Monday, November 17, 2008

Feast or Famine

To continue for at least a bit more on the topic of Department Seminars..

Some places provide refreshments before a department seminar, some places provide refreshments after, some provide refreshments during a seminar, and some provide no refreshments whatsoever.

Are refreshments important: for seminar attendance? for impressing the visiting speaker? for enhancing general socializing in the department? for sustaining a building's non-captive rodent population?

It depends on the refreshments.

Most indications are that refreshments help attract attendees, particularly of the student species and perhaps also others. I think it is also a nice social thing to do.

Does it matter when the refreshments are served or what they are?

For some people yes, for others no.

My personal preference is for refreshments after a talk, as this encourages discussion and socializing of department members with each other and with the speaker. If the socializing is after the talk (and the seminar is scheduled for a time that allows most people to stay for 15-30 minutes afterward), this is a good opportunity to chat with the speaker about what he/she just presented.

If talks are scheduled for rather late in the afternoon and many people have to leave immediately after the seminar, then it is best to have a brief social interval before the talk, ideally accompanied by some refreshments that don't have too dramatic an effect on the biochemistry of the audience.

As a speaker, I try not to take advantage of pre-talk refreshments if these items consist of cookies, doughnuts, and coffee. Even if I found the prospect of getting hyped up on sugar and caffeine just before a talk appealing, I think it would be a very bad idea for me to do so.

Apres-seminar refreshments encourage people to linger a bit and chat. I like this informal chatting time, as a speaker and an audience member. It's a nice way to unwind and talk to a variety of academic creatures, whether or not they are munching on tortilla chips at the time.


Anonymous said...

your good

Anonymous said...

It is not clear to me why do you think it is a very bad idea to enjoy pre-talk cookies, coffee etc.

Can you please clarify this for me?

Female Science Professor said...

It is a bad idea for me as a speaker to enjoy pre-talk cookies etc. because I get hyper, talk very fast, then crash during the talk. The audience can get hyper and crash on sugar and caffeine if they want, but it's better if I don't.

Not Just Academic said...

I totally agree with FSP that, as a speaker, I don't really appreciate pre-talk coffee and nibblies. A glass or bottle of water is appreciated, but that's it.

As an audience member, I like the drinks / snacks after the talk rather than before, preferably if there's a glass of wine involved at the end-of-day seminar time. My current department, alas, doesn't allow wine (under the excuse that alcohol is only permitted for certain types of events, or some such waffle) so we are stuck with instant coffee (yuck), stale tea (yuck) and some herbal teas (sometimes ok) so the selection is unlikely to impress any visitor.

Given the patchy attendance at our departmental seminars, I think the option of a glass of wine would go a long way towards shifting the culture towards turning up for scheduled talks.

Anonymous said...

I concur. Over the summer I did some research at another institution where the weekly research meetings were infamous for the scones that one of the profs brought from a local co-op bakery. Good times...

EliRabett said...

The practice in Germany is to invite the speaker to a restaurant with faculty and some of the most interested students or at least the ones who know not to wipe their mouths on their sleeves.

If you give them enough beer you can learn interesting stuff before you shovel them onto the train to go home.

Ivy Climber said...

My current department has no snacks-- due to budget limitations. We take the speaker out to lunch & dinner, and what with hotel & airfare & taxis, it all adds up to quite a lot.

My grad department had a lot of seminars every week (5? 10?), some had refreshments and some did not. The one I attended most regularly did not serve refreshments. The excuse (this was a very well-endowed institution so budget could not be the explanation) was that students should attend for The Right Reasons.

Eve said...

I live relatively far away from my school, so the attractiveness of free food is canceled out by the transportation cost. The food is served afterwards, and I think its most important function is to encourage discussion after the talk. Of course, most of the discussion us grad students have involve a) griping about TA work or b) how delicious the spring rolls are. The most hilarious post-talk discussions with profs begin around 30 minutes after the talk, because our post-talk nibbles also include free booze.

Ms.PhD said...

I agree. After for food.

But coffee is better to have before (and ideally, during).

illegal alien, I have to agree, sugar and caffeine make you more nervous. The calmer I am, the better my talks.

Jennie said...

I had never heard about snacks after seminar. Sounds like a good idea. Our seminar for invited talks was at 4pm, so the coffee/cookies before helped the attendants stay awake and most people went into the offices to finish up and go home after the talk. These were on thursdays. Fridays were our informal grad student talks with no refreshments but we had a beer lounge in the dept. that students and sometimes profs. would go to afterwards. The speaker received a free beer.