Two stories from the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting

Jeff Dieffenbach

jeff-at-aaas-feb-2019At the Fri MIT reception with TPPers Katie (’16) and Sarah (’18)

At first blush, neither of these stories fits a more formal definition of teaching and learning (the purported domain of this blog). But I learned a lot from both.


I’m down in our nation’s capital for the annual meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Science (AAAS). Heading into the opening expo Thu evening, the woman ahead of me asked the staffer if she could enter despite not having a badge yet (registration had just closed for the evening).

The staffer turns to a colleague and asks if it’s okay.

Colleague says to the woman, “Can you at least name a scientist?”

Woman replies with the best pro move ever, “Me. I’m a scientist. I’m speaking tomorrow morning.” Boom, mic drop.



Sunday morning at the MIT booth gracing the AAAS expo. The conference puts out coffee and tea service to help draw people into the expo area. Being a good environmentalist, I take my tea in one of the mugs and not a paper cup.

My colleague Bob similarly avails himself of the offered caffeine. In a similar mug. But coffee, not tea.

Amazingly, or maybe just oddly, I’ve never had coffee. I mean, never. A single drop had never crossed my lips. (Coffee was always a drink for grown-ups.)

Maybe you can see where this is headed.

Bob puts his mug down next to mine. Or maybe I put mine down next to his. I absent-mindedly reach for my mug and take a sip. But I’m distracted by a conversation Bob’s having with someone from NASA. An actual rocket scientist. Which, the rest of this story demonstrate, I am clearly not.

The distraction’s such that I only subconsciously notice how foul my tea has become. A second sip, though, and my frontal cortex is fully aware. I’m looking not at a crisp brown elixir, but rather, a cream-infused taupe sludge. I’m suave enough not to spit the vile brew all over the NASA scientist, so I swallow, grab my tea, and do a 60 second silentish gargle. That doesn’t quite do it, but two more do and I’m back to normal.

Scarred, but normal.

Back in Boston, I related the story to my sons. My older son, the teacher, sums it up this way, “You had lukewarm coffee. Generic stuff, from the conference food service. And with cream. You really couldn’t have done First Coffee any worse.”

Kid’s not wrong.