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Monday, June 27, 2005

Cultural capital

So today I went to a party, intending to stay for maybe two hours, and left instead after five. One of my college friends and his wife are moving to Different Eastern City, and they decided to celebrate the event (which really deserves a celebration, as it involves throwing off the shackles of their corporate law firms . . . albeit to embrace the slightly less chafing shackles of two different law firms) with some beer, barbeque, and lots of other lawyers.

No kidding: I counted, and of the 20+ people present, I was one of six non-lawyers. The others were:

1 doctor just finishing her internship year
1 Big Pharma bigshot
2 owners of a local franchise of a national retailer
1 international woman of mystery otherwise ensconced in a Fortune 500 company.

They're mostly pretty fun people, many of whom I knew in college or who I've met before because they're friends of Def and Stave from law school or wherever--and I might well have wound up sticking around just to catch up with a few of them and to help myself to the fantastic pulled pork and watermelon slices--but part of the pleasure of the event was all the attention I got for not being a lawyer.

I mean, as faithful readers of this bog know, I worked at a law firm for a couple of years and I can talk the talk well enough to engage your MEC jurisprudential types in five or ten minutes of law-related chit-chat, but the fact of the matter is that law talk is what lawyers fall back on when they have nothing else to talk about. They don't really want to talk about their work.

No, apparently what they want to talk about is my work. I had at least five separate conversations in which I discussed my dissertation project, in detail, giving my layperson's version of why this stuff is so cool and so interesting and so Relevant to Us Today--and either they bought it or they were making nice, but I pretty much wound up feeling like the most fascinating and in-demand person in the room. Which never happens when I talk to academics--maybe because I'm often uncomfortable around academics and constitutionally unable to frame my research in Big Serious Theoretical Terms.

That last part is a separate issue, I guess--but the most-fascinating-woman-in-the-room phenomenon? Pretty sweet. Sure, they may all make four times what I'll be making next year, but it's nice sometimes to have cultural capital. (And as grandpa would say, "don't spent it all in one place!")

link | posted by La Lecturess at 1:53 AM |


Blogger Professor B commented at 8:32 AM~  

That's awesome. :-) I think that being a liberal arts prof has much more cachet than being an engineering prof anyway. If, at a party, it comes up that I am an engineering prof, most folks get this odd 'that's nice' smile and make a beeline for the punchbowl.

Blogger academic coach commented at 5:51 PM~  

Hey, professor b,
Stanford prof Rick Reis is a pretty hot engineering prof. (He's the author of "Tomorrow's Professor" -- great advice for wanna-be science academics) and editor of a list-serve newsletter of the same name with a subscription list of about 15,000) I'm sure there are other engineering profs with cachet.

La Lecturess,
Research shows that even though lawyers currently have the highest average annual salary in the US, they have the lowest job satisfaction rate of any single profession. Good thing you got out.

Great that your scholarship stories were appreciated.
I believe that it is important to have a scintillating narrative to share when someone says "What's your dissertation about..." (for the 800th time in 3 weeks.)

Even more important is to develop a huge repetoire of witty, biting, scathing lines to spit out when someone asks that most irritating, inappropriate, ignorant question:
"So when are you going to be finished with your dissertation?"

Anyone out there got any good rejoinders to this question that I can share with my ABD clients?

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