Posted tagged ‘academia’

Worst. Conference Presentation. Ever.

April 25, 2009

See this gentleman?


He’s kind of stern looking, isn’t he?    One gets the impression he didn’t laugh much.

If it’s any indication, I can tell you he yelled at me in public once.

This was when I used to have a job where I actually used my brain.  Back almost 20 years ago, when I was presenting a paper at a conference.

It might have been the 2nd paper I ever presented, I was still fresh and new at this.   There were many sessions going on at the same time…my talk was scheduled in a small tiny room, in the back-waters of the Convention Centre, with perhaps only 10-12 people attending.

But these were all quite important people.  Senior academics and department heads,  sales/marketing businessmen, respected industrial engineers.

They were colleagues of my boss, and because of him, they had all come to hear what little old me had to say.

Except this one guy, who looked older than Moses.  He spent the entire time sitting with his arms folded, head down, apparently asleep.  He didn’t move the whole time I spoke.  I wonder who else besides me was worried if the old guy had just died in his sleep.

My talk went reasonably well: I presented my data and  explained my conclusions.  Then it was time for questions.

Instantly,  Gramps woke up.

And then he started to do what every public speaker dreads:  he started YELLING at me.

“Your paper is WRONG!  You didn’t do THIS…you didn’t’ do THAT.  Your data is WRONG!   You didn’t refer to the work of Professor F. Meigh…you didn’t refer to the work of his collegue Dr. Grunion either.   Your conclusions are WRONG!”

…he just went on and on.  Tearing me apart in front of everyone.

Then, quickly as it had begun, his tirade ended.   He sat down, went limp, and went back to sleep.

The room was quiet.  My boss was wincing.   I was temporarily shell-shocked.

But not for too long.  Bristling with anger (how DARE this guy attack me like that?), I gave my rebuttal.

For once in my life,  I had the right comeback at the right time:

“Actually, if you examine the manuscript, you’ll see that I DID do this.   And I DID do THAT.  My data is RIGHT.   And I DID refer to Professor F. Meigh and Dr. Grunion.   And if you’ll check on Figure 3, you’ll see that my conclusions are CORRECT”.

During this exchange, the old guy didn’t even raise his head. His eyes were closed, he was playing Possum.   He didn’t even have the courtesy to acknowledge my presence, or make eye contact with me.

Nice.    Really nice.

The session was over.   When we all filed out of the room, one of the audience members came up to me, and sympathetically patted me on the back.

“You actually handled old Charlie quite well….don’t worry about it, he does this to everybody who’s new”.

It seems I had completed a rite of passage.  Old Charlie McGarnaggle was known for behaving this way. Instead of being a kindly old academic mentor, he apparently liked to challenge scientists and engineers, and intimidate them and put them on the spot.

And everyone seemed to accept it.

That’s just Old Charlie, they’d say.

Hmph.  Not me.  I might have had OTHER things to say about him, though.

Worst.   Conference presentation.   Ever.

Even to this day.


Fast forward about 15 years.

I was now a more seasoned Research Engineer.  I had presented more than my share of papers, and I had a modest reputation.  I was even starting to be accepted by some members of the Old Boys Club.

Imagine my suprise when I got called, out of the blue, by the National Frammit PapJack Conference Committee.

“Remember that recent paper you wrote?” they asked me.

“Uh..yeah.  I guess” I answered.

“Well, it’s been given the Charles McGarnaggle Memorial Award.   For the best Paper in the area of Applied Chemistry and Widget Optimization.    We’d like you to come to the 2005 Conference with your co-authors to accept the award.  There’ a gold pin and a framed certificate we’d like to give you.”


That mean old guy.  The one who gave me shit all those years ago because he didn’t like my work.

He’s dead, and I’m still around.

And I’m being given an award in HIS name!

(Pffft…snicker!)   Hahahah!

If he knew it was me, he’d probably be spinning in his grave.

Funny how Life’s like that.


Now, my only problem is, that I’ve got this award sitting in my closet.

It’s too nice to throw out.   It’s in a high-quality diploma format, mounted in a nice frame.

But they had to put Charlie’s stern-looking face on it.

The one shown here.

Staring at me.   Taunting me.

Ready to yell at me all over again.

Which is why I don’t hang this on any walls.  It still sits in the closet.

Though I can just hear people tell me:  “Oh, never mind, that was just old Charlie.”

(Yeah, that was him, all right).