Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Science Workshops and Conferences, Part I (presentations and language)

Today, and for the next couple days, I am attending a scientific workshop in another state. For those of you who aren't lab rats, this is an event where a couple hundred scientists get together in a cramped, sweaty room and watch other scientists describe their very important and earth-shattering breakthroughs. At least, that's the idea. In reality, the attendee in the audience winds up half-sleeping through half of the presentations as he waits for the couple presentations that actually relate to his own research, much of which may already be found in the presentor's published papers. But there is always some nugget or two that make it worthwhile.

Over the years I've heard debates about what language is most important in the world for commerce or films or whatever. For science, the universal language is English, hands down. Sure, you'll find journals written in Russian or German or Chinese, but the vast majority of science is written in English. Since science is an international affair, many of the speakers at workshops and conferences are bound to speak English as a second language (or third or fourth), so sometimes the accent is so strong you only understand about 60% of what was said, even if you're familiar with the science. If you work in science, being around folks from all over the world on a daily basis is normal. Most days at work I interact with coworkers from Russia, England, Ukraine, Taiwan, Mexico, and China. I really get a kick when I overhear conversations, in English, between people from different languages. The other day I passed by three coworkers (from China, Russia, and India), all speaking English with heavy accents from their native languages. It's hard for me to understand them sometimes. How the heck do they understand each other?

More later. Time to get back to the very groundbreaking science presentations....

1 comment:

~Just Michelle~ said...

Music is my official language.