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NYstateOfMind88's avatar

When making small talk with someone new, what questions would you be impressed a layperson asked about your profession?

Asked by NYstateOfMind88 (76 points ) December 17th, 2008

For example, I’m sure when computer programmers are at parties, they get pretty annoyed when outsiders of the profession ask ignorant questions like “Oh you’re a programmer? So do you like, design web sites or video games and stuff?” However, I’m sure they’re slightly more impressed if an outsider said “A programmer? What languages do you work with?” You get the drift.

What is your profession, and what questions about it from outsiders annoy you? What questions do you enjoy answering about it? What would you be impressed a layperson knew about your profession?

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32 Answers

Les's avatar

Occupation: Meteorologist/ Atmospheric Scientist
Annoying question (its a toss up between): “So, what channel do you want to be on?” and “Wow, are you happy you are in a profession where you are paid to be wrong?” Endless GRR.
Impressive Question: Anything where the asker wants to know why something is the way it is. There have been many on Fluther: Why do rainclouds appear dark?, What is wind?, How is the ozone hole doing?

seekingwolf's avatar

Well, I’m a student in college, so that’s not really a “profession” purse, but still, when I tell people about how I’m a student and I’m studying…

People sometimes say “oh college, that’s cool, do you go to a lot of parties?” or (even worse) “oh don’t commit yourself to a major yet, you’ll change your mind too soon.”

I appreciate it when people ask about my studies, not my (non-existent) social life, because what I study is very important to me (that’s why I do it!). I also like it when people understand my goals and motives, and don’t try to invalidate them just because I am young and somehow may “change my mind”.

Oh, forgot to add, I’m studying neuroscience. I get a lot of things like “oh so you want to work with all the crazy people right?” uhm…sure. ><

KatawaGrey's avatar

I am a student but will be a filmmaker after I graduate. When people ask me what aspects of filmmaking interest me and then ask me questions or offer experiences about those aspects I speak of, I am quite impressed.

Nimis's avatar

I’m rarely impressed by any small talk…regardless of how knowledgeable they are.
The only thing that impresses me (literally leaves an impression)
depends more on whether I feel like their interest is genuine.

I will entertain even the most obvious and trivial questions.
And ignore prepared and contrived “good” questions.

qualitycontrol's avatar

profession: quality control technician (for now)
annoying question: “so what do you get paid to stuff your face all day?” no shithead
impressive question: what type of products do you inspect and what companies do you produce for?
people my age usually ask the forementioned and “grown ups” ask the latter.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@qualitycontrol: What does a quality control technician do?

Sorry for the off topic question but my curiosity got the best of me…

cwilbur's avatar

I would prefer to not discuss my profession at all when I’m interacting socially. “What languages do you work with?” while marginally preferable to “Can you fix my computer for me?” is the sort of thing I prefer to leave at work.

And it’s not even this specific profession. When I was a graduate student in music theory, the first question, without fail, was “What instrument do you play?” I eventually got so sick of the question that I started responding “My brain” and changing the subject.

If you’re a computer programmer or a music theorist, chat away. If you’re neither, and just trying to ask intelligent questions rather than stupid ones, ask me about something you find interesting instead of something you think I won’t have heard before.

qualitycontrol's avatar

It can be different depending on what products are being manufactured. I work with frozen seafood. QC plays a big role in making sure the food measures up to the standards of the customers (other companies) and the consumers (the people eating it). So for example we make the beer battered cod fillets for Friendly’s. It’s the job of the QC department to make sure your getting 70% fish flesh and 30% batter or however it is Friendly’s wants their product. As we are producing the product we take samples and fill out reports, run different tests on it, cook it, eat it to make sure it’s yummy. The main goal is to catch any problems with the product before it goes out the door to the customer. As well as keeping it up to a certain standard of quality we have to keep it safe to consume. I can imagine most manufactures of any type of product has a QC department.

funkdaddy's avatar

I build websites for small businesses and individuals, and I love talking with anyone new about really any aspect of it. Tell me about your favorite site, ask how something is done, as how I bill people or who I work with, all of those are valid and not anything you have to prepare for. As Nimis said, as long as they’re genuinely interested, I’m happy to talk to them.

I’m truly impressed if they have an idea (online or off) and they’re actually trying to get it off the ground. I love talking to passionate people about their ideas, especially if I can keep them fired up about it or lead them in the right direction.

The only questions I’ve had that annoy me involve me building people sites for free because I met them at a party. Or the one gentleman who said he had a wonderful new idea, and wanted me to let him know how hard it would be to make, without telling me what the idea was so I couldn’t steal it.

You figured me out man, my business plan is to cruise parties talking to non-technical strangers looking for the next big thing online so I can steal it. Good thing you’re not falling for it.

wundayatta's avatar

I’m a methodologist who works with hundreds of data sets. I help social science researchers answer their research questions. No one has ever heard of my job, and no one can talk about it sensibly, unless they are actually in the field of policy research, and, to some extend, data management.

So, the usual response after I say what I am is a blank look, followed by “what’s that?”

A sensible question might be, “so how do you help folks decide the best way to analyze their data?”

jholler's avatar

I’m a firefighter, and while I understand the question, I hate being asked what we do when we aren’t putting out fires. We train, and we wait. I get paid to wait, ok?

KatawaGrey's avatar

@qc: Thank you. I’ve heard the job title before but never knew what it was.

@jholler: Good for you. Firefighters are true heroes.

NYstateOfMind88's avatar

This is really great guys, keep them coming! I also enjoy learning about all of these new jobs that I’ve never heard of it

girlofscience's avatar

Profession: Grad student in Cognitive Neuroscience Ph.D. program, specifically interested in how visual perception is represented in the brain. Plans to remain in academia permanently.

Annoying questions:
– Whoa, so are you like, really smart? (Compared to you, yes.)
– I have all these dreams about X. What does that mean? (Don’t know; don’t care.)
– My grandpop has Alzheimer’s. Do you think you will cure it? (No.)
– So, are you in tons of debt from student loans? (No. My entire program is paid for and I receive a hefty stipend.)

Impressive (or, at least reasonable) questions:
– What methodology do you use in your research? Do you do behavioral studies, or do you collect ERP and fMRI data?
– Do you use human subjects, or do you do monkey electrophysiology?
– What journals would you be likely to publish in?
– Do you get to travel? What conferences do you attend regularly?

Annoying and impressive question:
Are you worried that the hemodynamic response is merely epiphenomenal?

NYstateOfMind88's avatar

awesome answer girlofscience…i’ll take note of these things next time i chat with anyone who does research.

girlofscience's avatar

@NYstateOfMind88: And great question! (I think this is one of the best “first questions” I have seen.)

Welcome to Fluther.

[Whoops… Second question. Close enough!]

El_Cadejo's avatar

I work at a fish store and volunteer at the local aquarium.

Annoying questions
Do you have any nemos/doris in your tank? (all day i hear people say “LOOK AT ALL THE NEMOS!”)
You must really like fish dont you?(I bet you want to be a when you grow up dont you?)

Good Question
What got you into this?
Specific problems/informational questions. I really dont care what you want to ask me about it. Just ask in a somewhat educated way :P

nikipedia's avatar

Like @girlofscience, I’m a neuroscience graduate student.

I’m not sure there are any other questions that would actually bother me (although the “you must be smart!” comment bugs me too). The project I just finished working on was too arcane and stupid to be explainable to anyone at a party, really. (I was using an unnecessarily complicated procedure to try to show that a certain group of proteins participated in a certain kind of synapse, but only in flies and similar invertebrates. Who effing cares.)

I really, really, really enjoy any discussion about neuroscience that…

1. Deals with any kind of controversy, e.g.: What do neuroscientists want to do with stem cells? Are people overmedicated for psychiatric conditions? Can brain scanners read my mind?

2. Dispels popular myths, e.g.: Why do we only use 10% of our brains?

3. Gets at the crux of the human condition, e.g.: What motivates people to do X? Is there a brain center that decides Y and if so, how?

And not to be an asshole, but….what if the hemodynamic response is epiphenomenal? And how do you deal with Bayes’ theorem in generalizing results? I hope these aren’t dumb questions; I really don’t know the first thing about interpreting fMRI data…

juniper's avatar

I teach English as a Second Language. It annoys me a bit when people say something like, “So, you know every language?” It’s not a big deal, though. I just explain that we teach through English.

The worst is when I mention that I have students from the Middle East and people cringe and ask if it’s “uncomfortable.” Um, no.

I think it’s cool when people ask which countries my students are from and how culture plays a part in our classroom.

Trustinglife's avatar

What a FANTASTIC question.

I work as a spiritual film promoter.

Mildly interesting questions:

-How do you do that?
-What kind of venues pick up your films? Really, who cares?
-What films have you promoted? Getting warmer…

Questions I’d LOVE to be asked:

-What do you love about your work?
-What are your favorite films?
-How do you feel you’ve contributed to the world through your work?
-How could film be a medium for the transformation of the planet?

Wow. I’m realizing by reading and responding to this question that I thought I wanted to be asked the mildly interesting questions. I see now that I really want to be asked the “powerful” questions. Wow. This is going to change my conversations. Thank you NYStateofMind!

Trustinglife's avatar

I want to add one thing… I’m passionate about Ultimate frisbee. I talk about it enough that I get some really dumb questions. The worst:

“Oh, frisbee! That’s that game with the baskets!” (No, that’s disc golf.)
“Oooh, do you guys run around barefoot?” (Um, hell no. Check out the highlight reels, one min and four min. Wow, I’m inspired, watching those again.)

Great questions:

“What is it?”
“What do you love about it?” Nothing fancy.

Or, I’d just want to hear your experience with it. Have you heard of it? Watched it? Played it yourself? Know someone who has? Draw a question between yourself and my passion.

cookieman's avatar

I’m a graphic designer and college professor (teaching same).

Annoying questions/comments:
• So you’re a good drawer?
• Can you design (x) for me for free? It’s really easy.
• Oh me too. I do flyers for our church/school in Microsoft Word/Publisher.
• Do you like to teach?
• Hey professor (said sarcastically by someone who’s not one of my students)

Good questions/comments:
• Questions about process or creativity
• What equipment do you use?
• What classes do you teach?
• Any question about curriculum or programs of study.

My biggest pet peeve is when people assume it’s an easy profession because they feel it’s all talent based and requires little to no actual work.

jholler's avatar

I forgot to add the good questions:
Do I like what I do-hell yes! They’re going to have to kick me out!
Do I need carbon monoxide detectors? – unless your home is all electric, YES!
Can you talk to my kids about fire safety?- I love to. Kids are smarter than adults…do you remember when to change the batteries in smoke detectors?

tiggersmom's avatar

My ?s are like this, what do you do? do you like it? I don’t know that I could do that. I have been a mother and homemaker for years, and I couldn’t do what you do, is it fun for you at all?
I love a little edge to a conversation, but I must profess, I know nothing of being out in the professional world, I have been a professional housewife for over 27 years.

avalmez's avatar

So, I basically understand he concept of LIBOR and other financial futures, but what the heck are CDS’s?

Answer: I dunno.

The_unconservative_one's avatar

@cwilbur What is even worse than “Will you fix my computer?” is the one that goes something like this: them : “My computer is acting up” You : “what’s it doing?” them: “It gave me an error message that said something about the doohickey something or other”

cwilbur's avatar

Oh, I never would have asked “what’s it doing?” in the first place. More likely, “Oh, that’s terrible! I hope you have a good technician to work on it.” And change the subject.

The_unconservative_one's avatar

That’s funny @cwilbur , I guess I kind of bring it on myself.

cwilbur's avatar

Sure – and if they persist in asking questions, I can say, “Oh, I’m afraid I don’t work as a freelance computer consultant any more, but I suppose for you I could make an exception. My rate was $80/hour a couple years ago—does that work for you?”

Making computers work is my job, not something I do for fun. And to be honest, I don’t use Windows anyway, so I have no f’in clue why Windows XP is doing something funky or why you can’t get your game to run with Windows Vista. The sooner people realize this, the happier we all are.

The_unconservative_one's avatar

My favorite is when I tell them, “I would have to look at it in order to diagnose your problem.” They respond: “Everytime I try to play half life 2 it does….” Me: “I would have to look at it in order to diagnose your problem.” Them: “Sometimes when I try to print it does…..” Me: “I would have to look at it in order to diagnose your problem.”

Kayak8's avatar

@the_unconservative _one In my case, I really DON’T want to look at the problem, particularly at parties.

I work in HIV/AIDS, so the questions I hate are:

“Could you just look at this little bump?”
“Do you think this rash could mean something?”
“Do my glands look swollen to you?”
“Do you know anything about warts?”

All the above are at least someone related to my field. The others I get are:

“Do you know what restaurants are safest to eat at?”
“What do you think about this swine flu thing?”
“Are all your patients homosexuals?”

Or the statements,

“Well, I couldn’t get it, because I’m normal . . .” and, last but not least . . .

“So, I heard there’s a cure . . .”

[For the last, “You’re right, there is a cure and we keep it secret just to keep our jobs and because we like watching our friends die . . .]

plethora's avatar

@Nimis My thoughts exactly.

I really don’t want to hear any questions about my profession. If I’m with you, I’m relaxing, not working. And I don’t want to hear any small talk either. I would appreciate a genuine interest in me as a person, not some contrived questions asked to impress.

More likely I will be talking with you in a meaningful way to draw you out and make you feel appreciated. You will not hear any contrived questions about your work or your school if you are still in school.

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