Stranger danger at the conference buffet

I’ve spent the last couple of days at my institute’s annual conference, catching up on some very cool science and gorging myself on delicious food. Having spent eight of the last ten years at the same institute, working in three departments and collaborating with people in many more, I love this conference because I know so many people – and even some of the inside jokes!

Unfortunately though, I missed the keynote address AGAIN. It’s always at 8 am on the second day, and it takes me an hour to get to the conference venue on the bus (I have to take two of the slowest bus routes in Vancouver); however, I’d heard great things about the speaker (a cancer survivor) and was determined to make it this year. I asked Mr E Man to wake me up when he got up for work, which is usually around 5:45 am, but unfortunately he woke up at 5 with a really nasty cold and decided not to go to work, but rolled over and went back to sleep before letting me know. So when my alarm went off at its usual time of 6:45, it was too late.

People who did make it to the talk spent all day asking me if I’d been there and raving about how inspirational it was and what a shame it was that I’d missed it.

As so often happens, though, a real-life FAIL is a blogging WIN, because my plight reminded me of a story one of our PIs (who’s now moved back to the States) told me about an encounter he had at the 2007 conference:


The PI had got his pilot’s license the year before, and had just bought his very first plane – a little two-seater of which he was immensely proud. I knew all about it because he would describe his weekend airborne adventures in great detail at the beginning of every single Monday morning meeting, and apparently at every other possible opportunity too.

On the first day of the conference, he was in the queue for the lunch buffet and started talking to the woman next to him. He commented on the unseasonably beautiful weather, and she replied that it had been the perfect morning to fly into Vancouver, with a great view of the snowcapped mountains.

“I wish I was out there flying right now”, he replied.

“Oh, you’re a pilot?”

The PI admitted at this point in his narration of the story that he may have gone on slightly too long about his shiny new toy. I believe he may have used the words “gushing” and “extended monologue”.

“Oh, that’s a nice plane”, said the woman. “I hear it’s [something very technical that I can’t remember but that only a pilot would say]”.

“Oh, you’re a pilot too?!” asked the PI in great excitement. “What do you fly?”

“Well”, she said, completely deadpan, “the last thing I flew was the space shuttle”.

Yup, that was the year the conference organisers had booked Dr. Roberta Bondar – first neurologist and also the first female Canadian in space – as the keynote speaker. And yes, she was wearing her name badge AND had her photo on all the conference posters, but no, he hadn’t noticed…


I’ll have to wait until Monday, when I see the people who shelled out extra cash for the conference social, to hear if any PIs embarrassed themselves that much at this year’s event! There was karaoke, so it’s certainly possible…

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
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15 Responses to Stranger danger at the conference buffet

  1. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    By the way, if I’d gone with some kind of badminton reference as this post’s title, would anyone have got the joke? I thought about it, but decided it was too much of a stretch.

  2. bean-mom says:

    That’s a great story, Cath =)

    And no, I would not have gotten any kind of badminton reference, as I know nothing about the game.

    (by the way, has the woman from my institute spoken at the conference yet?)

  3. SB says:

    I just love the space shuttle story!

    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      me too!

      hey, did you get the note I left you? I tucked it behind one of the panels of your poster. Nothing important, just curious if it survived ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. szescstopni says:

    Great story. I took the liberty of translating it to Polish and including it in my post on the Lake Woebegon effect.

    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      thanks! I feel like I’m moving up in the world, being available in multiple (well, two) languages…

  5. Pah, space shuttle, no aerodynamics to speak of, just big honkin’ engines to get it up there and a seriously long glide on the way back down. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Seriously though, great story. ๐Ÿ˜€

  6. chall says:

    hahaha. Awesome! I can just see the deadpan comment about the space shuttle. I’m sure the PI was a leeeele embarrassed. Although, sometimes it can be obvious when people are gushing about a new thing and the beauty of nature….

    As for the badminton reference; it would’ve sailed right by me. not a clue ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      Yes, he was pretty embarrassed… although he seemed to be enjoying telling the story!

      When I play badminton, the shuttlecock often sails right by me, too… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. Alyssa says:

    Ha! What a great story!

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