I'm a graduate student in physics. When meeting new people (mutual acquaintances, workout groups, meeting random people while out and about), eventually the question is often asked: what do you do? I typically tell people that I am a graduate student and if they ask for more specifics I either tell them I work in "physics", "experimental physics" or "atomic physics" or some combination.
Sometimes people respond with things like:
- You must be really smart, that stuff is way over my head!
- Wow, I could never understand that!
- Physics? I hated that class when I took in school!
Unfortunately I sort of have a hard time responding to these responses and I feel like I end up a little awkward and floundering.
The first two are clearly compliments and I think I just need general advice for receiving the compliment and then moving on.
The first one is a little more of a compliment and I usually end up saying something like: "Thank you, I really enjoy it so it's not as hard for me to spend a lot of time learning about it"
The second one I respond with something similar like: "That's ok, I just happen to really like physics so I spend a lot of time trying to understand it!" This is always sort of a non-sequiter though and I feel myself wanting to scramble for a change of subject
The third one feels the trickiest. I know they don't mean me any malice and they're just trying to connect with me the only way they know how when it comes to my field of work! I don't take any offence. I find myself wishing I could respond in some sort of joking way to laugh the subject off or something. I respond a little similarly to the other cases: "Yeah, a lot of people don't like math/physics but I really enjoy and hey, everyone likes different things!" Maybe this last one would be spiced up by asking something like "what did you like better in school?"
I would appreciate any advice for how I can respond to peoples responses to when I tell them that I am a graduate student in physics. I don't want to come off as awkward and I do want to connect to the person, and also perhaps probe is there is some way of turning their responses towards a more personal connection for us. I also don't want them to feel like there is a wall or something between us because I study something they perceive as really impenetrable and difficult.
edit: Thank you for the suggestions so far! In response to the comment requesting what my goals are with my response:
- I think first and foremost I want to come off as personable. I think the reason these responses bother me is that there is an implication that I must not be approachable since I work in physics and I want to exude the opposite of this.
- I want to show that I don't think any less of them for not having a good personal relationship with physics
- If their comment is complimentary I want to accept the compliment in a way that isn't arrogant or overly modest and doesn't halt the conversation.
- I want to show that I am interested in them as well. I guess either I'd be happy to chat with them in more depth about physics if their interested or change the subject to find out what they are more interested in if not physics.