May 15, 2010


I was away, conferencing, for a couple of days in Boston. I had planned to tag on a day of partying and shopping but alas, it was not to be since my friend couldn't make it. So instead, I caught a 7+ hour ride back with my colleagues on Friday night.

As always, after a conference, I'm entirely wiped out. There is something about having to sit in an artificially lit auditorium all day that just doesn't work for human well-being. But at least it was a decent auditorium, with a number of substantial breaks (not enough even so), and pretty healthy food. The latter must be because this was a conference on sustainability, because usually you get stuck with donuts and coke. 

The conference itself is rather elite. Or at least, it's organized by an alliance of very elite schools. Which is good on one hand, because you get some real big thinkers in the room. But it's also a little intimidating because you're being scrutinized by them. I had the (mis)fortune of going first. It meant my pain was over quickly, but still ... there is quite a bit of pressure for going first and setting the stage.

The rest of the conference, I spent musing random thoughts - especially through the theoretical economics papers (think advanced applied calculus but worse). And in looking around the room a thought occured to me: most of the people in the room were not what would be considered beautiful. In fact, most of them were of average prettiness, or below. Don't get me wrong: I love the people that were in that room. They are talented, brilliant and I admire them in a way that I would never admire, say, Paris Hilton. But from an objective point of view, these people are really not that pretty.

Now, this could be partly because they're academics so many of them may not care too much about how they look. Or perhaps they lack the social awareness or talent of New York style grooming. But I think it's something more than that. While sitting there, among these brilliant minds, I thought about the effects of beauty in life. And that in general, things tend to be easier for beautiful people (think tall, handsome presidents). For the less than beautiful, life tends to be tougher. It makes me wonder where the ugly people go. I think one place is academia. Here are a group of people, seeking acknowledgement as we all do, but not able to get it from general societal cues; instead, they get it from shaping their minds into brilliance. And failing that, they probably end up in social work -- perhaps getting acknowledgements for doing good.

So then, where does that place the people who attend an academic conference on social and environmental sustainability, one might ask? Just a thought.


  1. I think History departments prob win on the ugly stakes.
    However, I suspect your crew are not ugly, just not top-dollar. Most people have a ludicrously over-estimated perception of how many pretty people there are, because our media don't allow the plain on TV. Outside London, outside fashionable parts of London, I'm constantly surprised by how rarely one sees anyone good looking, then I realise I've just become used to a ludicrously optimistic idea of pretty-percentages. Most people in the world, are in fact, total dogs.

  2. For another example, see comedy. I was at a big comedy launch, in the fashionable South Bank, London... and aside from 2 people, everyone there was not only ugly, but unbelievably badly dressed. Fat hideous scruffbags with bad beards abounded and no dress sense. Who were the two good looking people? One comedian who very rapidly (within a year, rather than 7) got a TV show, and his co-presenter...

  3. Just walked past several thousand legal-types on the London Legal Walk. Absolute pigs. I looked carefully with this blog in mind, and saw one pair of nice eyes, and one 6/10. Out of thousands. So either the legal profession are mingers and LA Law was lying to us, or all the pretty ones don't do charity walks, but sit at home doing their nails...

  4. I don't think I've ever seen a pin-up calendar featuring folks employed in higher ed. Hmmmm, potential marketing idea here. Hottest Faculty issue.....would be interesting to see, if such a product were to materialize, which fields the selectees would represent. It may end being weighted towards Kiniseology (think athletes) and Environmental Science (faculty that would actually see light of day due to field research).

    Another great entry, you are on a roll!