Wine and Cheese Tips for the Socially Awkward


A good wine and cheese can be a perfect opportunity to network - just be sure not to commit any of these social faux-pas while you snack. (John F. Francis, oil on canvas / Wikimedia Commons)
A good wine and cheese can be a perfect opportunity to network – just be sure not to commit any of these social faux-pas while you snack. (John F. Francis, oil on canvas / Wikimedia Commons)

Pretty much every department at McGill hosts at least one wine and cheese night. These events are a great chance to mingle with your professors, ask for advice from upper-year students, and sneak a snack before heading back to the library. Sounds perfect, unless you are a socially-awkward person… like myself.

If you are guilty of any of the below offences, you might be socially awkward, too. Fret not; I have also explained how to correct this behavior. Mostly though, this list has been compiled for the sake of a good laugh. We have all made some interesting mistakes as we learn to network.

Offence #1: Have you ever over-stuffed yourself?

Let’s face it, at every wine and cheese, there is a gathering of scared first-years around the food table. To make up for not talking, plates are piled up with enough cheese, crackers, and fruit to feed a small army of mice. When a professor finally enters enemy territory to talk to students, they’ve all just had three crackers and no drinks in between. The next minute spent chewing makes for one awkward silence.

The Fix: I know you might be hungry after a long day, but eat slowly so that you can have a conversation when the researcher you have always wanted to talk to makes his way over. Try to not hover by the food table – get out there, bring your food with you, and go back for more later.

Offence #2: Have you ever been tipsy or flushed at a wine and cheese?

For everyone who gets the “asian flush”*, you know that even one glass of wine could mean a red glow for the evening. Nothing is more embarrassing than looking drunk in front of your professors at a networking event, even if you are not. Yet if you do not have a glass with you, it feels as if you are breaking some unspoken social rule. Keep it classy, people.

The Fix: All University-sanctioned events have to provide an alternative to alcohol, so you can always fill that wine glass with juice. There is no shame in sipping OJ, just saying. But you can also just get grape juice, which looks the same as red wine.

*i.e. everyone with a genetic modification that impacts the functionality of the ADH enzyme

Offence #3: Have you ever unsuccessfully pushed in on a conversation?

If you have been to one of these events, you have either been this person or you have felt sorry for them. In the midst of a beautiful conversation, she hedges in and starts nodding. Unfortunately, when she chooses to make a remark, silence reigns. The professor plows on with the conversation as if nothing has happened, but everyone knows something has.

The Fix: Laugh it off and listen to the conversation more closely for cues as to when would be a good time to jump in. Know that people around you totally understand how it feels to be in the same situation.

Offence #4: Have you ever fished for opportunities?

There is at least one person who asks if the professor has space in their lab for more students. This is what networking events are for; there is no rule saying that we cannot ask. However, when the question is too blunt or aimed at the wrong person at a wine and cheese, things can get messy. As soon as the question is broached, it is like an alarm has gone off, and half the room is listening for the reply.

The Fix: This situation is tricky. Asking is always worth a shot, but make sure that you understand the work. Also, try to get a conversation going first to see if you get along with the professor. A supervisor is a mentor – one of the few a student might find at McGill. Sometimes, the chemistry between mentor and potential mentee just is not there – better to figure this out at a wine and cheese than 50 hours into a research project. Ask a potential supervisor if they have time for coffee – or ask them when their office hours are – so that you can talk more.  If a professor has space and funding in their lab for students, the professor will try to recruit intelligent, interested people. When faced with rejection, do not take it personally. Funding restrains the number of students – even the number of volunteers – that a lab can support. Training a student is also a large commitment. Sometimes, it’s not you, it’s them.

Too shy to ask in-person about research opportunities? Fire off an e-mail later, making sure to specify when and where you met them. Check out The Abstract’s guide to snagging a research position here.

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