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October 25, 2010
If You're Not Excited, Sit Down
Mat Todd of the University of Sydney looks over the SciFoo conference that we both attended during the summer, and contrasts that to an ACS meeting. The comparison isn't kind, as you'd imagine:
. . .with a few very notable exceptions the talks I saw were a) presented in a dull Powerpoint-heavy series of slides with verbal commentary about what was on the slides where even the presenter was visibly bored with what they were saying and b) on published material that was c) way too predictable and incremental. So both the presentational style and the content were disappointing. So many talks at the ACS would have been more interesting if the speaker had simply given out paper copies of their latest paper and given us 10 minutes to read it in silence then 10 minutes to talk about it. Now of course specialism necessitates incrementalism in content, but it’s no good if the meeting becomes a chore to sit and listen to. Nor is it good if the talks come out of the Powerpoint Machine (the genius of the “Chicken Talk” is that you can kind of follow the talk structure without listening to the content – it sounds exactly like most academic talks right up to the last supplementary slide in response to the second question at the end). In maybe 80% of the talks I attended nobody asked questions, or nobody was allowed to, or people asked “pity questions” just to break the awkward silence, but which were in no way interesting in themselves.
"A chore" is exactly what I find too many presentations and conferences to be, unfortunately. If we limited presentations, as Mat suggests, to people who are excited about their results, we'd have a lot of short meetings in this field. . .
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