Higher EducationInformal EducationPop Quiz

Pop Quiz: Am I “normal”?

Yesterday, we were taking a break around the office and discussing the latest Star Trek movie. (NO spoilers, promise.) I did bring up my incredulity that J.J. Abrams would go to town on the lens flares with as much gusto after everyone had mocked that aspect about the last movie. A colleague of mine, a physics professor, pointed out that no everyone reads movie reviews and Star Trek fan sites, and that these movies were geared for “normal people,” the larger audience.

I argued that this isn’t part of the Star Trek lore, and I’m a nerd and a geek but not about cinematography. I’m a normal person in that respect! It was so obvious that the lens flares were covering people’s faces as they were talking! And several heads popped up around the office. “Nope, I didn’t notice.” “It wasn’t that obvious.” “I didn’t see it.” My colleague smiled at me and said, “You’re a teacher.You’re not normal.”

So I stopped and thought about that. It’s an idea I’d been told before about educators, especially those working in higher ed, as well as people working on with advanced degrees. We’re not “normal.” We’re not your average audience. However, as an educator, we need to live in both worlds, able to speak the language of the nerds and average person. We’re translators.

It’s hard to step away from the “geek culture” in which I am so entrenched. Part of the problem with the flood and diversity of information that comes with the Internet age is the ability to isolate yourself within certain narrow viewpoints. Plus, for geeks, we’re constantly being told lately that “geek is cool” and “geek has gone mainstream.” It’s easy to believe when you surround yourself with people of similar interests and viewpoints, but our job as educators is to reach everyone, all the little nooks and crannies and groups and people of diverse opinions. Informal educators especially look to reach adults, children, men, women, geeks, nerds, jocks, or any other social stereotype you can think of.

I figured that as a science educator, I was going okay in being able to translate and communicate within my fields of expertise. However, it helps to remember that education is broad, communicators can communicate generally, and that just because I’m no film buff, my geekiness seeps into my worldview and changes how I communicate by default, if I’m not careful.

Has you chosen profession, education, or status as an educator ever made you feel that you were not “normal”? Do you find it difficult to communicate outside your field of expertise as an educator or outside that role?

The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 3pm ET.

Image CC soniyab on Flickr.

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Nicole is a professor, astronomer, educator, geek, dog mom, occasional fitness nerd, and maker of tiny comets. She is also very loud under the right circumstances. Like what you read? Buy me a coffee: https://ko-fi.com/noisyastronomer


  1. May 30, 2013 at 4:18 pm —

    I gotta say, those lens flares started to piss me off. Waaay too many, and in people’s faces—HOW COULD THEY NOT NOTICE?!

  2. May 30, 2013 at 5:41 pm —

    One thing I’ve always felt as an educator that could be described as “not normal” is a heightened necessity for maintaining privacy about my personal life, and how that sometimes constrains behaviour that others don’t often have to think about. For example, a single teacher might be tempted to use a dating site in order to find a partner, but legal, professional, and social ramifications of having such a thing found by students either prevents it entirely or puts serious limits on the kind of material one can post. I’ve been thinking about addressing that very issue in a PQ or longer post, actually. Maybe on Monday.

  3. June 4, 2013 at 9:58 pm —

    He used those damn lens flares in Super 8 as well. I kept thinking “is this a hint about something?” Nope, just JJ Abram’s obsession with fucking lens flares.

    To answer your question, why be normal when you can be awesome? =) But seriously, I don’t try to be normal nor do I care to be normal (whatever that means). And I’m often told that anthropologists are “weird”–and that’s correct. We are weird. I find it hard to communicate about some things in my field, but I also try really hard to find ways of explaining it without using jargon (though sometimes it is necessary as there are not better words). Trying to explain some difficult concepts in anthropology to 18-year-old freshman can be a challenge sometimes. But I agree with you, I think we educators often serve as academic-to-public translators.

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