Once upon a time, when I was about to give an invited lecture at another university, my faculty host warned me ahead of time that the talk was in a very large lecture hall that was much too large for their department. Even if everyone remotely interested in our field of science from within a 50 mile radius came to my talk, the lecture hall would still have many empty seats. Furthermore, he told me, the graduate students would all be sitting in the last few rows and the faculty would be sitting in the first few rows, with a big blank area in between.
And so it was. It was kind of strange. In order to make eye contact with these two groups of people, I had to either look way up high to the back of the lecture hall or look down at the professors sitting clustered near the front. If I looked in the middle distance, I was looking at nothing, just seats.
This was an extreme case of a common phenomenon that I have seen again and again during visits to give talks at other universities. Professors sit near the front -- perhaps because our fading eyesight and hearing requires it -- and students sit in the back.
Although in other situations I prefer to sit near the back of a room, when I go to talks in my department, I like to sit near the front. This helps me focus on the talk more and makes it easier for me to be seen and heard if I ask a question. I don't know what reasons my colleagues have for sitting near the front, but that's where we professors all are during department seminars.
How divided is the seating in general talks in your department? Is there any place where professors sit near the back and students sit near the front?
How many places have total mixing of faculty and students? I had seen such places, but I think they are more rare than the professor-in-front/students-in-back seating arrangement.
If you are in a professor-in-front/student-in-back kind of department, do you think this is weird? cool? normal? Do you think there should be more mingling or are you happy sitting with your peers? If you are a postdoc, where do you sit? With the faculty or with the students or in between? (assuming you give it any thought at all)
I could do another poll, but I think I will just leave these questions to be answered in the comments today. An informal survey has indicated to me that people (other than me) have given this seemingly trivial situation a surprising amount of thought..
6 months ago