Dear Self, Welcome to a Lifetime of Awkward Small Talk

A rough transcript of the conversation I had no fewer than five times this weekend:

Person With Very Little Medical Background Whom I Just Met: So what are you studying?
Me: Well actually, I’m here doing research in the veterinary hospital.
Them: Oh, cool!  What kind of research?
Me: Research in the equine clinic.
Them: But what are you researching?
Me: ….Reproduction?

But the problem with saying “Reproduction” is that it catches people off guard.  I mean, you walk up to me and in under a minute I’m already talking about sex?  Shouldn’t we beat around the bush for a few more minutes discussing where I’m from and how I feel about the weather?  And besides, what could one possibly research in reproduction?  It’s pretty much an A + B = C kind of thing, right?

Hence, they continue to pry for details and I have to make the snap judgement of how much they really want to know.  I have no problem describing what I’m doing, including the current body of background knowledge (I love being a teacher, after all), but that might be TMI for someone who was really just trying to make small talk and enjoy their beer. 

Here’s more or less the description I started out using: It is known that obesity decreases fertility across species, including in humans.  However, we don’t know why or by what mechanism this happens.  The study I’m involved in is using the horse as a model to explore potential mechanisms for this decreased fertility.  Specifically, my project is looking at the rate at which follicles grow, how many follicles develop, and the amount of blood flow to the corpus luteum in mares with a high fat diet vs a control diet.

And yet, while that elevator speech works for those in the veterinary/medical field, it opens up a minefield of confusion and awkward looks from those without a medical background.  Follicle? Corpus luteum?  Did she seriously just throw Latin at me with a Heineken in her hand?

And so here’s the description I’m now using: I’m studying the effect of obesity on fertility in the horse.

I always keep explaining as long as they’re asking questions (like any good teacher would), generally leaving out the unnecessary details.  Obviously, I’m far from alone in having an obscure research topic that the general public rarely considers.  But reproduction is an interesting field in that I’m researching an obscure element that the general public rarely considers in a broader topic that the general public frequently considers.  Pretty much everyone has thoughts on reproduction; most people don’t bring up their thoughts on reproduction during small talk.  But thus is the fabulous life I’ve chosen for myself, and I’m really very happy with the decision.  

Case in point, I got to do my first insemination today, and if it results in an embryo I’m absolutely taking pictures and calling it my first baby.  Strange?  Maybe.  But what would you expect from a girl who brings up reproduction during small talk?


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