The college experience, for adults.
November 20, 2017 6:02 PM   Subscribe

I miss having random conversations with smart people who are doing research in fields that are not my own. Is there any good way to scratch that itch as an adult?

What I miss about college is not the random drinking and partying (well, that's not the *only* thing I miss). I miss meeting smart people who are doing research for research's sake and asking about what they are doing. Those conversations were so interesting, and I wonder if there's a way to increase my chances of having conversations like that. I like my co-workers and enjoy talking to them - they're smart people who are doing new things in my field - but it's always about the same industry.

I guess I could seek out and go to lectures, but I'm looking more for conversations, and something I really liked was the spontaneity of it. You never know when something really interesting it was going to come up. So I'm at a loss for how one might recreate those spontaneous conversations with people who are doing new, interesting things? I met a sociology professor at a block party 3 years ago and had a great time asking about his research, but I'd like to do this more than once every 3+ years.
posted by Tehhund to Human Relations (15 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Browse around for local groups on!
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 6:21 PM on November 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

I got to experience this to some degree through online dating in a large city. I tended to go out with smart people, and getting a drink with someone intelligent and hearing about their field and what they're doing in it was always interesting regardless of romantic potential.

See if any local colleges have Toastmasters, book clubs, or similar meetings which are open to the public and discussion-oriented. Failing that, scan Google maps for bars in close proximity to local colleges, and go hang out at them.

Certain churches are more likely to attract intellectuals - Episcopalian, Unitarian, etc - so you could check events pages for local places of worship and see if they host discussion groups or other events that might put you in proximity with your people.
posted by bunderful at 6:35 PM on November 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

What are your local museums? Sign up for their mailing lists. consider volunteering. Not only are they likely to have lecture and workshop programs that may interest you by providing varied topics and perspectives, but you might also learn about volunteer opportunities that could bring you close to evolving content and emerging research findings.
posted by Miko at 8:37 PM on November 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Host your own Salon. Invite 10 people, and have each of them invite 3 people.
posted by at at 9:13 PM on November 20, 2017 [6 favorites]

In the major metro areas, there's a company ( that is trying to commercialize this exact experience. They are recruiting like hell at host of age groups. I considered it briefly for possibly making some connections; however, this looked more like something that I'd be investing in the wrong type of people for recruiting and connections. (I don't want MBAs and business connective types - I want data engineers and scientists). But, on the surface, if I was younger it might present exposure to a host of different folks and careers... from my perspective? limited effective labor pool.

And yes, at this point, if I'm out having a conversation with you, I am sizing you up to figure out what you know, how much you know, and if I could leverage what you know to improve what I do. (Note: I routinely take a conversation with a very different line of work and still look for synergies in my own business.)
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:54 PM on November 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I get something of this by having an office in a shared workspace and have amazing conversations in many fields (well outside my own quite diverse paddock) - currently we have AI/expert system folk, the odd hard-science Phd, a novelist or two, a lot of programmers - mostly one-person bands, people doing things in public health, aerial logistics. Many are in their 2nd or 3rd career so very rounded, holistic outlooks .... all in all very diverse and great for keeping abreast of progressive change, as well as building business relationships and new businesses.
posted by unearthed at 2:55 AM on November 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Could your current job translate into a job at a college or university? Even the non-academics I know get to hear weird stuff because it's tied to their job in some way. MOOCs may also scratch the itch.
posted by tchemgrrl at 3:38 AM on November 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you're near a college or university, there are often poster sessions that will be de facto open to the public as part of smaller, free conferences. A poster session is a period of time when people will stand next to a poster summarizing their research just waiting to be engaged in one on one or small group conversation conversation about what they did -- a science fair for grown ups, essentially.

Speaking as someone who has many times been the person standing next to the poster, I would be 100% happy to speak to someone from the community who was just interested in science, as long as you didn't try to misrepresent yourself or talk over me.
posted by telegraph at 3:49 AM on November 21, 2017 [11 favorites]

Could your current job translate into a job at a college or university? Even the non-academics I know get to hear weird stuff because it's tied to their job in some way.

In particular, a job as a grants officer or a communications agent (i.e. press/PR) at a local college or university might scratch a lot of your itches.
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:02 AM on November 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

In many cities there's an event called Nerd Nite that combines both people talking about their field of study and socializing. There's usually a theme, but talks within that theme might range from the history of the channel Nickelodeon to Inuit culture. If there's not one in your area (and looking at the website and your profile, I don't think there is), maybe you can be the person who starts one?
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:31 AM on November 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

I guess I could seek out and go to lectures, but I'm looking more for conversations, and something I really liked was the spontaneity of it.
Getting on the mailing list for any departments you find interesting at your local University and attending events isn't a bad start. Most colloquia and interdisciplinary talks that I've been to include wine and snacks before or after, with plenty of opportunity for real conversation. You could probably skip the lectures, if you like, without anybody noticing. (It make take a little while to convince people you're not a crank, especially in small and crank-weary departments.)

Failing that, announce a few MeFi IRL events and see who shows up.

My luck finding interesting people out in the world lately in a new city has been terrible, so I look forward to reading other suggestions.
posted by eotvos at 7:52 AM on November 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

maybe attending an academic conference type gathering? The big conferences can be expensive to attend but smaller ones might run $20 and you can check out a ton of speakers and chat with people at poster sessions.
posted by forkisbetter at 8:23 AM on November 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Have you got Skeptics in the Pub anywhere near you? Technically, meetings usually revolve around lectures, but there are lots of opportunities to socialise, and members often have research interests. There's a similar sort of thing near me called Cultural Cafe. You could start your own variant.

I also met people doing interesting research through Esperanto meet-ups, so you could look for a similar hobby which is likely to attract academic types. Oh, and MeFi meet-ups.
posted by paduasoy at 8:36 AM on November 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Fannish conventions - SF conventions, comics conventions, costume conventions, anime conventions; find something where you have at least a passing interest in the main topic and just show up - those are the places I find endless conversations with smart, passionate people about a wide array of topics.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:31 AM on November 21, 2017

lots of good advice

the student poster session is a good idea since students often have to explain to non-experts and are often desperate for conversation because of under-attendance...but.... i) be prepared to be brushed off if the student wants higher-level chats and ii) please don't go to academic conferences in a field outside your specialty unless you are familiar (like degree-level familiar) with the field's foundations......

we get a few randos at our conference, and it's endearing, but the conferences are for experts to talk shop. most of us don't want to explain soup-to-nuts in these settings. time is valuable - and I say this as someone who likes explaining their work to the general public.
posted by lalochezia at 5:35 AM on November 22, 2017 [5 favorites]

« Older Can an old git get a part time degree at Berkeley?   |   Skype call log Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.