What the Seminar Speaker Really Means
| Peter Klein |
When the speaker says: I’m pleased to give you this talk this morning because I always enjoy sharing my research with young scientists.
The speaker really means: I was promised a small honorarium.
When the speaker says: First, a little background.
The speaker really means: I am about to show you the only slide in which I have any confidence.
When the speaker says: This has been an incredibly exciting field for us to research.
The speaker really means: Five or six labs in the world care about this. You don’t.
When the speaker says: To be fair, there has been some debate in the scientific community about this point.
The speaker really means: We have a laboratory of mortal enemies at another institution, and they are so very wrong.
When the speaker says: This led us to ask a different question.
The speaker really means: Our grant ran out.
When the speaker says: I’ll just talk briefly about this.
The speaker really means: I will talk about this for at least an hour. I am unaware that time is finite. I am your overlord.
When the speaker says: This result was completely unexpected.
The speaker really means: This result pissed us off. Two postdocs cried.
When the speaker says: At this point, I went back to the literature.
The speaker means: At this point, I instructed my graduate student to go back to the literature.
Although, actually, the speaker really means: At this point, I instructed my graduate student to go back to the literature, but he just used Wikipedia, so I went back to the literature.
Read the whole thing. As the author explains,
In the idyllic vision of the uninitiated, a seminar tells a story, starting with a clear description of a problem, then outlining a series of steps taken to address that problem, and ending with a special reward: a glistening kernel of new knowledge. The speaker tells the story using vocabulary accessible to anyone with a similar breadth, though not necessarily depth, of scientific knowledge so that all in attendance can bask in the final, glorious revelation.
In reality, scientific seminars usually consist of quasi-related PowerPoint slides cobbled together from prior seminars and lab meetings, thoroughly and precariously dependent on an impossible quantity of specialized terms, assembled in a hotel room at 2:00 a.m. or covertly in the back of the lecture hall during the previous seminar.
Bonus guide for students: What the Professor Really Means.