Some time ago I posted a plea to students, postdocs, and faculty to go to more seminars: What college students (and professors) do wrong. In response, a postdoc just sent me a link to the humor piece Experimental Error: Lies, Damned Lies, and Seminars in Science. (Not my postdoc—I don’t have any funding for grad students or postdocs.)
I can certainly identify with the rant about “obfuscation, incoherence, and acronyms, acronyms, acronyms (which a seminar speaker would probably label “OIA3″ on an early slide without ever explaining what it stood for)”—I will never go to another chromatin-remodeling or histone-modification talk in my life.
Also objectionable to me are the speakers who drone and mumble. I know I’m beginning to get a bit deaf (the audiologist tells me that hearing aids are unlikely to help for another couple of years, but I could just qualify for them on my insurance plan), but I can still hear speakers who face the audience and talk to them all, and not just their friend in the front row who invited them. But I’ve already ranted about that in Speaking Loudly.
Luckily, most of the talks I go to are not those archetypical snoozefests. There is often a good idea worth listening to, and the better talks may have a number of cool ideas in them. Speakers who are enthusiastic about their material and willing to explain why it is interesting to people who are not in their field can be a delight to listen to. I’ve had the best luck with bioinformatics seminars, because the speakers (bioinformaticians, biologists, computer scientists, statisticians, or bioengineers) know that they are talking to a mixed crowd, many of them in different fields, and so take the time to explain why what they do is interesting, rather than just assuming that everyone knows.
So go read Experimental Error: Lies, Damned Lies, and Seminars, laugh at it, then go to a seminar.