us, kiss them on both cheeks, then spin around again until we met a new partner.
Tee hee! We would have to kiss boys!
So the dance started and I kissed my first couple of drunk dancing scientists. Then I saw PDB falling about laughing. When I came back round to face her again she started to gesticulate wildly to my right, where my next few partners were lined up. I suddenly realised that I was going to have to kiss David Lane.
Yes, the David Lane. Professor Sir David Lane, who discovered the p53 tumour suppressor gene.
Well, I was mortified. PDB could not stop laughing as I kissed this science god, blushing bright red as I am prone to do.
But my biggest embarrassment was still to come.
Back in the lab, PI wandered in. "PDB, did you make any progress with Professor Bigwig? Does he want to collaborate with us?"
PDB: "No, I didn't talk to him. But Cath snogged David Lane".
The look on PI's face was priceless. It took a long time to live that one down.
*PDB had a ceilidh at her wedding reception. By the time the wedding book came around to our table we'd all had a lot to drink and all I ended up writing was "I'm the only English person at this table and I bet I'm the only one that knows how to spell ceilidh".