As someone who spends a lot of time around professors I’ve had a chance to study their strange, professor-like habits. The absolute last situation you want to find yourself in is one where you’re not sure if you’re trapped in close quarters with an academic; what should you talk about? What should you drink? Where should you look (hint: NOT directly in their eyes…NEVER EVER do this)? If these are questions you find you’re asking yourself, you’re in luck because I’ve compiled a list of professor ‘tells’ that will ensure you never end up in this nerve-wracking situation ever again.
Are they a full-grown adult wearing a backpack? On a related note: do they ride their bike everywhere?
Unlike the majority of people who grow out of such habits, professors have literally never left school and therefore are like giant kindergarteners with regards to their dress and methods of transportation.
Do they seem extremely scatterbrained; perhaps they aren’t sure exactly where they are/they are late for a meeting?
This is one of those movie portrayals of professors that, much like the whole tweed jacket thing, is totally true. A related symptom is jumping rapidly from topic to topic, invariably ending up discussing the validity of time travel.
Do they seem to be very friendly but somewhat out of touch with reality?
The majority of professors have spent a large majority of their career in an academic setting; i.e. they have no idea what’s going on in the real world. This can be cute and endearing but if you are a student with a desire to leave the academic realm be prepared to be bombarded with why it’s such a great path, and yeah, there are no jobs NOW, but maybe in the future? They just can’t wrap their heads around the fact that (a) a large number of university departments have decade-long hiring freezes which means no job for you and (b) that not everyone wants to follow in their footsteps.
Are they surprisingly overdramatic given their level of education?
If you think that this group of intelligent adults has transcended beyond high school drama, think again. Despite being so highly educated, not to mention incredibly busy, the average professor will still find time in his/her day to complain about other faculty members and students. If you come across someone like this who is criticizing another professor’s research – be wary.
If you answered ‘yes’ to all of the above questions – my sincerest apologies – it sounds like you might have encountered a real life professor out in the wild. My best advice? Create the ultimate professor distraction (i.e. ask them about their research) and then make a run for it.