Sand Mountain Macho

From time to time I am asked to serve on graduate exit committees, the ones that determine whether graduate students should matriculate or not. I almost always accept, mostly out of vanity – I find the responsibility a flattery – but I didn’t appreciate why I got asked for quite a while.

I should mention I am almost never asked to be on a physics student’s committee. And, yes, this is relevant.

I have found over the years that I need to ask wizardly difficult questions rather than easy questions. I have found, with some embarrassment, that the easy questions are invariably dropped and nastily. I like to think it’s because the students are so psyched for their defenses that they can’t relax enough to answer the easy questions. I’ve also found the other members of the committee, mostly academics, usually don;t get the questions either. So it is safer, for everyone’s sake, including my own, if I ask those hideously difficult questions. 

I should mention that the other members of the committee (and myself) can’t answer these questions either, but the students just couple in and do surprisingly well at them. Which tends to support the idea that new things are done by new people.

Anyway, one of the other advantages is that I get to see all sorts of research and sometimes I get asked for pre-defense opinions as an outside thinker. Sometimes a graduate student can’t ask adviser or other faculty these questions for fear of being considered slow or worse but an outsider is safer.

Anyway yesterday a student – not physics obviously – showed me some data on human characteristics in North Alibam society. The research was being funded to help find how to get the right – desirable? – workers to apply for certain types of jobs. I can’t say much more except this is clearly on the management side of my interests.

Anyway, this GS had collected some data and was showing me an interesting social niche that we might call Nawth Alibam Macho:

  • male (obviously)
  • adult (chronologically)
  • drives pickup truck
  • hunts, fishes, and/or camps
  • uses Winders.

I have to admit to being floored by this. Here we have a characteristics list that runs: macho; macho; macho; and suddenly, wimp.

Evidently, working on motorcars and trucks and building shelters is ok, but working on computers is sissy stuff? Or a sign of being easy to brainwash? Anyway, I think this will turn out to be a good project.