When I was a postgraduate student at Edinburgh you had to do what was called colloquially as a ‘six month report’. It was a rite of passage – a written report and a talk in front of the department – in order to be registered fully for your PhD; something like a transfer report in BU’s current system but earlier in your doctoral journey. I had never spoken in public before apart from a few lines in various theatre productions as a kid (I was Sam as in Samneric in the Lord of the Flies once). The rehearsal for the talk was an absolute disaster, a humiliation in front of my supervisor and friends. My supervisor, who was Head of Department at the time and usually short on time and patience, helped me to sort a new structure and content for the talk probably to save his own embarrassment and this allowed me to ‘belt it out’ as he so eloquently put it. So was born ‘Matthew the Performer’ something which I perfected rapidly through a series of external talks and in my early days as a lecturer. I actually learnt to enjoy performing, could and still can, turn it on as required channelling my inner passion and enthusiasm for all things linked to research. Presentations are now my bread and butter, but occasionally they still take their toll on a die-hard introvert, in a world of extroverts.
This was very true of my sandcastles presentation for the Festival of Learning recently; a success by most accounts, full of enthusiasm for the science of sedimentology and hopefully entertaining the audience of adults and children present. My boys liked it so that is the feedback that matters to me most. I passionately believe in the importance of public engagement and sandcastles provide me with an enduring vehicle to talk about geology and the amazing story of our planet! The Festival was about public engagement and the public were engaged by all who contributed to it; amazing in fact and a testament to what we can do at BU.
The point I wish to make here however is that the cost of this piece of public theatre to me personally was huge; I didn’t quite spend the rest of the weekend in a darkened room but not far short! I don’t mind admitting that my worst nightmare is a room full of strangers and a need to network and/or sell. I can do it and well when needs must after years of practice, but the cost is often high. I much prefer to talk to a few close colleagues and friends than a room of strangers. I suspect that there are many people out there like me within BU, who crave for the solitude of the hills, a good book, a closed door and something creative to work on. People are sometimes perplexed (and have often felt the need to comment) on the contrast between me in performance mode, or when observed talking to my close friends, and the version of me visible at other times as I walk for example across campus lost in moody thought oblivious (sorry!) to all that pass by. So why bare my soul so publicly in this way? Well I have just finished reading a fantastic book, which has won much praise and sold around the world entitled Quiet by Susan Cain. It is simply fantastic and makes one proud to be an introvert in a world of extroverts!