Friday, November 14, 2008

#1 Absolute Best Time (for a seminar)

From my travels around the US and other countries giving invited talks at universities, I know that seminar series can be scheduled for any weekday and are held at an impressive range of possible times of the day or evening.

I suppose a case can be made for why any particular day of the week is better for a particular department based on class schedules and other academic activities specific to that place, but in general:

Some places favor Monday because it is close to the weekend, making travel for visitors somewhat easier, but the week is still young and everyone is feeling energetic and ready to start off the work week by being invigorated by a stimulating talk on cutting-edge research.

Some places favor Tuesday because it isn't Monday, when people might not be quite ready to dive into the work week, but Tuesdays aren't too deep into the week that people have lost energy and focus.

Some places favor Wednesday, though it is hard to think of a good reason. Perhaps it is good to have a day in the middle to pause and do something different.

Some places favor Thursday because it is getting close to the weekend, perhaps facilitating travel for visitors who will have a 2-day visit, but it is not Friday.

Some places favor Friday because it makes travel easier for visitors and people are ready to wrap up the week by being invigorated by a stimulating talk on cutting-edge research.

In terms of time of day, mornings are probably the least likely time for a seminar series, but any time after (and including) noon seems to be fair game, up until about 6 pm (+/-).

Giving talks at noon is always a bit weird for the speaker because of all the food smells and food eating sounds that permeate the seminar room. In terms of attending seminar talks, however, I don't have a strong personal preference as long as a seminar is likely to be over in time for me to pick up my daughter from school at 5:30.

The poll below asks about what day of the week your department holds its most general seminar series involving outside speakers, whether or not this is your favorite/preferred day of the week.

On what day of the week does your department have its seminar series?
Friday free polls

What is the best time of day for a seminar talk to start?
Before noon
Early afternoon
Mid-afternoon (3-3:30ish)
Late afternoon (4 pm or later)
Evening (5 pm or later) free polls


Anonymous said...

I'd also like to know how various places manage their colloquium coffee/tea/cookies. Everywhere I've ever been has done this beforehand, but I interviewed at a few schools that saved the goodies for after the talk. One host even said to me (semi-jokingly), "We make you work for your cookies." Is this common? Do they do it this way to prevent students from showing up, grabbing cookies, and leaving? Seems a bit harsh to me, especially if the talk is late in the afternoon. Seems to me that everyone needs the caffeine in order not to sleep through the talk (speaker included!).

Anonymous said...

if you did a poll of UK Universities alone I guess you'd get a very high % having seminars on Wednesdays around 3-4pm.

Weds afternoons is very often left free from teaching as inter-University sports activities are normally held then. Thus staff shoule be free to host their invitees (referring back to previous sub topic debate). Here speakers normally arrive for lunch, talk to staff individually and then give their seminar at 4.15.

Of course travel here is less of a problem, and very few have to stay overnight.

SeaSaltBlues said...

At my place, there are several seminars up during the week, mainly because there are four different departments within the umbrella of a school, but the weekdays chosen to do this are Wednesday (1), Thursdays (2) and Friday (1). Because this process when external speakers are involved is distributed throughout the month (ie, each Department organizes an external seminar per month), there are usually no overlaps. When they are, I usually pick the Thursday one to attend depending on the relative interest of the two talks. I dont think there are any specific reasons for the end of the week being chosen over the start of the week.

JaneB said...

I can tell you why seminars are often on Wednesdays in older UK universities - it's because Wednesday afternoon is free of scheduled teaching, in order that student sports teams can have one weekday practice/match in daylight (since it's dark by 4-4.30pm in northern England for november/december/january at least) without any studnets having to skip classes or any of that malarky. So ALL the academics are free Wednesday afternoon, so it's the best time to have an external seminar, which might involve meetings, a longer discussion etc. (we have a very humane policy of free wine/crisps/pretzels when there's a visiting speaker... it works at least as well as offers of credit as a means of getting grad students motivated to attend, and also encourages everyone else to come along. At 4pm, the choice between finishing something and seminar is definitely swayed by being a choice between sitting in your office alone with yet another coffee or sitting on the comfy chairs in the committee room with a nice glass of university wine - which is surprisingly drinkable - a few pretzels and a speaker, coupled with the glow of being virtuous and attending...)

I studied at a very old university where first years (who have more lectures than other years and a more complicated schedule due to taking more options) had lectures Saturday morning to allow for a two-day morning timetable - suited me great!

Anonymous said...

Working, as I do now, in a government lab, one of the things that took some getting used to was the idea of a 10am seminar. It works because nobody has teaching responsibilities, but it still felt very strange. I think it does facilitate one-on-one meetings, though, because people will then get an idea of what the speaker is working on and how s/he thinks about the subject.

Female Science Professor said...

Susan - That's Monday's topic!

The Wednesday/European seminar day was always difficult for me when I was living in Europe and wanted to attend seminar but my daughter's school was closed Wed. afternoons.

Anonymous said...

I am looking forward to the Monday discussion about coffee/tea/cookies. I totally agree that snacks are required to make it through the talk without falling asleep. And to make it even more interesting, let's talk about how the food is almost always organized by the women. Whether or not it's the admins or the grad students, it's inevitably women putting out food for men to eat. When my turn came around to organize seminars, I spent some extra cash on having it catered so that I (the woman) wasn't actually "serving" the snacks.

AsstFemaleProf said...

While ours is on thursday (which currently is the most popular day), this is actually just a coincidence. The day and time are chosen through a mass-coordination effort among all of the departments and orchestrated by the Dean to try to make sure that no two seminars overlap. Of course, this doesn't completely work out, but the effort is appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I would kill for seminar at 9am on Monday, with bagels. Doesn't eat into my experimental day. As it is, my experiments are set up on Monday and run the rest of the week, so our seminar, which is scheduled on Thursdays in the middle of the day, is REALLY annoying. Also, lunchtime scheduling is probably only good for some, none of the grad students I know take lunch breaks, we eat on the run as we dash between projects.

What gets me is that food IS essential, but our department has stopped giving it to us "to save costs", and yet seminars are still mandatory. Come on! At least some free coffee!

Anonymous said...

Every University I've ever been at--as an undergrad, grad student, postdoc, VAP, my first TT then tenured job, and my current position--has had Friday afternoon seminars. It has always seemed really unfair to me. I'm exhausted, trying to finish the remaining 50% of the work I thought I'd get done during the week, and/or wishing I could leave town before 5 pm for a weekend trip. But up until my current school I always went to nearly every seminar. (I think I missed 1-2 seminars in 6 years at my first TT job.)

Now I'm in a teaching-only position in a HUGE department and I no longer think it's my civic duty to go to seminars or meet with seminar speakers. When I get done on Friday, I leave.

Kate said...

Our lab alternates between a lab meeting and journal club. We meet 11-12 Mondays. On Monday, most people have yet to start their complicated week-long experiments. But 11am is late enough even for the most socially-inclined students to come in.

I think a seminar held late Monday morning is best for the same reasons. It's early in the week, but late in the day. Also, the invited speaker will have met most of the faculty and students in an informal setting over the weekend, and will have an easier time presenting.

Anonymous said...

8:30am. Why?

So we don't fuck up the health system. People gotta get treated.