It went a little something like this.
Scene: Two young women are standing in the alcove where the three printers are set up. One stands by the shelf laden with the industrial staplers and three overflowing trays of scrap paper and unclaimed printing. The other has just walked in and peers at the printer distractedly. She is unusually well dressed for a post-grad student (surprise! it's me!)
The printer on the right hand side wheezes into life. It coughs out two pages. It pauses. It coughs out another page. This sporadic printing continues as the two women converse.
Me, leaning over to pick up the first piece of printed paper: I think that's mine.
Her, eyeballing the page, printed with bloggers doing outfit post poses: What is your research on?
Me: I'm researching style blogs and fashion online?
Aside: I always inflect up into a question when delivering this line, a pre-emptive reflection of the customary response- 'what's a style blog?' This tentative inflection is a mark of solidarity with the bafflement of my questioner... or of my own insecurity... Whatevs, your psychoanalysis is distracting me from my tableau.
Her: I was wondering what you were working on. Whenever I walk past your desk I always see you looking at pictures of fashion, or on your Twitter...
She falls silent. I feel judged but in a funny way, as if my research is a practical joke I get to play on my peers ('you think I'm the biggest bludger in the ARC but surprise! It's work! Gotcha!')
Me: Yeah, it's pretty great. I read style.com for "research."
We both laugh.
Me: So what's your project on?
She, in the polished tone of voice we all unconsciously adopt when introducing our work: Japanese woodcut erotica from the nineteenth century.