Post Academic


Business Dinners Gone Awry

Posted in Absurdities by Caroline Roberts on February 7, 2011
Tags: , , ,

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionOkay, Bardiac posted on a candidate dinner that involved diaper talk a while ago, but since I’ve been through some Hamster-world business dinners lately, and I felt the need to respond now. When I read the tale, the Hamster inside me spun furiously on its tiny wheel.

The profs, with the exception of Bardiac, who must have impeccable manners, spent all their time talking about their kids. I started imagining what the poor candidate was thinking:

Kids. Kids. Okay. I can swing this topic. What do I tell them about my kid situation? Should I tell them about my kid situation? My advisor never warned me about this. Are they trying to get me to reveal my kid status? Can this be used against me in a court of law?

Wait. This is diaper stuff. And nanny stuff. Nannies? These people can afford nannies? And they advertised that starting salary? I want to go on strike, and I don’t even have the job yet.

Oh, dear. This is intimate stuff. They aren’t making eye contact. Do they even want me to talk? Are they comparing Pampers to Huggies? Do they know I’m here? Have they already decided on a candidate? PANIC! No, no, don’t panic. Am I just a free meal to these people? Are they rubbing it in by talking about their kids’ poop habits?

Ahhh … the polite one just asked me about pedagogy. But … diapers! Poop! Exclusion!

I wonder if I should order another drink.

Okay, maybe the candidate wasn’t thinking all that, but those dining with the candidate should try empathy sometime.

I’m not an academic, so I’ve never been a part of a candidate dinner, but my loved ones have gone through the ritual. I am not the type to turn down a free meal, but I already don’t like the concept because it automatically blurs the line between personal and professional way too early in the game. Shouldn’t coworkers dine together after someone’s been hired, not before? It’s not as if professors are being hired to sell something to bigwigs and their table manners need to be vetted.

More after the jump! Image of Bakersfield Restaurant by Renjishino from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.


The line between professional and personal will always blur in the workplace. You can’t avoid it. For a Hamster World example, consider the business trip. A few hours trapped in a car with your colleagues, and you’ll know way more than you ever wanted to about them.

There is one easy tip for such a situation, and Bardiac was correct: It is always safe to turn the subject back to work. A subset of the rule would be the following: If someone else turns the topic to work, let them. They might be saving your butt if you’re running your mouth. If someone calls you a party-pooper (pardon the pun given the diaper-talk), so what? They are the ones on the hook if any gossip or news of bad behavior leaks out. (Ugh, another pun. My fault.)

Revealing your personality is sometimes a good idea. You have to bond with your coworkers somehow, but if people are sharing information that you wouldn’t share with anyone other than your therapist, they’re being unprofessional. End of story. And can someone please bring up the idea of abolishing the candidate dinner? Let the candidates get some rest! They deserve it! (And besides, Hamsters never get interview dinners. Lunch, occasionally, but dinner? Nah.)

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3 Responses to 'Business Dinners Gone Awry'

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  1. I totally agree with your observation about dinners, but….it’s complicated. I’m okay with the idea that you need to suss out a job candidate’s personality somehow; but yes, lunch seems much less loaded than dinner. And, work as the only ‘safe’ topic is true, but it’s also indicative of the work-crazed culture of academia. I mean, the whole baby thing is mostly a sign of the poor social skills of the academics involved (which is not terribly surprising, but is its own issue).

    The main reason I wouldn’t be 100% on abolishing the dinners is because most younger profs I know have no money, and candidate dinners provide one of the few opportunities to have a nice meal!


    • I hear ya about the free meal. That was the top counterargument I could think of, as long as the school isn’t cheap. Although, with all that diaper talk, I bet the poor candidate wound up with a tummy-ache. Perhaps lunch is best because everyone involved is still in a work mindset. If it’s dinner, people have let down their social filters, and then the diaper-talk might emerge.

  2. recent Ph.D. said,

    Insights appreciated, as I’m headed to (my first) hamster-world dinner tomorrow night. I don’t expect any diaper-talk, but it’s bound to be weird in hamster-world ways. If it gets too weird, I will remind myself to stick to work as the subject of conversation — a site of common ground between the two worlds.


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