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My specific question is:

Is it improper as a researcher to ask a (more famous) scientist to take a photograph together?

Longer version of question

I am currently a postdoctoral researcher and recently had the opportunity to have a private meeting with a famous scientist in my area of research (a Nobel laureate) to discuss my research. In this situation I acted like it was any other research meeting with a colleague/potential collaborator and just discussed science with the person. However, I would have liked to have asked to take a photograph with the person but was uncertain if this would have come off as unprofessional in any way.

I had similar situations when I was still a student and felt that there was already such a clear demarcation between famous scientist and student that it was appropriate behavior to ask for a photo as a student, however is this appropriate for a professional (e.g. postdoc or young faculty etc)?

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I met one Nobel laureate who was very personable and comfortable with photo-ops; then I met another who excluded me (by physically closing the conversation circle) as I approached him during a conference reception. Since personal relationships have a huge impact on the success of your career, you are right to consider this matter carefully.

I often practice reading/speaking a script in front of the mirror, and then just wing it in real life.

  • If humor comes naturally to you, consider using a short joke. "You know, football players get way too much publicity. Would you autograph your famous fusion article after we take a picture?"

  • Perhaps you might prefer the direct approach, "I've appreciated you taking time to collaborate. Before leaving, would you mind taking a picture together? I want to show my grandchildren that I've worked with a Nobel laureate."

The quality of your interpersonal relationship is key. If during your collaboration you strike a balance between respectful deference to his ideas and humble pride in your own work, you will lay the foundation for a lasting professional friendship. I recommend How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie as a guide on building buoyant, effortless relationships.

Remember, by asking for a photo-op, you will be paying him a complement. Feel good about this -- the world needs more happiness.

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