Thursday, September 8, 2011

Serving Parasites

McGill is chock full of strange traditions.  When a student defends his dissertation, the university assigns a professor far outside of the student's discipline to serve as pro-dean.  The job here is to keep the train moving along, as I discussed the last time I did it.  This time, the student was seeking a PhD in Parasitology.  Yep, parasites.  While the entire discussion flew over my head, I did find a few pieces of this experience interesting.  First, the phrase "parasitic lifestyle."  That could describe graduate students or more likely full professors, but actually described the parasite's feeding/living tendencies as far as I could tell.  Still, I love that phrase.  Reminds me of Newt Gingrich for some reason. 

Anyhow, I do find these experiences interesting precisely because there is so little I understand.  It turns out this education process does mean that people develop a tremendous amount of expertise in their field, which means that outsiders have a hard time understanding them.  That's ok as long as the experts can talk amongst each other and that other folks exist that can translate for them. 

I have been more conscious the last few years (well, since my year in the Pentagon) about the need to translate results into language people outside the discipline can understand.   Of course, I have spent most of the past few years talking to folks in uniform, so that is just a different hunk of jargon.  OMLT's arcs of fire, AOR, SOF and all the rest.

So, there are two lessons du jour: a reminder to figure out how to communicate to non-specialists and not all nematodes are beneficial.

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