Monday, October 28, 2013


I'm giving a seminar tomorrow, so of course rather than practicing it again, I think about these other things...

Why do I/we go to seminars? It's an immensely inefficient way to obtain information. Half an hour with the paper is most definitely better than an hour and a half listening to someone talk about it, and that's if I manage to pay attention the whole time (ha!*)

So why do I still go? (...when I do?)

  1. Social image. If I never show up, what will people think of me? 
  2. Learning what kinds of questions people have, and therefore how to anticipate questions to my own work.
  3. Learning how to present, by watching others present. 
  4. A commitment device, to force myself to spend some time thinking about an interesting paper that isn't directly enough related to my research that I'd read the paper before letting it stagnate in my Mendeley "to read" folder for six months, or a year, or indefinitely... 
  5. To be able to keep up with talk around the water cooler. There may be more interesting papers to read than whichever random one is being presented, but if everyone in the office just saw the same presentation, we can have an interesting discussion about it.

What else? Is it just me?

Relatedly: I hear Jeff Bezos, in place of traditional meetings, requires people to write up reports, which everyone in the meeting reads silently and simultaneously before discussing it. He says it's impossible to write a report without thinking clearly about what you're saying, and reading is more efficient than listening. For this among other reasons, I rather idolize him...

*To be fair, the reason it's hard to pay attention the whole time is partly because it's an inefficient way to obtain information, so that's a little bit circular.


Sheng said...

My two cents:
1) I go to seminars because it takes me longer than 1.5 hours to read a paper. To me, it's like the trade-off between reading text books and attending lectures.
2) I find that just reading the paper gives a very one-sided view - the author's perspective. At good seminars, I'll sometimes see the audience raise interesting counter-arguments. caveats, or extensions to the main topic.
3) It keeps us somewhat social. I think when we publish, we are participating in an on-going discourse, using journals as the forums. But response via publication can take a long time. Presentations allow quicker feedback.

But yeah, I have a lot trouble staying awake in some seminars...

Good luck tomorrow! =D

Vera L. te Velde said...

yeah I basically agree with all of those. 1 is true but I nonetheless find that 1.5 hours reading is more valuable than 1.5 hours listening, even if it takes longer than that to get through everything. and 2 was really what I meant by my 2. and 3 is most definitely the best reason to present, but not to attend :)