Friday, June 14, 2013

This Seems Like a Good Time to Mention That I Hate Your Work

Have you ever been attacked in a rather impolite way while giving a professional talk?

OK, so "attacked" is a bit of hyperbole. Let's say instead "severely criticized" or perhaps even "insulted". A few notches down would be "asked a question that may have been intended to humiliate you."

I have! Recently! In this case, the question/comment was of the "Your work is totally worthless and a waste of your government's money" sort.

But first, let's go back in time. Not long before I gave my very first talk at a conference as a graduate student, a certain scientist asked me an informal question in conversation. I said I did not know the answer. An hour or so later, he asked me the exact same question at the end of my talk, in front of a few hundred people.

I thought: What a jerk. I did not know him very well, although I had read some of his papers, so I didn't know what his motivation was in asking me a question he knew I could not answer. It could be that he wanted to humiliate me, although that is not my preferred explanation. My favored hypothesis is that he thought it was such a great question, he didn't actually care whether I knew the answer or not, he just wanted to get points for asking it in public. I don't know for sure, but I must say that I was never able to summon much enthusiasm for conversing with him, much less working with him, after that episode.

Since then, it has been my general impression that some people who attempt to ask "take-down" kinds of questions or who make vague derogatory comments ("Your science is completely worthless") aren't actually concerned that Science is being harmed by a misguided or ignorant person. Instead, they are seeking attention and just enjoying the sound of their own brilliance. That is: Enough about you, person who just gave a talk! Now listen to what I have to say even though I don't actually have much to say that is interesting, relevant, or possibly even sane!

But I could be wrong about that. And I don't really want to spend any more time discussing why some people are jerks in this particular way. (And I don't mean to imply that everyone who asks an aggressive question or makes a negative comment is an unreasonable jerk. In some cases these questions and comments are well deserved and useful.)

Anyway, when a very outspoken rude person attempted a take-down kind of question/comment during a talk I gave at a conference recently, I totally did not care. I responded with basic explanations and opinions to his "concerns", and that was that. What surprised me was the number of people who came up to me afterwards to tell me that I shouldn't let it bother me, I shouldn't be upset, I shouldn't worry etc. In fact, I was not bothered, upset, or worried at all.

I appreciated the concern, but then I started to worry that I might have seemed upset when this is not at all what I felt. I don't think I said or did anything that could be interpreted as my being upset when I was up on the stage dealing with the obnoxious comments. I felt quite calm, perhaps a bit impatient, but mostly I thought the whole thing was absurd. It was not a big deal. It upset me to think that people might have thought I was upset when I wasn't. Does that make any sense?

Perhaps people were projecting? That is, they would have felt upset if the Big Guy had gone after them like that?

And maybe these aggressive people serve a useful purpose? Perhaps it actually helped me in the long run that I was "vaccinated" against aggressive questions at my very first professional talk -- after that, I expect it. There will be jerks. They are just part of the landscape. Water off a duck etc. etc.?

Have you ever been experienced what you considered an inappropriate question or comment -- either in content or tone -- during a professional talk? Were you upset?

Have you ever experienced a rude question or comment during a talk?
  
pollcode.com free polls 




48 comments:

Anonymous said...

http://chronicle.com/article/On-the-Spot-Tips-for/128859/

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Actually, I don't know if I've ever had a rude question. I'm not very sensitive to rudeness (including my own). I have had some stupid questions, but I attribute that mainly to sleepiness on the part of the questioner.

John Vidale said...

I agree, rude questions are just part of the landscape. After watching the local professors torture the speakers at the topical and department seminar at my graduate school, nothing at conferences seemed as out of line.

Three notable examples, all from National Academy guys.

1) Clair Patterson, in Geology Club seminars, was eventually banned from attending because he would pin the speaker with a never-ending stream of questions he HAD to find the answer for, but the speakers didn't know. They eventually let him back in, and he would occasionally try to get me to ask the questions that were haunting him.

2) A guy (nameless because he is still around) listened to a talk by a speaker, who is also now in the National Academy, and during the question session announced the primary thesis of the speaker, acoustic fluidization, was dead wrong. The speaker sputtered for a while, but the questioner was bluntly insistent - wrong.

3) Another guy, also necessarily nameless, in the full audience of a volcanology talk asked a short stream of questions, then voiced his disagreement, and announced that he wasn't wasting any more of his time with such obvious nonsense, and walked out.

I've had similar but milder encounters in my talks. None of these people were trying to be mean, so far as I could tell, but all overstepped normal bounds in ways that could easily be interpreted as very rude and disconcerting, yet were mostly enlightening to the rest of the audience.

I think this is not unheard of among scientists who care about what is right.

Kaneenika Sinha said...

Hi, thanks for writing about this. I viewed the voting results and was amazed to see that a majority of voters have dealt with rude/obnoxious behaviour during talks. When I was a student, I was in a similar situation as the one you mentioned. A fellow grad student, after confirming in private that I did not know the answer to a question, asked it again after my talk in public. I was a bit naive myself. So, I said, "I already told you during tea break that I don't know the answer to this question." The audience started laughing. As a postdoc, after a talk, a person very aggressively attacked me by quoting a paper, which according to him, "made my work superficial." The paper had no relevance to my results and I explained in brief why my results addressed an entirely different issue. After that, I looked at the audience and asked, "are there any questions relevant to this talk?" But, although I might fake arrogance myself in handling such jerks, such questions and comments do bother me, though not as much as when I was a student or postdoc.

Old MD Girl said...

Some of the people are jerks, but some just lack basic social skills. These are scientists we're talking about here.

nicoleandmaggie said...

I'm an economist-- that's the only kind of question/comment we get! And no I don't think it's to make the questioner look good, but to make the paper more publishable.

clodovendro said...

Disclaimer: what follows in not meant in any way to justify or absolve people who behave like jerks during someone else's talk.

I know personally several people whose goal when asking a question isn't to get an answer at all. What they aim to is to start a discussion. They just love discussing and find plenty of satisfaction whenever they manage to instigate a debate. The fact that the speaker might know the answer or not is irrelevant to them. Actually if the speaker does not know the answer they are happier because this means a higher chance for a discussion to start on that point.

AfterMath said...

I can say that I've received negative comments/questions early in my academic career and it does take some getting used to. What I've realized though, particularly in science, is that many times its just the nature of the beast.

If I'm presenting on a paper I wrote, the first job I have is to say why the work is needed. So I need to address areas that previous work either didn't address or doesn't address well enough. Now, some in the audience may be building their careers off this work I'm speaking about so they may not take too kind to my saying this. Particularly if we're not talking about a theorem but a preference of a heuristic. Then there's the whole question of is this "worthwhile research". I mean, I love games so if I write a paper on a game I invent and how to solve it, it may have zero influence on the outside world - which may offend some people that I'm not using my talents to solve more important problems.

But I've found that having gone through it a few times, I expect it a lot more often than I actually receive it. Normally I get positive responses or simply questions of clarification. One time I did get a question which I initially thought was trying to embarrass me, but it wound up being a really creative way of simplifying a proof in one of my papers.

Prof-like Substance said...

What are the chances there is a gender skew here, both in the questioner and questionee?

And yes, questionee is totally a word.

dewy said...

I did my undergrad at an ancient, prestigious UK university with equally ancient and prestigious faculty members (mainly bald old men). They taught us by example that at the end of a talk you should spot the key flawed assumption and ask a question that shot down the entire hour worth of information that the person had just imparted.

Needless to say, we all hero worshipped them for it - it was kind of like a blood sport, with everyone eagerly awaiting the corpse of the latest speaker at the end (how they persuaded people to come and give talks in that kind of environment I shall never understand - I suppose it looks good on CVs).

Imagine the culture shock when I turned up for a PhD in a much smaller US department (with less "hotshot" old men, but more younger male and female faculty members) where people asked supportive questions at the end! I'd had no idea science could even be this way.

I think there is a culture at many universities, particularly the most prestigious ones, of trying to be the best. Unfortunately, I think this sometimes translates into being overly aggressive about other people's work in an attempt to continually prove your own superiority.

Dr Becca said...

As the people who came up to you after your talk demonstrated, when someone makes an aggressive comment, it's obvious to the whole room what's going on. The impression of the commenter is not, as he desires, "wow, what a clever and insightful question," but "what a douche."

And if people imply again that you were ruffled by the comments, I think the best move is to channel Lauren Copper and demand, "Am I bovvered? do I look bovvered?"

Female Science Professor said...

In the specific recent example that inspired the post, the question/comment was not insightful or specific. It was an "I hate your work" type comment, with no substance. So this was not someone paying close attention and asking the killer question that got to the root of my assumptions or results. That would have been fine. It was not someone trying to get an interesting discussion started. That would have been fine. It was just a negative comment (from an equal-opportunity negative-commenter, I should say). I think that is a waste of time.

Anonymous said...

John V, perhaps you have heard this story, but a (now-deceased) cranky old male professor in your department once listened to a highly quantitative talk and then shouted at the speaker: "If this is geology then I am a mother!"

John Vidale said...

Anon @ 10:14,

I hadn't heard that, but three or four faculty come immediately to mind as likely candidates.

Regarding FSP's dominant theme of "I hate your work" comments, none come to mind. I think that is because if the question does not bring some facts to bear, it leaves little impression except that the questioner was grumpy, myopic, or worse, has a petty vendetta, which is not very interesting.

Actually, one comes to mind, but for a different reason. An eastern European questioner, well acquainted with the speaker, launched a vituperative attack on his work during questions at AGU. The speaker prepared to debate in response, as he had had practice doing, but the moderator lost it and started shouting at the questioner that he was rude and should shut up. It's hard to draw a lesson from that, however. No one's reputation was at stake and everyone was amused in the end.

Douglas Natelson said...

A friend of mine in the Bell Labs heyday coined a term for "asking a question not because you care about the speaker's answer, but to demonstrate to the audience how smart you are". This was called "Cornell-ing".

GMP said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I don't understand the lack of civility that some people have towards a guest speaker, or any speaker. I'm fortunate in that I don't remember any obnoxious comments/questions of that sort during one of my own talks, EXCEPT in my own thesis defense. The thesis defense in my program is entirely public - this was a packed room, I had published a handful of articles, and the questioning was open to the public as well. The audience, who did not read the thesis, had insightful and interesting questions. My thesis committee, all male (I am female), could only seem to ask questions about whether I knew how the equipment worked. They were insulting. A post-doc later told me that women in her program were also asked stupid questions like that (male students were spared). I passed the defense, but I was depressed afterwards. My supervisor told me afterwards that he wanted me to realize that I was not that talented and shouldn't expect much of a future. It was heart-breaking, and it seemed to have come out of nowhere. I published several articles with him in 5 years, worked like a maniac, was awarded two grants, and had a post-doc lined up at Harvard. The only reason I thought he would say something like that was that he was threatened by me (a female student) doing better than he did. I don't know what else think! I never looked in his direction again for any sort of support.

Jay said...

I've dealt with this both from colleagues at professional conferences ("why should anyone bother with this stuff when there are real problems to be solved?") and with laypeople at community talks ("Doctors and hospitals just want to sell us stuff"). In both cases, my rational brain knows that the comment or question is not really about me, but about the commenter's own issues. It still irritates me, and in some cases (when the commenter is older than I am and/or condescending) it makes me angry and anxious. There are fewer and fewer people older than I am at my talks...but condescending comments are more likely to be aimed at women.

Anonymous said...

I had the same experience of re-asking a question. I simply said "It is interesting that you ask that now as, when you asked over coffee I didn't know. Perhaps someone in the audience would care to answer your question."

No one did. The questioner did though. I would never had the confidence to do this as a graduate student. I only did it because I was so angry at the time. It was a politically dumb thing to do but momentarily satisfying.

Anonymous said...

There is a famous Russian scientist who is known to take over talks when he feels they are wrong or pointless and give his own ideas on the talk topic or, occasionally, something unrelated. He is a really, really big deal so people put up with it.

When doing this he comes across, even for an old-school Russian, as brutally unpleasant and self-absorbed. In private conversation he is gentle, kind and sociable. I think he just hates to see the audiences time wasted by "inferior thinking".

Anonymous said...

Early in grad school, I asked a question of a speaker because I was confused by a detail in his talk. Before the speaker could even respond, someone sitting behind me said "If you were paying attention, you would have heard him answer that question several slides ago." Since I'm hearing-impaired, I learned that I can't trust my hearing (or lack thereof), and stopped asking questions during talks. Now, I just wait and ask the speaker afterward. Thankfully, I have not yet experienced rude questions during a talk. I'm learning not to get flustered by rude questions (teaching undergrads is good practice), but not I'm sure how I'd handle it.

DrDoyenne said...

When someone asks an “aggressive question” of the type you describe, everyone in the audience recognizes (at least at a gut level, if not intellectually) that the speaker is being subjected to a verbal attack and that the questioner likely has an ulterior motive.

Verbal attacks typically consist of two components: the “bait” and the “presupposition” (Elgin, 2000). The bait is the obvious attack and is designed to put the victim on the defensive: “Your work did not consider x, y, and z and, in any case, I fail to see the significance of your results.” Most people fall for the bait and respond by providing lengthy excuses or explanations about x, y, and z. I suspect that the audience members heard your response as an attempt to address the bait. That may be why they sought to console you (even if you were not bothered by the question/attack).

The presupposition is the less obvious part of a verbal attack and the only one that should be addressed: “Too bad you don’t understand my work sufficiently to recognize its importance; I’ll be happy to explain the parts you are confused about at the break. Now, if someone has a real question….”

Ignoring the question and calling out the attacker can work in some instances. The commenter (Kaneenika) who said,"I already told you during tea break that I don't know the answer to this question." accomplished this perfectly. The fact that the audience laughed suggests that they thought so too.

Anonymous said...

There is a subfield of my discipline where the culture is to ask "the one question that spots the key flawed assumption". Needless to say a great amount of science is lost to nitpicking by people who are experts on spotting the lone crooked tree and miss the surrounding healthy forest.

PhyPhoFu said...

I've never had any hostile questions directed at me, but I went to a conference once where one guy asked pretty much every speaker in his field "Why didn't you use my ___ method to solve your problem?" He is well known enough in this part of the world that the people even gave him and his method a hilarious but demeaning nickname because of his behaviour.

agradstudent said...

I have another possible explanation for FSP's first traumatizing question scenario.

One thing a more senior student counseled me to do before my general exam was go to each of my committee members and chat with them about what I'd been doing. A possible benefit of this is that they'll ask you some questions that they have in private ahead of the exam. Then, you have some time to think about them. Hopefully, you come up with an answer by the time they ask again in the exam.

Maybe something similar is happening in this situation. Maybe they were giving you a chance to think about their question before they asked it in public.

I don't feel like I've been asked any mean questions at talks. But, other people in the audience at my talk at a conference last year thought there were two mean questions. I thought one was fair, and the other was actually a joke.

Anonymous said...

So why are we so willing to accept unprofessional and rude behavior and even make excuses for it of the "many scientists are not socially adept" type?

Do we really believe that better science gets done?

Why would you let a trainee ask an agreesive question and "look like a douche" as Dr. Becca said?

So why?

Anonymous said...

I think there's a fine line here that really depends on the perspective of the speaker.

My favorite field-specific conference is about 250 people, with just one room for all the speakers. There are frequently group discussions triggered by talks. An audience member might ask a very tough question about underlying assumptions or limitations, but this is generally only with good work. Sometimes advisors jump in to help, because the audience really does want the answer, but often it reflects better on the advisor if the student can fend for themselves.

There was one Masters student from a small school, funded by an unusual source in our field, whose project was poorly designed an executed. The audience asked a few questions pointing out the flaws, but largely went easy on them.

Students with good projects and presentations sometimes feel attacked because they are sensitive to criticism or discussion, but once you've seen enough of how the group interacts, you realize it's just how the science gets done. If they ask you a hard question, it's because they're interested and think you might know the answer.

grumpy said...

1. I think it's more constructive to ask questions picking holes in a speaker's work in public during Q/A (and I do the same), as the speaker now has a chance to respond and influence the dialogue. Much better than people dismissing the work in whispers on the sidelines or in negative referee reports.

2. Personally I am more turned off by an overly aggressive response from a speaker than from somebody in the audience. I guess I expect the speaker to respond more calmly and thoughtfully, as they are presumably an expert on the topic and have just had lots of time to direct dialogue and build rapport, whereas the audience member's apparent aggressive behavior might be due to confusion or nerves.

EliRabett said...

The only response to "I hate your work" is de gustibus non est disputatem, but then again, that's your loss

Anonymous said...

I've definitely experienced this secondhand. At my undergrad institution we had this one professor who seemed to be a festering bag of virulent bitterness. Every visiting speaker would get a "comment" from this professor at the end of the talk on the lines of "this work was already done in the 60s". No matter what the topic/area. Even us naïve undergrads could see this couldn't possibly be the case in every. single. topic. ever.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely let us stop making excuses for the aleged social incompetence of scientists!!

I think "the truth" and "science" will survive just fine without everyone being a douche in the name of defending these things.

Anonymous said...

I once took a grad student to task after he asked an unnecessarily aggressive question of a speaker who was my guest. (Speaker was a female postdoc; I am a female professor; student was male and not my advisee.) His question was legitimate at its core, but was phrased along the lines of "Why are you bothering to do it that way when that's so clearly inadequate?"

The speaker handled it well in the moment, but I thought it was important that the student know how the question came across. I talked to him privately afterward and he said he hadn't realized it might be interpreted as rude. He asked for my suggestions about alternative ways he might have phrased it, I came up with some, and he thanked me for the feedback. I think it was mostly an issue of his being excited to have formulated a substantive question and therefore not thinking carefully about his words and tone. So it seemed like it was a good teachable moment.

Asking good questions and giving good answers are important parts of navigating the scientific community, but they aren't things we specifically train people to do. Maybe we should talk more about these issues with our students as we prepare them to give talks and give feedback to others.

Anonymous said...

Scientists will continue to be "socially inept" if no one bothers to call out and label their ineptness and why or how it is counterproductive.

I have colleagues who pride themselves on being blunt and saying they think your work (or even you) are stupid. I think this is a facade masking their own deep seated insecurity (possibly caused or exacerbated by having been on the receiving end of such comments in the past) . I think it really boils down to a desire to bully. And humiliating someone - in this case the speaker - in public and tearing that person down gives the bully a sense of pleasure due to their own private insecurities that plague them.

Anonymous said...

I've experienced this occasionally in talks; my field has a lot of arrogant and pompous people. In my experience, it happens much more often in anonymous referee reports, which rarely engage with the paper they're reviewing but just offer vague rude comments and try to score points. In that case, at least it's possible to ask the editor to dismiss the obviously rude commentary and try another reviewer.

As a new professor, I recently encountered a more insidious version of this when I got back my first comments on a grant proposal. One reviewer in particular wrote a lot of very rude comments, and singled out several of my papers for attack. He (I'm guessing) picked a few of my most well-known results and claimed that they were done decades earlier, that by working on them I showed I was completely ignorant of the history of my field, and that therefore I did not deserve to get federal funding. No citations were offered to the supposed decades-old papers that preempted my work; as far as I know, they don't exist. A couple of the other reviewers were similarly rude, but not quite as blatantly so. Is this sort of thing common? Unlike with a referee report, there's no editor to appeal to, and it has real and direct financial consequences, so I was pretty disturbed by it.

Ruchira Datta said...

I have had the experience that during a mathematical biology talk I was attending, a guy kept asking argumentative questions. It was the culture in this seminar (which I attended regularly) for people to ask questions during the talk. However, in this case he asked the first question, she answered with an explanation which seemed satisfactory to me (and others I spoke with later), and he apparently did not understand the explanation (to look at it charitably). As she attempted to proceed through the rest of her talk, he kept interrupting and going back to the same question and trying to say how that couldn't be right.

As we were dispersing afterwards, other people in the audience and I were remarking to each other how rude that guy had been. When I caught up with the speaker I said something to her along the same lines, and how she had handled him well. She said she hadn't particularly thought or noticed that he was being a jerk, and she had not been upset. Indeed she hadn't shown any signs of being upset. In this case I was getting upset with him myself (both on her and our behalf), projecting that onto her, then expressing my sympathy.

Anonymous said...

The first time I gave a talk as a graduate student, I was asked by a very senior professor who I'd had run ins with before "do you really BELIEVE those numbers?". I can't convey tone in text but I'm sure you can fill it in. Why would I present numbers I didn't believe without telling the audience? I proceeded with a bit of a smart ass answer that I only vaguely remembered after (adrenaline is an amazing drug!) and have never feared antagonistic questions again figuring my subconscious seems to have it figured out.

EliRabett said...

Anon, after you get the reviews you can talk to the program manager. You won't get that grant but if you handle it right (e.g. what are they talking about, there was no earlier work as far as I know, maybe you can ask them to be specific, etc.) you can build up a relation with the PO and he or she will not send you next one out to the clowns

Of course, you have to be right on no previous work:)

Female Science Professor said...

agradstudent: It wasn't a 'thought' question (the one I was asked in my first-ever talk). It was a question that could only be answered if I had done a particular type of analysis, which I had not yet done. The questioner knew this (having ascertained this fact before my talk), but asked anyway, knowing the answer.

Prashant said...

Something similar happened to me in a conference I attended recently. The questioner is a known douche in our field. He asked me something along the lines of "This is really easy work. What is complicated / time-consuming part in this?" Being the third conference of my career, I wasn't experienced or prepared enough for such rude comments. But my colleagues and others explained it to me about the stupid nature of this particular person.

And indeed, I saw the same guy commenting asking `questions' after a different talk - "This work is not new. I did that 23 years ago."

Anonymous said...

I saw a bigshotman recently do this to a speaker. He stood up after a talk and loudly said to the whole audience that he thought her research was a waste of time. People laughed like they always do when this man says something outrageous, like it's just a charming part of his personality ("There he goes again" etc.). I find him appalling. I don't care if he did some great work long ago, now he is a rude and disruptive lout. Why do some people find that funny? Is it because so much of the time we are all so polite and that is boring so it is refreshing when someone yells and makes a scene?

agradstudent said...

FSP: Hm, well it that case it seems just mean.

Rosie Redfield said...

At a big meeting I gave a short talk on a result that has subsequently been widely confirmed. Prof. Big-Name then announced to the room that the result was so contrary to his expectations that he could only conclude that I must be incompetent.

Female Science Professor said...

That's a perfect example.

Anonymous said...

Luckily, I have not had to deal with this myself (or maybe I was too clueless to notice) but I have observed it as an audience member.

1. At a thesis defense, an animal rights activist started heckling the graduate student over the choice of system (mouse model). A professor quickly shut that down and ordered the heckler out of the room. The poor student looked completely shocked!

2. An anti-vaxxer heckled a prominent immunologist/vaccine developer. This obviously wasn't their first run in and the invited speaker had some choice words for his stalker.

3. A professor telling the speaker (another professor) that the choice of drug administration to the animals in the study was absolutely wrong. Drugs XYZ should have been used instead of ABC. The speaker said that Drugs ABC were chosen with a great deal of research as well as speaking to collaborators and those with expertise. Professor insisted that the speaker was WRONG.

Anonymous said...

Let me add some words from the perspective of someone who often stops/slows down speakers...

I often see speakers come in with material which has built up over years in many talks and it is presented "on automatic".

A seminar should leave room for debate and is not just pouring finished science- there are papers for that.

I also want to see the edges-- the rough stuff, the curves that don't quite work. I might want to work myself on the subject if I see that it is not a perfect finished package. The seminar which is too closed, to perfect needs to be shaken up (though not
the speaker!)

Anonymous said...

That last comment seems off-topic, though the part in parentheses indicates the commenter understands the difference between asking a substantive question and telling someone you think their work is pointless.

Anonymous said...

Academics, from my observations, are very much like children in the playground. Not all mind; but a majority of them. Perhaps certain types of people are attracted to the profession?

Anonymous said...

In my first public talk as a grad student, the speaker immediately following my talk (a senior researcher in the field with whom I was currently collaborating), started his presentation by saying, "what the previous speaker said was all wrong." He then proceeded to describe a second order effect that was completely tangential to what I had presented. I guess he thought he was being funny and, strictly speaking, he was correct in that the assumptions I had made were not valid for his specific topic (although they were sufficient for mine). Unfortunately, that subtlety was probably lost on the audience and needless to say I was pretty devastated.

In my last year as a Ph.D. student, I gave a talk at a prestigious, single-session conference. After I finished speaking, a (different) senior scientist stood and asked a long, rambling question that really wasn't a question but rather a long-winded restatement of what I had just presented. He was known to do exactly that, particularly to junior researchers who were less likely to cut him off, apparently in an attempt to convince his colleagues in the audience that he had already known anything of value that the speaker had presented. I'm not usually good at responding on the spot, but perhaps because his "question" was so long, I had time to think of what turned out be an effective reply. After he stopped talking, I paused for a second, leaned in a little too close to the microphone and said "yes." After, the laughter died down, I responded to one specific statement he had made with which I disagreed. Apparently this rejoinder was effective and deemed appropriate. My Ph.D. adviser was amused and I got positive feedback from others in the audience. I don't think I've ever been able to repeat such an on the spot response.