Introvert Challenge: Work Conference

There was a certain research technique I’d been wanting to learn.  Our lab had been paying someone else thousands of dollars to do it for us, but the technique seemed simple enough to learn, and my boss thought it would be useful to have someone in our lab able to do it…and potentially charge other labs thousands of dollars to do it for them, too!

Some Googling revealed a 4-day workshop in Bar Harbor, Maine, where I could get hands-on experience with not only that technique but a whole range of useful procedures.  I proposed it to my boss, who approved it as a good use of our precious grant dollars, and with the help of our wonderful secretary I was soon registered and booked on flights.

In the days leading up to my trip, the only thing in my head was: What the Hell Was I Thinking?

I was faced with the prospect of four days in close quarters with complete strangers, including at least one social event of the type that I like to call “mandatory fun.”  And I got to kick it off by sitting for hours on a plane next another stranger, who would probably want to tell me about her grandchildren or something (best case scenario).

QuietIn the years since I’ve read Susan Cain’s book Quiet, I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with the side of my personality I now know as “introvert.”  I am happy to report that having a haircut is no longer a crisis for me, as now have a regular stylist that I can chat with easily (or not! silence is good, too).

Acknowledging and working with my introversion has reduced my anxiety (another side of my personality) in social situations.  During my work trip, I worked actively to get the most out of the conference while not getting overwhelmed.  I want to share some techniques I used and some revelations I had.

Introvert Survival Tips for Business Travel

  • Get a Kindle

Or some kind of e-reader.  Introverts tend to be readers, and I always take books when I travel, but it has never been more convenient to bring lots of reading material with you than with the current capability and ubiquity of e-readers.  I read four books during this week-long trip!

You can use e-readers on your flights as long as they’re in “airplane mode,” and nothing politely says “don’t talk to me” better than your nose in a Kindle.  We had all of our evenings free during the workshop, so heading to bed early and reading for several hours was a wonderful way to recharge after a busy day.

  • Make a good first impression

First impressions are important.  I know your flight was delayed two hours, and you fell asleep in the cab to the conference center, but pull it together!  Being polite and friendly at the outset will buy you goodwill later.  People will still think of you as nice instead of standoffish when you skip the nightly social events.

Keep a reserve of conversation topics for mingling; remember you are there for work, after all, so you can always talk shop.  At our welcome reception, I discovered another participant was actually from the same Ohio town as I am!  We got to be friends over the week and even shared a ride back to the airport.

  • Find the other introverts

You are not alone!  According to Cain, around one third to one half of people are introverts, and there are bound to be some at your event.  The best lunchtime I had at the workshop was actually not eating alone, but at a small table with 3 other researchers where we got have an hour-long, in-depth discussion of our various research projects, and how we hoped the techniques we were learning would benefit us.

Later in the week, I took a spontaneous trip into the downtown of Bar Harbor with this small group; we wandered together for a while, then apart for a bit, then reconvened for a stop at the ice cream shop before heading back to the conference center for dinner.  Bar Harbor is an adorable town and I might have missed seeing it if I hadn’t gone with a group.

Bar Harbor
  • You can always try again

So you don’t feel like going to the bar with your colleagues one night.  That’s fine!  They are (probably) not judging you.  Tomorrow they might go somewhere different, and you will join them.  Skipping one (or a few) social events to read in your room does not mean you are barred from socializing for the rest of the conference.  Networking is important, so do some schmoozing when you can, and don’t feel guilty when you need a break.

I’d love to hear more from readers about other ideas for dealing with business travel as an introvert. Leave a comment and we’ll have a nice, in-depth introvert discussion.

I am happy to say I had a wonderful trip.  I learned what I went to learn, and had a great time doing it.  Of course I did.  I don’t know why I was so worried.

(You can check out some pretty pictures from the trip here.)

Spreading the Quiet Revolution

Over the weekend two signed copies of Quiet (by Susan Cain) arrived on my doorstep.  I am an introvert, and this book was fundamental for me in coming to terms with that aspect of my personality.  It’s a great starting place if you are trying to understand introversion for whatever reason.

These books are for my dad and my sister, both of whom share some of my introversion.  And they also read a lot.  (Mom, I’d love for you to read it, too!)    It’s my way of spreading the Quiet Revolution, which is Susan Cain’s current initiative to empower introverts all over the world.

You, too, can get an autographed copy of Quiet, courtesy of Pickwick Bookshop.  Yes, that’s right: to order a book about introverts, you must call a store on the phone.  Bwahahaha.  It’s kind of like a sick joke.  Or maybe it’s just a good opportunity to stretch our extrovert muscles.  In fact, I had to call the store twice because they lost my order the first time.  Just chalk it up as another Introvert Challenge.


Introvert Challenge: Getting a Haircut

I got a long-overdue haircut this morning—a great way to start the weekend.

It wasn’t until after college that I discovered the joys of a good, salon-quality haircut.  The whole experience is so relaxing: warm towels, scalp massage, nice smells, and that feeling of lightness when you shake your head afterward.  And knowing you look good is a great confidence boost.  It’s just an hour or so of blissful “me” time (and it doesn’t involve calories in any way!).

Then believe me when I say: as an introvert, I hate getting haircuts.

It begins with making the appointment.  I have a nice salon in a nearby (kinda upper-class) suburb that I’ve been going to for a few years now, and they’re open on Saturdays, so at least there’s no big decisions involved.  So once I’ve said to myself “I could use a haircut,” all that’s left to do is…pick up the phone.

Yeah.  The phone.  My least favorite method of communication.  Below pigeons, YouTube comments, and semaphore.  I don’t even know semaphore.  Phone calls are quick conversations, so there’s not enough time to think before I have to react, and I also can’t get cues from the other person’s facial/body expressions.  I try to practice what I’m going to say in my head before I call.  Sometimes it helps.

The appointment itself is another challenge.  Think about your stereotypical hair salon: it’s like a social center, a buzzing hive of feminine gossip and laughter.  People’s hobbies, kids, love lives all in the air for anyone to hear as the stylists and customers go back and forth.  As an observer, it’s pretty fascinating.

As a participant, it’s horrifying.

I don’t really want to chat about anything very personal with a person I only see 3-4 times a year.  And while there’s plenty of time to get into an in-depth conversation as introvert prefer, I don’t think my stylist is interested in the minutia of heart disease research.  Or anime, or YA fantasy novels.  I don’t have kids to talk about, either.

I am not bad at making small talk; it’s an important skill everyone should learn.  I learned it well as a campus tour guide in college.  But it is still an effort, and 30 minutes straight (minimum) of small talk is pretty exhausting for many introverts.  I do my best not to be awkward, but it’s a relief when she starts the noisy hair dryer and I’m spared the effort of conversation-making.

At first, I jumped around to different stylists, trying to find someone I could connect to.  I felt so awkward that I was sure the stylists were like “Oh, not that girl again” if I went back to them repeatedly.  But I think this actually made the experience harder because I was starting over every time.  And it certainly didn’t help the stylists get used to my very thick hair with waves in weird places, which would probably make for a better haircut.

I do think it’s important to stretch my “extrovert muscle” from time to time—I hope it will make me a stronger person as I learn from these experiences.  Already I’m thinking about what I can do better next time.  We all know that fear is the mind killer, and for me preparation can help soothe anxiety.

Luckily, I go to a no-tipping salon, so at least that social quandary is eliminated 🙂

I’m a chick that can drive stick

That was actually the name of a Facebook group I used to be in.  Way back in 2005.  When Facebook was only for college students.  Geez, pretty soon I’ll be like “Get off my lawn, you punks!!”

A quick hello to all those who found my blog from the link on Susan Cain’s.  Welcome!

Anyway…the A/C in my car has decided that it has better things to do, and now only works when it feels like it.  Sooo I think it’s finally time for that new car I’ve been contemplating for about a year.

Making big decisions is not my strong suit.  I am not am impulse buyer; I do research and make spreadsheets of features and prices for comparison.  It can take me quite a while to make a big purchase.

This is compounded by the fact that car buying is stressful for everyone (except maybe the dealers).  I am the stereotypical non-assertive, polite, people-pleasing woman and I dread having to haggle with car salesmen (let’s face it, they’re mostly male).

I went to test drive some Hondas last weekend and immediately threw the salesguy for a loop when I said I wanted to test 2 models with manual transmission.

Ah, the stick shift. Bane of driver’s ed students for generations.

I don’t know if he was skeptical, confused, or impressed, because he said something like, “Oh, really?  Most girls I know don’t like driving stick.”

It’s funny; I think this is a common conception, yet I wonder why.  Hardly anyone at all anymore drives a manual (they’re only 6.5% of cars sold), so it seems strange to single out women.  Only a handful of people I know can drive stick, yet, at least half of those are women!

I did not learn to drive stick for the fun of it; my parents had manual transmission cars, and I learned to drive in them.  True, it did not make me very excited about driving.  At all.  It was incredibly frustrating at first; I thought I was incompetent at driving.  I remember the first time I drove alone out of the neighborhood and did not kill the engine once.


When it came time to buy my own car, I got a used manual Corolla for a good deal.  (One nice thing about manuals, they are sometimes cheaper.)  At this point, it is really just habit that has me wanting to buy another.  They don’t get better gas mileage.  They are harder to find in fun colors.  Am I just being stubborn in refusing to join the legions of happy automatic drivers?

Probably.  But when someone asks to borrow my car, I can still smile sweetly and say, “Sure! Do you drive stick?”

My theft deterrent system
My theft deterrent system

Growing Pains

Well, it’s been a crazy week at work.  My whole department is moving into a new building…and that building isn’t really finished yet.

They originally told us we’d be moving on Thursday or Friday.  Then, Tuesday morning they told us to be ready at 8am Wednesday.  At 3pm on Tuesday, they said, “Are you ready to start now?”

Dude, I am frantically directing summer students as I pull open drawers and toss anything and everything I find into boxes.  Does it look like I am ready?

So, on the upside, all our stuff got moved promptly and quickly.  The normal office politics of bickering over who gets what space have (mostly) been resolved, so we were able to get our stuff to the right area.

We’re all excited for a new building of course; built-in Milli-Q systems, functional heat and air conditioning, and cold rooms that record the temperature accurately in 3 different ways.  But change is always hard.

This building is designed with an “open” concept.  So, we have one big shared lab space, a “write-up” area instead of offices for staff and students, and lots and lots of windows.  There are almost no walls anywhere.  Even the doors and stairwells have windows in them.  The natural lighting will be great.

But, my God, this place is an introvert’s nightmare.  There is no place I can go to shut a door and recharge (save the bathroom and the stairwell).  There will be constant noise and motion.  There will be no privacy; I only have a small set of desk drawers that lock.

Also, have I mentioned that I am terrified of tornadoes?  Cuz I am.  Two weeks ago, we had a tornado warning (not uncommon in Ohio), and I busied myself in the lab, which was interior, on the ground floor, and had no windows.  (It also has lab benches to hide under if necessary.) Now I will have to find another place to shelter.  I saw a sign indicating an “Area of Refuge,” so I went to check it out and found this:

The “Area of Refuge” is a tiny alcove in the stairwell (which, as I mentioned, has windows).  It looks to be maybe a square meter?  So maybe 2 people could fit in here, four if we are totally disregarding personal space.  There are 2 stairwells, and several floors to the building, so if we’re lucky, 24 people could survive a tornado by standing in these spots.  I don’t like my odds.

If the above photos look a little rough, that’s because they are still working on the building.  As the first labs moved their stuff over on Monday, we were informed that we don’t yet have a Certificate of Occupancy for the new building.  They kindly explained the implications.

Now that all our stuff has been efficiently packed and carted over, we cannot do any work in the new building at all.  No experiments, no set up.  We cannot even unpack anything.

So I’ll go in tomorrow, look at my stacks of hastily packed boxes in a shiny new lab, and likely go home again.  It’s not like I have weeks of backlogged PCR to run, or anything.