An interesting comment on yesterday's post made me decide to take a detour from my semi-planned blog route this week.
New general topic : Department Seminars: Should attendance be required of graduate students?(note: I am in the mood to use colons today) (another note: I realize that some departments have more than one seminar series, but for the purposes of today's discussion, I will refer to the seminar series in the singular)
Related topic : If attendance is required, should students get academic credit or should they get cosmic credit and a warm/fuzzy feeling of intellectual stimulation even if of the coerced sort?
Other related topic: If students get academic credit, should the students be required to do something other than just be physically present in the seminar room during the talk? For example, should students participate in a pre- or post-seminar discussion of the talk? Read some of the speaker's papers? Write a summary of something (the paper(s), the talk)?
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Today's topic: Department seminars: Should attendance be required of graduate students?
I have been in departments in which grad attendance was optional and in departments in which grad attendance was required and in departments that switched from optional to required systems. Attendance is definitely higher when it is required, and this is of course one of the motivations of the requirement.
It is a fact that, when attendance is not required, some students will attend anyway, some will never attend, and some will have intermittent attendance. (just like faculty)
It is too easy to convince yourself that you don't have time to attend a seminar, that you have other priorities, that your desk chair is much more comfortable than the chairs in the seminar room, that you don't want to disconnect from your iPod for even an hour, and that the title of the talk sounds boring and isn't even in a field you care about.
Being required to attend the departmental seminar eliminates that pesky decision-making process about whether to go to seminar or not. But then, if required to attend, you might sit there in the seminar, seething with resentment about being forced to attend rather than being trusted to make the decision to attend, and your anger at the controlling professors who are oppressing you leaves you unable to appreciate the seminars, even the ones that aren't horrific examples of PowerPoint abuse. You are further unhinged by bitterness when you look around the room and note that quite a few faculty are missing. What is their excuse? Shouldn't they be required to attend seminar as well? Hypocrites.
Faculty should attend seminar if they aren't traveling or on leave or otherwise unable to attend, but faculty are no longer students subject to requirements intended to round out their education. Faculty typically decide to require students to attend department seminars because attending such seminars is viewed as an important educational experience.
I wish that seminars need not be required and that attendance would be high without the requirement. Decades of experience, however, tell me that this is never the case, so I think it is fine to require at least the 1st-2nd year grad students to attend a certain (high) % of each term's seminars.
If you attend seminars regularly, you will realize that although many are in fact not so exciting, over time you learn some useful and possibly important things you wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to learn, you meet (or at least see) new people, you get ideas (about research, about how to give/not give a talk), and you are occasionally surprised by something extraordinarily interesting.
.. to be continued ..
1 month ago