Today math colloquium went brilliantly for the first 15 minutes. Around the 16th or 17th minute, a drilling noise began. It wasn't that it drowned out the speaker; to the contrary, I could hear everything perfectly. The problem was that it was loud enough to be a significant noise in the room, and thereby was very distracting. I had heard the practice talk, and therefore knew that the part of the talk occurring now was key, as it linked the first and second halves together, and I was not able to focus whatsoever on what the speaker was saying, even though I knew the material, so I knew it must be even worse for the others.
I tolerated a few minutes of the drilling noise, glancing around, expecting a professor to do something about it. After it was clear that no one was going to do something, I decided that I had to do something. I weighed the relative interruptiveness of the noise versus my getting up and leaving the room, and decided that the noise was going on long enough that I needed to make it stop. So I got up, walked out the exterior door, put my glasses case in the door so that it wouldn't lock, and sprinted away in search of the source of the noise.
In fact, I thought that the noise was directly outside, so that this would be very easy. It was no such thing. I ran into the building and up the stairs, thinking that perhaps it was coming from the math library. No. I talked to the department secretary, who said it was coming from the basement and had been going on all day. I sprinted away, ran down two flights of stairs, and peeked into Bronfman Auditorium. All was silent. I couldn't even hear the drilling anymore. I ran down the next flight of stairs and could faintly detect noise from behind a door I had never opened, or seen open. I opened it and the noise got much louder. I saw that three men were working, one operating a very loud industrial vacuum cleaner thing and two operating a drill of some nature near the ceiling. "Hello!" I shouted, "Excuse me!" The noise down there was loud enough that they did not hear me. Eventually they did, and I explained the situation in about five words and asked them to stop for 15 minutes. They agreed, and I sprinted back upstairs, back outside, picked up my glasses case, walked in, and then breathed heavily as I tried, unsuccessfully, to catch my breath.
The room, which was full of people watching the talk, was nice and quiet now, but only one person acknowledged my return whatsoever. I thought they were going to clap or something. It was that awesome. But they didn't. The rest of the talk proceeded without incident. Afterwards, a few people asked if I had made the drilling stop. I wonder what the rest of them thought -- that I really had to go to the bathroom, and the fact that I returned about 60 seconds after the noise stopped was a coincidence?
No. I made it stop, and I was a hero. That's right.
03/23/18 PHD comic: 'How you see your students'
4 hours ago