I am currently at a big national academic conference at the moment, and it has been a phenomenal experience. I’ve heard some fantastic talks by very smart people in fields close to mine, and I’m walking away with some new perspectives on my own objects of study. However, it’s also become abundantly clear that academic conferences are an excellent place to see people behave like narcissistic, anti-social assholes.
For example, I just attended an outstanding plenary address by a prominent historian of science at a prestigious university. After her talk, she was kind enough to stick around as long as we cared to and answer questions. There were probably about two dozen people who stayed until the very end of that session, and nearly everyone wanted to answer a question. We were passing a microphone around, trying to give everyone an opportunity to talk, but there were three people in the group who, once they got the microphone, refused to give it up. They asked their question and then a follow up and then another follow up and then a rebuttal. This got so obnoxious that the president of the association, who was moderating, had to get up and ask everyone to limit themselves to one question. As she did so, the person who presently had control of the microphone, continued to talk over her and demanded that the speaker address his particular answer to the very large, very nuanced problem under discussion. When he was forced to finally pass the microphone, he then got up and left.
While this guy was most certainly the worst offender, there were three or four others who exhibited the same types of behavior: interrupting the invited speaker who was skipping lunch in order to talk with us, refusing to allow others to participate in the conversation, and acting as if their own research on a tangential topic completely invalidated the premise of lecture.
I don’t really have anything more interesting to say about the situation than this: Don’t be that guy.
Another pet peeve: people who radically overestimate the amount of time they have to give their paper and then, when the two minute warning is given, skip huge section of their paper and say something like, “I think I cover the rest of this in my conclusion.”