Answering the question: What do you do?
Oh, what an interesting weekend I had. My husband and I flew out to R1U [Research 1 University] only this time it wasn't for me. My husband, who will be attending business school next year, was there for the prospectives weekend. I attend the 'spouse' events. This situation raised a problem that I have faced more and more over the last few years and I would love to hear how you guys handle it. Invariably, conversation will turn to what each of us does. And frankly, I am always at a loss how to answer this question.
First perhaps a little background. We are sitting at a 'spouses' lunch (which did include some husbands, but they were glued to the Final Four tourney on TV). We started talking about babies because two of the women were obviously pregnant and happily discussed our children, pregnancies, and childbirth for about 20 minutes. Then, the conversation turns to 'what do you do.' One woman was a nurse, another a physical therapist, one taught aerobics, another was a forensic scientist (lots of CSI questions). Then it comes to me. I say that I am going to be a Professor. This is usually followed by 'oh, in what area?' And I respond with my area of engineering. Most people, as was the case here, make this face, which I really wish I could duplicate that is a combination of amazement, disgust, and awe. I actually had one person refer to me from there on out as the wicked smart engineer.
The thing is I am so embarrassed by these encounters. It is like high school all over again, where I feel compelled to pretend that I am less intelligent than I am because I don't want people to hate me. I just need a better way to handle this. I am proud of my accomplishments, but I am not a braggart and don't want to draw undue attention to them. And it doesn't help that the average lay person has no idea what a college professor does all day (yet alone a postdoc). People assume that Professors actually teach all the time. The research component is not usually known. When I explain that I will actually spend only a small time teaching and most of my time writing grants, they are perplexed. [Of course I don't usually go on about the intracacies of being a Professor without being asked, but it frequently comes up.] So how do you guys handle this? Is it as embarrassing for you as it is for me?