“I’m disappointed”

On a conference call about a conference in the planning stages, we learn as a group that the organizers have locked in Angry Old Man as their keynote speaker.

We are taking turns suggesting speakers for the various sessions. At the end of her turn, one of the other contributors says “I am curious what others, especially labmonkey, think about the keynote choice”. There are two others on the call who express reservations. I express significant reservations, from both my personal perspective (I don’t want to be on an organizing committee that gives him a platform for his ire) and an objective perspective (his angry tirade has been commented on as a terrible talk in several locations – not what you want for a keynote). I say I am disappointed in this choice.

The organizers squirm, but, as another contributor points out, it is hard to rescind an invitation. An idea is born to have counter-point speakers in the next session, to provide some balance. I suggest some speakers. Notably, I cannot attend this meeting to defend my work because I am on leave at that time – Spud will only be 2.5 months old. A peril of being young and female, neither of which AOM must deal with.

I am angry. I said no to being on this committee, citing parental leave as an excuse. “Not to worry”, they said. “We’ll have all our conference calls before January”, they said, sending me the doodle poll to state my availability for this call in the same breath – before I had agreed to join. I like this organization, and have existing and long standing collaborations with them, so I picked my battle (again, having already picked it when declining initially…). With that as backdrop, I’m even angrier about this keynote speaker choice. If my opinion was so sought after that a polite no was ignored, then a fait accompli of Angry Old Man as the featured scientist is a second insult.

I am tired of this. I have not had an academic enemy before, and certainly never one that was highly placed and well respected. I do not know how to lay it to rest other than to keep my head down and do good work, and let his irrational anger trip himself up. A strategy that might sound familiar, as it was used to great effect on Monday night on a world stage. I guess I’ll find out in November if it is a winning one.


4 thoughts on ““I’m disappointed”

  1. Jenny F Scientist

    It’s not HARD to rescind an invitation. I think what they mean is “we’re embarrassed and we don’t want to.” Because you rescind one by saying “After further consideration our planning committee has decided to not have you as a keynote speaker because X. Thank you.”

    1. labmonkeyftw Post author

      Yes, agreed. But it doesn’t FEEEEEEEEEL nice to have to do it, and he’s famous and important, yada yada. I think they will regret it at the time of his talk (and I know I will), but beyond squirming, they weren’t budging much.

  2. rainbowgoblin

    I’m going to try to say this carefully, because it’s only indirectly related to this post, and because I don’t want you to think I don’t really feel for you, with respect to your “fight” with Angry Old Man: I think the fact that the fact that you’ve made him so, so angry actually testifies to the fact that you’re a rising star. If your work didn’t matter, he wouldn’t care.

    More on topic: ouch. They really should have let you politely decline. Had they invited him to do the keynote already when they asked you? Really a terrible oversight, either way.

    1. labmonkeyftw Post author

      It is true that if no one was interested or excited by this paper that he would not be targeting it. Which is some consolation.
      I’m pretty annoyed that my polite “oh very interesting, next year think of me” was taken as “we’ll just keep her for this year because it’s not technically a conflict”. I could certainly have been more blunt, but again, these are good collaborators.


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