Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Talk Dilemma

Recently I was pondering my options for a presentation to give at a workshop in the coming year, and I came up with two possibilities. I have to choose one:

1. A synthesis of a long-running project, with some new (not presented before) results, and also a summing up of many of the results that I have presented elsewhere (piecemeal) in recent years, but in a more syn-optic way, with discussion of what we know now that we didn't know before, and what it all means. This work is cool but not controversial, has generated some interest over the years, and would be fun to present.

or

2. The first public presentation of a new dataset for a completely different project, with very exciting-but-preliminary results and possibly very significant conclusions. This work is cool and controversial, has generated some hostility and deep skepticism in the past year, and would be fun to present.

I feel like I should present option #1 because it is important to synthesize and present the latest and greatest results of just-completed studies -- that is, to follow up on all the previous "progress report"-like talks, and present it all as a beautiful and compelling story backed up by a fearsome dataset. I feel like this would be the mature thing to do, and I am completely happy to talk about this project, which still holds my interest.

But I have given a lot of talks on this project in recent years, and I think I want to do option #2 just for the fun of it. I am not sure I should let my desire for cheap conference-thrills guide my decision, but I just might.

Note: At least one more conference-themed post is imminent, as I've gotten interesting questions about conferences from readers recently.

13 comments:

GMP said...

Nothing wrong with some conference thrills.

If you were giving a plenary talk at a large society meeting, then I'd say go with #1. But you say it's a workshop, so in my opinion that's exactly where some controversial or preliminary work should be presented. Presumably the audience is smaller, more specialized, and the emphasis is on brainstorming new and exciting avenues for the community to pursue. If I were you, I would totally go with option #2. Plus, you are a well-established faculty; if you cannot take some risks and stir up some controversy, who can?

Canadian_Brain said...

The key question for me would be "How scoopable are my hot new findings" if the answer is "not very" than present your heart...

Notorious Ph.D. said...

The way I see it, #1 would be better for them, #2 would be better for you (assuming, that is, that (you think your audience could give you good feedback on the new project that would help you advance it).

EliRabett said...

#1 for the talk, #2 for the poster, but only if the conference provides beer and wine. You get more better arguments at the poster, and besides you can abandon the grad student it if gets too hot

Anonymous said...

For me, it would depend on the audience.

You said "workshop", which for me is a smallish group of people working on a specific area. In that case, I would go with the new, controversial talk - what's a workshop for, if not to argue over half-baked ideas with people who know and care enough to make it worthwhile?

If it was a mega-conference talk, I would go with the finished story. If most audience members don't follow the specific field, the talk would still be new and interesting to them, and a finished story is probably more broadly useful.

Maybe the first talk wants to become a review paper instead?

Kim said...

Isn't #1 the point of the resulting manuscript? In my field, unless it's a keynote address or job talk or something high profile like that, conferences and abstracts are the appropriate venues for presenting preliminary results and manuscripts are the venues for presenting final and/or synthesized results.

I'd go with #2.

MamaRox said...

what giving talk #1 and having a key student or post-doc give talk #2?

Anonymous said...

If I were an attendee I would much rather hear #2. Especially if I am in your sub-field and am somewhat familiar with your past work. At a meeting where I am listening to the umteenth talk of the day, I absolutely love it if someone dares to be unpredictable in their presentation topic, and therefore gets everyone to wake up, think, generates discussion, etc. (Even if I totally disagreed with your conclusions, I'd still rather hear #2 and have you make me think about it. Perhaps I am a rebel at heart?)

Anonymous said...

I would definitely vote for talk #2 in any context (barring scoopability concerns) - when the speaker is more excited about the work, it is easier for me to get excited about it.

Anonymous said...

Dude, option 2 is way more fun for everyone. My favorite conferences as a grad student involved seeing science/math as it happened, as done by established people. I thought it was really cool to see new ideas and how they evolved. Last of all, I nearly had a breakdown this year trying to be all serious and responsible and goody-goody. I decided f(*^ it, this is only fun if it's *fun*. I decided to focus on the thrills and I did more work, my teaching evaluations went up, I learned a lot, and I don't want to quit my job anymore. I want to see other people having fun too!

male humanist said...

I would also rather hear #2. More fun, and I am much happier when the speaker is having fun, too.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

I always go with #2. By the time a particular line of research in my lab reaches the point of being amenable to #1, I'm so bored with it I can't even bear to think about it, let alone talk about it.

John V said...

I'm sure FSP will exercise better judgment, but usually I've regretted taking option #2 until I have a paper written and reviewed on the topic. I first try to convince those most intimately conversant with the topic, and usually have to at least reinforce the logic, and often overhaul the presentation of evidence and even the conclusion to best focus new work. I am consistently more impressed with my latest work than are those around me.

On the other hand, even if I am bored with material #2 that is a year or two old, it is a narrow conference indeed in which the majority of people would also be so familiar with a summary of my work (and a couple of slides of the latest results) that the talk would be less interesting than my half-formed full-length thoughts on topic #1.