Monday, December 07, 2009

TMI Talks

Earlier this year, I heard a research talk by an FSP who inserted many comments about her personal life into her talk. During the talk, I was quite annoyed by this, but I had to mull it over for a long time before writing about it because I had to think carefully about why it bothered me.

I certainly don't mind if a speaker inserts some personal asides in a talk. A talk given by a human being should have some human elements to it. In the talk that annoyed me, however, the personal details were unusual in quantity and detail. Is that bad?

First I will give some (vague) examples. When presenting data collected a few years ago, the FSP mentioned that she was very pregnant at the time. This fact was not relevant to the data collection. At another point in the talk, she mentioned that during a later part of her research her daughter was a toddler and she had another baby. She mentioned her spouse several times and showed pictures of her children during the talk, interspersed with the scientific results and interpretation.

Is this useful information that gave the audience a more complete appreciation of the context of her research life and in particular provided the audience with an unambiguous example of a woman being a professor and a mother?

Or was it unprofessional and strange?

Would my opinion, which veered closer to the latter than the former, have been more positive if the research had been impressive? Was I anxious that some audience members might think that her research was unimpressive because she was a professor-mom? Why should she have to be a representative of professor-moms?

I have listened to many lame talks by MSPs and never assumed that any of them were representing their gender or race or place of origin or marital status or religion or anything but themselves (and maybe their departments). I hope I was not embarrassed by this FSP as an unimpressive representative of professor-moms, but I fear that I was, at least a little bit. This of course leads back to the usual point about how if there were more of us, none of us would be seen as representatives for all women, moms etc.

Aside from that issue, how much personal information is appropriate to include in a professional talk? I can see the temptation of wanting people to appreciate how difficult it is to do certain research activities whilst confronted with significant challenges, even if those challenges are of the personal sort. Even so, although we professors shouldn't hide the fact that we have families and medical issues and so on, I don't think we should make our personal lives a significant part of our research talks to professional audiences. The audience came to learn about your research; you: not so much. That type of information can be more effectively and appropriately conveyed during mentoring sessions, individual discussions, or social events (over meals and drinks), not to mention in blogs.

Perhaps it is a generational thing, one of my similarly-annoyed colleagues wondered. Perhaps we are curmudgeons who become unhinged at the mention of pregnancy or babies during a Scientific Talk?

I don't know, but if these TMI talks become a trend, I might have to add another category to my newly reformatted CV. Perhaps I will annotate my list of journal articles and conference proceedings based on my physical and mental health and that of my family, friends, and cats at the time. There are certain papers and conference proceedings that instantly bring to mind certain events in my personal life from the associated time and place; it just didn't occur to me to share this information in certain ways.

53 comments:

zed said...

Interesting question. I tend to think less is better when it comes to personal information. A quick photo of your family at the end, or a cute anecdote about a toddler deleting your data might be OK, although personally I couldn't pull that off without feeling uncomfortable.

I did attend a talk much like what FSP describes. In this case though the rest of the content was good and interesting, and the talk was intended for graduate students in an IGERT program (though it was open to all). I felt a little uncomfortable with the personal stuff, but in the context of showing grad students that professors can be moms, I thought it worked well. However, at the time I wasn't a mother, so maybe I would react differently now.

Hope said...

HAHAHA! – color me curmudgeon, too! The thought that I might be doomed to a future of TMI talks makes me shudder.

The longer I work, the more I have come to appreciate that a respectable distance between one’s private and professional life is a very healthy thing.

Anonymous said...

We recently had a seminar by a male visiting professor that involved mentioning every student and every child born to a student (almost all male so the student's spouse) working on his projects (roughly a decade's worth of fieldwork). A full 30 minutes out of the 50 minute talk was unrelated to the actual work. He even included photos of fish that various team members had caught while out in the field. The whole thing read like a history or the fieldwork rather than the discussion of hydrology that had been advertised.
Suffice it to say, no one learned very much about the actual research that had taken place. And of course, since it was a guy and he wasn't even talking about his own personal life, it didn't give any insight into life-work balance for science research. It was just weird and pretty much a waste of everyone's time. I hope, if this becoming a trend, that people don't take it quite so far.

Anonymous said...

That's just wrong! I think that kind of behavior just contributes to any negative FSP thinking. There isn't enough time to fool around in a talk to do any of this - it's just unprofessional.

young FSP curmudgeon said...

I agree with you, FSP, in that I think it is inappropriate and unprofessional to share personal information in a technical talk. I too am a curmudgeon, I guess, even though I'm a junior FSP.

The purpose of a technical talk is to disseminate the technical information, similar to a journal paper. If you wouldn't include information about your spouse, pregnancy, children, pets, family vacations, medical leave etc. in a manuscript to a journal, WHY oh why include it in your talk??

After the talk, if you get together for drinks with other people in the audience, then you can share everything you want about your personal life.

putting personal information in a talk smacks of making excuses. "I'm so sorry this data isn't thorough enough but you see I was taking care of my sick kid and didn't have time to complete the data set." It's just not relevant WHY your data isn't thorough enough, just that it is and so what can be done with it. Or it smacks of insecurity - "I want to show you all that I am a successful professor-mom, so the only way I can do that is by constantly reminding you that I have a husband and children on top of my career."

Finally, I get annoyed when people show pictures of their kids in their technical talks. I don't know you, we are not friends, therefore I really don't care to have pictures of your family shoved in my face.

Dr. Confused said...

I once attended a talk by a highly-respected male assistant professor. He started the talk by showing pictures of his children. My first thought was that this was a double standard - a woman would NEVER do that because she wouldn't be taken seriously after that. Apparently I was wrong. (In the interest of irrelevant context I was 14wks pregnant at the time).

Not at conferences and stuff, but I do find myself occasionally mentioning my daughter to students. Very occasionally it's actually relevant ("I'm sorry your lab report is crumpled and has a tear. My toddler reached into my bag and tried to pull it out.") but sometimes it's just in the interest of letting them know that not all women in academia are childless. I think the women students in particular need to know that they can combine an academic career with motherhood.

Anonymous said...

I'm very uncomfortable personal asides in any academic talk. I'm in the talk to hear about their research not admire their baby photos. While I strongly support women having families and continuing to work in science part of that is judging what information belongs where. Family stories should be saved for the after seminar dinner or departmental afternoon tea.

Also as a women I cringe when other women do things like this. It isn't well received by anyone and while it shouldn't be the case that one women is used as an example of all that is exactly what happens. So their bad judgement reflects on me and that really annoys me!

Anonymous said...

A talk is not the time or place to insert personal tidbits. I'm really rigid about this stuff, because I think it really does put women at a disadvantage. It allows your family identity to subsume your professional identity. I think women are (unfairly, to be sure) more susceptible to this because there's so much in society that pressures them to be moms first, while people praise men who manage to even care that their kids exist.
Your kids are important to you, no one else cares, and it's inconsiderate of a professional giving a talk to assume her audience is interested in her personal life. Of course, she's mostly hurting herself, because now you'll all remember the mediocre scientist who was over-focused on her kids.

Worse still is when profs put in too much info about themselves and their insecurity. I have had not one but two female professors this fall spend large portions of their time in upper division undergrad classes talking about how male professors (either their coteacher or the previous teacher) were much more qualified than they to address the subject matter. Which, to me, says that either a) they should be getting more familiar with the subject matter or b) the men are no more insecure but have the good sense NOT to let a room full of undergrads think they don't know what they're talking about when they really, really do. I've had one of these women tell people to "go easy on her" before giving a talk on her favorite new theory. Obviously, this just showed us all that she was more concerned in saving her feelings than with the actual science behind the theory. Ug.

plam said...

I make allusions to my non-child-related extracurricular activities during presentations (and they're well-known in my department), but I'd feel that it would be out of place to go on about them at length. Of course, maybe the speaker thought she was giving only a bit of detail about her life too!

Anonymous said...

Yeah...that's too much information. Sounds woefully unprofessional. A little joke here and there about interactions with research collaborators should be it, if it is so important to cut the tension.

Anonymous said...

Here's a treat for you FSP...given your love of cats...

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_9Vpv_x4ZGlA/SxCP7JYj6VI/AAAAAAAABnk/FhoKYA4nJzA/s1600/IMG_0331.JPG

Found this on Becca's blog. You're welcome

Genomic Repairman said...

Save the bullshit for T&P committees, I just want to see your science. I dont' care if you are incubating some form of humaniod life while you are generating data. You can show me a photo at the end but if you keep updating me on your tricycle motors status as we are going through the talk I am going to start resenting you and junior.

gnuma said...

Agreed, I find it weird, and I'm of the just-starting-out generation. I appreciate professional/personal distance for many reasons, mostly because I don't want dOOds attempting to interpret my life's choices. If anyone of a younger set who is curious about life/work issues asks, I will divulge. Otherwise, not so much.

ScienceProf said...

Ah, this is a good topic. Don't know how you pick on just the things I'm thinking about.

In my field we have many totally dedicated male profs who spend all their time on their work and are quite happy I might add.

The men that have families and kids show them off with pictures in the begining of talks. What do you think would happen to me if I showed pictures of my kids? C'mon take a guess.

I'm going to repeat Hope's comment: "The longer I work, the more I have come to appreciate that a respectable distance between one’s private and professional life is a very healthy thing."

adagger said...

I would prefer not to attend too many talks like that. I think it might be a bit like mentioning technical trials and tribulations: I would be quite interested to hear an aside about your lab catching fire while you were collecting this data set, or an unusually long streak of equipment malfunctions, for example, but for the most part we don't need to hear about how difficult this data was for you to obtain.

That said, I attended a conference specifically aimed at undergraduate women in my field, where the speakers (all women) were asked to share a bit about their personal lives -- career path, family issues, and so on -- and it was very interesting to hear about these women's lives. I think I still wouldn't have liked the TMI comments even in that context.

LMH said...

I have seen male speakers put up pictures of their children at the end of their talks or have kids as their desktop picture, but I have to say that I have seen FSPs err on the side of no personal details. It could be that my field is the reason.

I think I would have been uncomfortable with the details as well - from a male or female professor. I agree with Hope - I appreciate a reasonable distance between personal and professional life.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

This is pure unalloyed male privilege. Male science professors are "regular" science professors, and all of their habits and tendencies are "normal". Female science professors are "exotic" and everything they do is "distracting". If you say nothing about your personal life you are a cold bitch trying to "act male". If you say a lot about your personal life, you are a silly bitch and not serious about science.

When I give talks, I don't say a single fucking word about my personal life. It's not interesting to anyone but me, and it's no one's fucking business but my own.

Photos of people's cute little children on their computer desktops peering at me from the motherfucking computer screen before a talk make me gag. And supposed science bloggers who post fucktillions of photographs of their children and how cute they are when they pick up a piece of brightly colored plastic off the ground and look at it with fascination make me puke on their blogs.

qaz said...

Definitely, I think keeping personal information to a minimum in talks is better. The talk is about the data and the results and the implications, not about how hard it was to collect. In particular, I find that complaining how hard the data was to collect is a dangerous tool to use and is generally better left in the drawer. If the data is not impressive, you look like a fool (since it was sooooooooo hard to collect and it isn't that good anyway) or you look like a complainer. In this case, discretion is the better part of valor. If the data is impressive, let people tell you over dinner how impressive it is. Then you can say, yeah, and I had problem XYZ at the time too.

Anonymous said...

I have now heard several talks (both from men and women) where the speaker concludes by saying, "and now here's my whole reason for existence" or some similar overarching theme and showing a picture of their 2-year old. Something about their particular phrasing significantly turns me off, perhaps because they make it sound like they really don't care about their research at all? I strongly prefer that people keep professional talks strictly professional, and share personal details in private.

For full disclosure: I should add that, in one case, the male speaker was someone I was predisposed to dislike. I don't have kids.

Anonymous said...

I'm a 30-yr-old female assistant prof with 2 kids under three and I think that talk was NOT acceptable. If, as zed mentioned, the talk is specifically for grad students in a program and they are trying to discuss how to combine work and family, then it would be okay. But for a normal talk, no, I think family and personal stuff should be left out. And I feel this way even if it's a guy and even if it's not kids (one grad student I know spent more time showing pictures of her friends at the end of her thesis defense talk than she did actually talking about her research... terrible!)

Average Professor said...

I think a little intro at the beginning telling a little bit about onesself is okay, depending on the context of the talk (like zed's example, in that context it is completely appropriate/desirable), but anything more than that I find weird too.

Particularly weird are references to pregnancy and baby-having. Not only is it just a little TMI and unprofessional for my taste, but I think most guys find it even more that way than I do. Why alienate?

Anonymous said...

I can't believe I am agreeing with CPP (well almost) But I too find it annoying when people have pictures of children on their desktop. I will laugh at a small tidbit once in a while during a talk, but I would really like it to be all about science.

Anonymous said...

I would find that very unprofessional. You would never see a business exec putting up pictures of his kids at a board meeting....

Anonymous said...

I will come out and be different. I would LOVE it if science was more human. I would love to see talks about science more as a story and less about just the results. I love science, but I love people too. I guess this is also a part of why I don't fit in with you curmudgeon scientists. Enjoy your boring, data and results only talks!

another young FSP said...

To our good friend Comrade PP -

I think science blogging is exactly the place to be putting up pictures and movies of scientist's babies. Where else are they going to do it? It's one of the things I like most about the blog I strongly suspect you are talking about - and not just because their kid is adorable. It can very much help other scientist parents to hear about others who manage the balance successfully, and to see childhood developmental milestones couched in rational terms as opposed to the condescending blather I get from traditional parenting sites.

There are several science blogs discussing how scientist parents of both genders are balancing career and home at an extremely challenging point in their careers. I really enjoy the posts over at U.P. blogging baby size with a comparative stuffed animal scale. I learn from Dr. Isis's posts about domestic difficulties and how standard expectations differ from her reality. Dr. Jeckyll & Mrs. Hyde's stories about the process she has gone through are just plain inspiring. I recommend all of these sites regularly to undergraduate and graduate students who come to me with concerns about work-life balance.

Given that you are a strong proponent of women in the sciences (I look forward to your comments on most occasions), and that one of the largest concerns of young women going into the sciences is that they will never be able to achieve a balance that will allow them children (because of course only moms have to worry about parenting), I am honestly surprised at the hostility you show in this comment towards a blogging scientist dad. Should parenting discussions be limited only to "girls'" science blogs?

I apologize if I am over-interpreting your comment. But I am just as glad to see positive parenting models for male scientist parents as for female ones.

PS - I agree that oversharing in talks is really annoying. Although I have no problem with kids on desktop pictures, screensavers, or with the lab pictures. And one of the most impressive presentations I've seen by a leader in my own field had a slide in which her young daughter helped her create a brilliant graphic illustration of one of her main points with oreo cookies and M&Ms.

Arlenna said...

As long as it doesn't waste a lot of my time (as in, more than 5% of the time allocated for the research talk), this kind of stuff doesn't bother me at all from men or women (particularly if it is relevant to the story of the science). I'm not big on deliberate, calculated separations of personal and professional personae--I like when people just act like themselves wherever they are. If that means being candid and making an aside about how some part of the science was especially affected by something personal, I like to hear about that.

Giving research talks isn't just for spewing out technical information in a logical order, it also involves telling a story (about the science) otherwise you only engage about 20% of your audience. Sometimes "non-technical" things are a very important part of that story.

But I agree with everybody that it shouldn't stretch out to take over the story and waste everyone's time ho wanted to learn about the data and results.

Anonymous said...

I would rather see a nice family photo or a couple snap shots of the speakers kids than look at slide after slide of equations that I do not have time to understand.

The Geek In Question said...

I usually enjoy personal anecdotes in a talk...as long as they're RELEVANT (e.g., experiences in the field). I think I would have been put off and annoyed by the gratuitous kiddo mentions.

Anonymous said...

Surely TMI. If I attend a conference I want to learn something, usually there are parallel sessions and time is sparse. Don't waste is with pointless stuff.
Although, on a small, familiar conference, where everybody knows everybody well and with no parallel sessions it may be ok to show some personal information, but I prefer to have that at the end of the talk (if the presenter didn't go into overtime). I had once private information in a talk on which I was first author, and that was when it was given by a student of me. He added a photo of my son on the last slide, because I gave birth the night before and hence couldn't give the talk myself. But, then again, that was a very private meeting where everybody knew me. So it was charming and people actually wanted to know why I wasn't there. And, it wasn't my decision.

Kevin said...

I like to see pictures of people's kids as screensavers, and don't mind a minute or two of personal anecdotes in a 45-minute talk, even if irrelevant to the science (most session chairs waste far more time telling me every lab the speaker has ever stepped into, dropping names of people I've never heard of and who aren't there).

I don't think I've ever seen one of the "too much information" talks. Generally the talks I go to are so crammed with information that there isn't time for that sort of aside.

Alex said...

In moderation, asides about kids are not so different from other asides in talks. Surely you've been in a talk where somebody notices an artifact in the data that resembles something from pop culture or sci fi or whatever, and then has a humorous slide noting this. Or they extrapolate a calculation to a ridiculous extreme, just to see what the limit is, observe a resemblance to something in sci-fi, and the next slide is Spock saying "That is illogical." Or something like that.

Having one of these in a seminar talk, if tastefully done, lightens it up a bit for an audience that may be sitting in a dark room after a heavy lunch. Obviously, though, having more than one or two, or doing them tastelessly or going on about them, will be a problem.

So if somebody decides to do his/her humorous aside with Sesame Street or Ice Age or Dora The Explorer or whatever and says "As the parent of a 3 year-old, that's my main TV viewing these days," I don't care.

If it goes overboard, sure, there's a problem. And I respect the decisions of those who prefer to just not go there at all. But surely there should be room for those who aren't quite as strict, as long as they are moderate and tasteful.

And getting upset over desktop photos? People seriously get upset if they see a kid in a desktop photo? Really? If you get upset over what you see while the speaker is fiddling with the buttons during setup, then you should really just chill and spend those last 30 seconds of pre-seminar time in the traditional manner: Gossiping and grabbing free cookies.

Again, I get why some people prefer not to show these things, but I don't get why some people freak out if they see these things (in moderation).

Alyssa said...

I can understand throwing in a personal anecdote here and there, as long as it's casual and relevant (somehow). I think having pictures (and it sounds like a lot of them) is way over the line.

I agree with you - when I go to hear a research talk I want to hear about their research. In that case, I would almost think that she's trying to make excuses for why her data isn't as good as it might be.

For the record, I'm in my first post-doc, so I don't think it's a generational thing.

Anonymous said...

I'm a biologist, so talks I go to often feature "my favorite human" slides, where the offspring of the speaker is the human in a phylogeny or similar, in contrast with other model species. I don't have a problem with this, and I've seen it by both young moms and dads. If the speaker has no offspring usually a favorite famous person is used instead.

Sounds like your speaker was way more extreme though. She seemed to be pretty self-conscious about it.

Anonymous said...

FSP,
I think you are talking about my doctoral advisor here. She always added a personal touch to her talks where she has slides about her family. But she can do it because she is in the National Academy and comes from a decade when she was one of FEW women physicists/engineers. She wants to add these personal notes to her talk to encourage women students/young women faculty to think that there is a possibility to have a family life and an academic career. I think she serves as a role model to young women faculty like myself.

I disagree with comments here that it is inappropriate. I think it is perfectly appropriate and perhaps needed (and in my advisor's case she has earned the right to tell everyone how she became who she became).

butterflywings said...

That particular example does sound like TMI, and a bit odd, but I don't have a problem with the odd personal aside.

Hope said...

@Anon 2:01 PM – If FSP is really talking about your advisor, it sounds like she did more than just add a “personal touch.” The thing is, as one of the younger women that your accomplished advisor would be trying to encourage, I’d find that performance sad. I’d be sitting in the audience imagining what awful things this woman must have gone through to make her so screwed up about personal-professional life balance. I appreciate the sentiment, but there are much better ways to serve as a role model – beginning with modeling behavior that one’s younger colleagues should actually emulate.

Drugmonkey said...

Sounds as though it was too *much* info that was the problem. I don't have any problem with a couple of indicators of family status as long as it is not distracting. I disagree with PP that the solution is for nobody to mention family status, ever. Yes, men often get unwarranted cookies even when mentioning their parent-ness but so what? If it helps to balance out the *percept* that science men are not really parenting parents and science women are, so much the better. because there will be times where a science woman cannot possibly hide that she is a parent within a professional context. More so than for men.

PalMD said...

OK, CPP, I think you're out to lunch on this one. I think the more including kids is "normalized" the better. Women professors are seen as exotic and perhaps showing kid pics reinforces that, but rather than "forcing" them to "normalize" by drawing a thick line between fam and work, perhaps it would be better for we normal d00ds to also include family life.

Anonymous said...

I hate it when speakers put pictures of their kids in their technical talks. One speaker even put a picture of her recent wedding, saying "besides my research progress, here is my other life progress." Geez. No one cares, OK?? Why do you think anyone cares??

It is bizarre. You would not go up to a complete stranger on the street or in your office hallway and say "wanna see photos of my kids?" I think everyone agrees that's kinda creepy. Yet, speakers do practically the same thing when they put their kid pictures in their technical talks. The difference is that they are imposing on not just ONE stranger on the street but 10,20 or 100 depending on the size of the audience. Secondly, it is not a question "do you WANT to see my kid's pictures?" instead it is a demand - "you WILL see my kid's pictures whether you want to or not, here they are, look at them." I think it is the latter that is most irritating, the presumption that anyone else cares about seeing your kid.

In my technical talks I don't put pictures of my extreme rock climbing trips or other extra-curricular activities (some of which have led to some spectacular "OMG!" pictures that have made it into outdoor sports magazines and websites, and which I think are a helluva lot more interesting to look at than someone's toddler). that would just be plain weird and I would feel embarrassed to display such lack of professional judgment even though I'm proud of my extra-curricular achievements. It is just not relevant and thus inappropriate so I don't understand why people have no qualms about inserting pictures of their family into their talks.

Harvestar said...

I recently heard a talk by a MSP, who was Hispanic. He was traveling around giving talks as part of a speaker award. He said he wanted, as part of these talks, to also give his own story of how he got interested in the field and his own path.

It was given at the beginning of the talk, was quite interesting and relevant to the research (he was a seismologist and grew up in LA with earthquakes happening).

It struck me that we almost never hear MSP's talking about their path to professorhood - how they got interested. It was a nice change from the usual talk.

Anonymous said...

I once attended a talk by a new professor who proudly put up a slide of his baby at the end of the talk. Unfortunately the baby was really ugly, I mean, REALLY. some of the audience members gasped, and not in a good way. The person sitting behind me said to his colleague/friend beside him "oh my gosh what's up with that??." And then he and his friend started bantering to each other making fun of the kid's features. And I have to admit I found their banter funny and came up with some jokes of my own but which I kept to myself!

So, to all you people out there who do or are thinking of forcing your technical audience to unexpectedly look at pictures of your kids: you should realize that it might not have the effect you were hoping for!

American in Oxbridge said...

Desktop photo is one thing, but slides in the talk with kiddo pictures is going too far. And why do people feel the need to do this? I've never seen it, but from the comments here it sounds like it's getting more popular and common, which suggests a peer pressure to show off ones brood outside the shackles of scientific life.

Prof Pangloss said...

Here's what I think the problem is: very few people know how to give a good talk. The solution is not to pepper your talk with family photos and personal anecdotes, the solution is to learn how to present your content in a way that is not only tolerable but pleasant and engaging. Poor presentations of data are equally distributed among scientists and other thinkers.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I've ever heard a professor go on and on about his/her personal life and family, but one thing I have come across constantly is science professors' unprofessional attitude with respect to sharing personal opinions on politics or religion. In professional settings, these topics are generally considered taboo, yet some professors seem to find it both necessary and appropriate to go on and on about their political beliefs.

As an undergraduate, I worked on a research project with two professors; pretty much everyday the group ate lunch together, sometimes joined by other professors, since it was a small department. The topic of conversation at just about every lunch was politics or religion, and one professor in particular was none to hesitant to share his opinions on a vast number of controversial topics. Even though I was quite happy with the research project otherwise, my strongest memory of that project was how uncomfortable I felt listening to this professor at lunch every day, since we held quite different viewpoints on just about every topic he felt like postulating on. In another case, when looking for a graduate advisor, I spoke with a professor I was interested in working for, and in that thirty minute conversation she managed to make reference to her personal beliefs with regards religion. In another case, members of the group I was working in at the time took a potential post-doctoral candidate out to dinner, and one of the other post-docs decided politics was an appropriate topic of conversation, so I spent the rest of the dinner trying to tune him out.

It might be relevant in very specific situations to discuss politics in reference to scientific policy, for example, but in 99.95% of the cases, the discussion of politics in a talk, in front of a classroom, or to your graduate/undergraduate students is completely irrelevant and uncalled for IMHO.

Ms.PhD said...

I guess I'd have to see the talk in question, but I tend to think the human version is better than the robotic version of science. But I'll write something slightly longer on my blog rather than here.

FrauTech said...

As someone with no kids who is not really interested in kids, I'd definitely be offended if it went past one or two slides. And yes, as "serious" women in fields you definitely become self conscious of how your colleagues are perceived. In many of my classes, there are a few clueless students who will ask questions that literally the professor just stated the answer to. Much of the class sighs audibly when this occurs. I am much more bothered when the offender is a woman because I am concerned my fellow male students will assume this typical behavior of "all women" in the field. Versus when you are a man your behavior is usually not applied to your whole gender in individual situations.

Dr. Smith said...

The most egregious example of this I ever witnessed was committed by an MSP.

The scene: In-house research retreat.
The talk: "Trainee of the year" research award
The speaker: Out of town on his honeymoon.

So his advisor steps up to the podium. And shows a lovely picture taken at the awardee's wedding. Nice. We assume the talk will follow. No. The entire 15 minute presentation consisted of photos from the wedding. All of which were clearly aimed at showing off what a catch this guy made and how much money they spent on a villa in France. It was quite disgusting, really.

Dr Spouse said...

I work in child development and it is fairly common for speakers to insert pictures of their own children, or of children who participated (with permission from parents). If the former they are usually presented as "my favourite research subjects" or for a brand new baby "we'll be studying this one next year".

I also study children in developing countries and occasionally people will present beautiful views from their latest fieldwork trip, or photogenic "ethnic" children.

I have never done any of these things (well, I have no children, but I have loads of pictures of my favourite photogenic participants - I keep these for my office walls). But these might be *mildly* appropriate in my field.

Just occasionally they will close with a holiday snap from an unrelated destination (usually these are the non-fieldwork people). If it's just one slide, right at the end, it isn't too bad.

Anonymous said...

my standard is, if you wouldn't share such information/stories/pictures with someone if you saw them at the water cooler or passed them on the street, then you have no business shoving it at them in a technical talk. I think it's pretty arrogant to assume that the room full of strangers or acquaintances is interested to see pictures of your baby or wedding or that they even would care.

Anonymous said...

Are these the same people whom if you go to their lab web page, they have they're own face all over the front page from trips to glaciers etc. This should all be in the "photos" or "other interests" section. I work with several PI's who have 90% of the photos on their web-pages of themselves, not the students. At some point, PI's need to grow up, put the attention on those doing the real work. (And often those writing the proposals that fund the research).

Anonymous said...

Completely inappropriate. Put this in the context of a presentation in a different field, like business. Do you think someone making a business pitch has unnecessary slides of their kids? Tells everyone they are pregnant? It has to be short and to the point. Personal information can be reserved for smaller discussions over lunch or during social times.

LizG said...

Your post succintly describes one of the things that bugs me about Sarah Palin.

Haady said...

I love this topic, i just want to say thank you for sharing your experience..
I think it is inappropriate and unprofessional to share personal information in a technical talk.