Thursday, December 17, 2009

Talks that go pear shaped....

Every now and then you go to a seminar which goes horribly wrong for the speaker. Someone asks a question that the speaker answers poorly or cannot answer. Then other people start asking questions or offering critical comments and it gets worse.....

Why does this happen? How can the speaker prevent it?

I think it may be because the speaker violates the important principle:

Never offer undefendable ground.

i.e. do not make claims that you cannot back up

Speakers will sometimes make claims that are not necessary for the actual talk but will irritate members of the audience, particulary senior people. I think students who "parrot" lines they have learnt from their advisor about justification for their work.

A random set of sample claims which you may hear variants of include:

-our results will allow the design of new materials
-silicon based electronics has no future
-density functional theory cannot described electronic correlation effects
-molecular dynamics simulations of biomolecules tell us nothing
-the Hubbard model oversimplifies the true Hamiltonian
-BEC's allow us to tune parameters in a manner that is not possible in traditional condensed matter systems
-quantum information processing is going to revolutionise computing
-our theory agrees with all the experimental results
-everyone elses theory is wrong

So if you don't want your talk to go pear shaped, don't claim anything you wont be able to defend.

1 comment:

  1. I was a talk some time ago by a student in a molecular dynamics group, and noticed something that irritated me. He kept referring to the need to understand what was happening in his system (a protein and a bilayer) in "atomic detail".

    By the end of the talk it seemed he had used the phrase "atomic detail" more than 20 times.

    After his talk, I asked him why it was so important to know all this atomic detail. He looked at me like I had 3 heads. Clearly, this question had never occured to him.

    His advisor, who was present, proceeded to give him a good thrashing.