This blog contains the excellent advice of Nancy Rose to MIT faculty and students, along with my own two addenda on Etiquette and Advice to Presenters. Here is a pdf version if you wish to print and post or forward it.
Subject: Some guidance for our upcoming seminars
Date: Tue, 22 Jan 2019 10:11:02 -0500
From: Nancy Rose <email@example.com>
To: All faculty, visitors and graduate students
Dear Faculty and Student Colleagues,
Many of us have been thinking about how we can respond, individually and as a department, to concerns about the climate of the economics profession, and how best to affirm our mutual commitment to a supportive environment that empowers each of us to realize our full potential and contribute the best of our talents.
As one step in that ongoing effort, I am writing to share with you some guidance in advance of our department’s job market talks, which begin tomorrow. These are not meant as rules written in stone. But I hope they will prompt each of us to reflect on how we can ensure – in seminars and in our departmental interactions more generally – that MIT Economics combines intellectual vitality with an inclusive and respectful environment in which to exchange ideas and advance knowledge.
I hope that each of you will join me in making sure that our department’s seminar culture not only achieves our shared goals for job market seminars, but also serves as a role model for others. I welcome feedback at the conclusion of our hiring season, as we continue our efforts to sustain a welcoming environment for all.
Thank you for your engagement on this important issue–
Guidance for a Constructive Culture of Exchange in MIT Economics Seminars
Research seminars are one of the highlights of our department’s academic life. They provide opportunities for participants to learn about and probe the boundaries of new research, for presenters to gain the benefit of constructive feedback, and for students to develop skills as participants in research discussions. All of these are best achieved when the seminar environment is respectful and inclusive, and when all participants keep these goals in mind.
Building on recent discussions at the AEA meetings and elsewhere on the culture of seminars in our profession, and informed by a number of conversations with our faculty and students, this memo shares some guidance for “best practices” to help ensure that department seminars promote an open and vibrant exchange of ideas within a positive environment for both presenters and participants.
1) Allow presenters time at the beginning to frame their talk without interruption. A “10 minute rule” has been successfully implemented in several field seminars, allowing only brief clarifying questions during this initial period. And as that leaves 70 more minutes, please don’t feel you must get all your questions in at minute 11!
2) Share the floor. Please remember seminar time is a scarce resource. If you haven’t had a chance to read the paper, please try to determine whether the paper addresses your question before you ask it. If you have already asked several questions, you might consider allowing a bit of time and space to see if others wish to contribute.
3) Raise your hand to indicate that you wish to ask a question or contribute to the discussion. This gives the presenter agency to mediate the discussion by calling on audience members, and avoids interrupting the presenter mid-thought, a courtesy that may be especially appreciated in job talks. If the presenter doesn’t see someone’s hand, the organizer can help by pointing that out. A question or comment often leads naturally to some back and forth exchange with the speaker. But if you continue to be dissatisfied with a response, please don’t hold the talk hostage. Instead, allow the presenter to move on, and follow up offline. Please make every effort not to interrupt or talk over the presenter or another participant.
4) Avoid sidebar conversations with other participants. Keep whispers to no more than a short (clarifying) question or response. Anything more should be deferred or asked publicly; please raise your hand and share your question or concern for the benefit of all. Even quiet sidebar conversations between participants rarely are as unobtrusive as intended, and distract the speaker and others in the audience.
5) Strive for fair and equal treatment. Many studies suggest that women are likely to be interrupted more often than are men in settings like this. The same may be true for softer-spoken participants regardless of gender. Resist contributing to that disparity!
6) Organizers: Please be prepared to intervene in real time if necessary to call attention to someone whose raised hand has been overlooked, to return the floor to the presenter, or to remind participants of our norms of courtesy and respect.
Nancy L. Rose
|Department Head and Charles P. Kindleberger Professor of Applied Economics
MIT Department of Economics
The Morris and Sophie Chang Building, E52-318A
50 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA 02142
|Addendum to Nancy Rose’s excellent email. Randy Ellis, March, 2019
7) Show up on time for the seminar.
8) Stay until the end of the seminar. If you must leave early, it is much more polite if you arrive early and privately tell the speaker that you have another commitment and will have to leave promptly at time X:XX.
9) Mute your cell phone. (If you are presenting, you could intentionally do this just before your talk, even if it was already mute, to signal to others that they should remember to do that as well.)
10) No answering phone calls in the seminar room. If you do answer a cell phone call (from vibrate mode!!!) never talk until you have left the seminar room. Mute or hang up and call back later, or make the caller wait ten seconds while you leave the room.
11) No email or web surfing in the front three rows. If you plan to be looking at your cellphone or laptop or read papers during a talk: a) try not to, or b) sit in the back of the room.
->I was at a seminar in Spain given by a woman, and every man in the room was checking their cellphone or laptop for messages, while only one of the ten women were. This was not a coincidence.
12) No napping. If you are prone to napping or had a bad night’s sleep, sit in the back of the room or don’t come.
13) Keep questions brief. Many professors think they are making brilliant comments, which others feel are bad or unnecessarily long. Err on the side of too few, and ask questions instead of giving advice.)
14) Write down your thoughts. If you have a lot of comments or uncertainties about a presentation, write them down. Discuss or give them to the presenter at the end of the talk. Most presenters are delighted to get constructive comments after their talk.
->I have always been immensely grateful to Daniel McFadden, who instead of interrupting my job market paper presentation, gave me a page of very high-quality comments.
15) No questions during the final three minutes. Let the presenter summarize and conclude the presentation.
Randall P. Ellis, Ph.D.
|Advice to presenters facing inappropriate, intrusive or awkward questions, by Randy Ellis November 2019
Randall P. Ellis, Ph.D.