Socializing With Scientists: Professors Show Their Human Side

By Charlotte Rosenfield '15, Design Editor

The Socializing with Scientists program has only two rules: “first names only” and “if someone uses a word that you don’t know, you buzz ’em” [cue buzzer sound effect]. Professors Matthew Benoit and Bryan Thines head the program. They commenced the second semester of this relaxed, social, scientific group Jan. 26. Every Friday, the Keck Science faculty and staff welcome any and all students to join them for dinner and drinks in the Claremont village.

“We rarely get the opportunity to talk to other people about what’s going on in their fields and find out what’s happening,” said one of the professors. Both Benoit and Thines wanted to establish a weekly get-together with their colleagues to help bridge the gap between the many different disciplines within the Keck Department. “The idea is that we’d try to explain things to each other without breaking through the jargon of our field and just get to the main point,” said Thines.

These two professors realized that, most of the time, their students were only able to participate in the academic conversation of science by displaying posters, giving talks or presenting theses. Benoit said, “What we don’t really have is an opportunity for [students] to participate in the other conversations that happen,” which tend to be more social and relaxed. “A lot of the time, ideas get flowing when you’re—”

“Having a cocktail,” Thines interjected.

“Right, you go up to someone and say ‘Hey, I really liked your work on this. Could I pick your brain over a drink?’”

And it’s through this type of dialogue, in these professors’ opinion, that one begins to learn stimulating facts and gain knowledge that one wouldn’t have otherwise. Both professors admit that this central conversation between professors, staff and students was the driving force behind the program’s creation. “And it just caught on,” said Benoit with a shrug.

Students agree that the format works. Said Alexandra Pincus (’12), “Normally, I only talk to professors in my field, and then only about their classes and their research. At Socializing with Scientists, I can talk to them about my research, and I can talk to professors I’ll never be able to have classes with, and talk about cool science in general.”

Socializing with Scientists was introduced during the fall 2011 semester and quickly grew in popularity. The group started by hosting around to people each Friday, but by the end of the semester, their largest party topped 25. “The first week, we had one student. And the rest were faculty and staff,” Benoit and Thines recalled with laughter.

To clear up any misconceptions, these professors don’t really want to talk about “class stuff.” For them it is Friday night and they just want to relax. “I want to talk about what’s really cool—things that are exciting and fun to talk about,” Benoit said, “and to do it in a social setting that is very similar to what scientists, and really any academic, is going to run into. And I think both of us were really itching to do something like this on a more regular basis.”

For more information, please contact Professor Matthew Benoit at mbenoit@kecksci.claremont.edu or Professor Bryan Thines at bthines@kecksci.claremont. edu.

To participate in Socializing with Scientists, meet outside Keck Science Office every Friday at 5:30 p.m. The meetings started Jan. 27 and will continue throughout the semester.