Archive for category: Opinion

Alternative talk styles

October 12th, 2009 by jose

I went to a toastmasters meeting, and found some interesting tricks to improve presentations. For example, they count the "ahhs", "hmm" etc. Since then I’m surprised at how many scientific talks are filled with those. A minor thing, but very effective. I didn’t keep going to meetings because it looked to me that the presentation style they use is not very compatible with the academic one (e.g., practicing improvisation). But it got me thinking… what alternative talk styles are out there? Is the ‘standard’ one the best? In a way, flying people all around the world to ‘see’ the talk is a bit of a lost cause, because body language doesn’t weight as much as in other communication styles. Of course, the networking and face-to-face time, to work on ideas on napkins, may make up for it, but still…

What follows is a walk through alternative talk styles that you may want to try in your next conference. Some require you to be the organizer, and enforce certain rules. Others, you can try just being the speaker. On with the show!

Pecha Kucha is a presentation format in which content can be easily, efficiently and informally shown, usually at a public event designed for that purpose. Under the format, a presenter shows 20 images for 20 seconds apiece, for a total time of 6 minutes, 40 seconds. They took the name Pecha Kucha from a Japanese term for the sound of conversation ("chit-chat"). It was being aimed primarily at creative industries professionals.

A Lightning Talk is a short presentation given at a conference or similar forum. Unlike other presentations, lightning talks last only a few minutes and several will usually be delivered in a single period by different speakers. This has actually being already adopted by academics (I’ve been to one!) and in my experience, it’s adored by the audience and well attended.

Ignite is a style of presentation where participants are given five minutes to speak on a subject accompanied by 20 slides. Each slide is displayed for 15 seconds, and slides are automatically advanced.

Last we have the TED talk. The motto of TED is ‘Ideas worth spreading’. If you are an academic, you should ask yourself, ‘is any of my ideas worth spreading?’. So if someone invited you to give a TED talk, what would you talk about? What if you make your next invited talk a TED-like talk?

Feel free to report your experiences with alternative talk styles in the comments…

AcaWiki: a wiki that encourages academics to write their stuff for the general public

October 8th, 2009 by jose

AcaWiki is a new wiki aimed at academics. They are asking for summaries of academic research. This could be an excellent exercise for students (i.e., don’t hand me your paper: post it to acaWiki, and let me know when I can look at it).

From reading the FAQ, It’s not clear to me that they are selling it right to the academic community:

What does AcaWiki offer to academic researchers?

AcaWiki offers a web 2.0 way of interacting with the public to increase impact. Research often languishes in academic journals, perhaps read only a few times by infrequent visitors. AcaWiki allows scholars to increase the impact of their research by enabling them to share summaries, long abstracts and literature reviews of their peer-reviewed work online. AcaWiki also encourages discussion by providing a talk page for each research paper.

Hmm, meh. While these are interesting reasons, I doubt academics will rush to fill in summaries. Discussion is covered by reference management sites such as citeUlike. And, of course, to make this work for academics, contributions to acaWiki must be well-evaluated by hiring committees… which is not going to happen any time soon. When faced when the decision of adding one more line to their CV or dedicating a similar stretch of time doing summaries of their articles for acaWiki, what would most academics do?

I still think this could fill a nice niche for student homework. Instead of leaving their work hidden in the HD of their T.A., posting it to acaWiki could be of use to the community. I often have to reread a paper because I’ve forgot most about it, and a good, crowd-refined summary would definitely help.

Blogging is not (serious) writing, and that’s a good thing

September 19th, 2009 by jose

Is blogging writing? Of course! You say. I would have said the same, before I encountered Jaron Lanier’s essay:

The question of new business models for content creators on the Internet is a profound and difficult topic in itself, but it must at least be pointed out that writing professionally and well takes time and that most authors need to be paid to take that time. In this regard, blogging is not writing. For example, it’s easy to be loved as a blogger. All you have to do is play to the crowd. Or you can flame the crowd to get attention. Nothing is wrong with either of those activities. What I think of as real writing, however, writing meant to last, is something else. It involves articulating a perspective that is not just reactive to yesterday’s moves in a conversation.

What he means is simply that what ‘serious writing’ is about may well have nothing to do with blogging. Blogging is closer to stream-of-conciousness, barely any revisions; ‘serious writing’ for an academic paper implies maybe three paragraphs a day (depending on how much you know the topic!), lots of going back-and-forth with collaborators, and attention to wording that would make a lawyer look sloppy.


Graham’s insight: Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule

August 20th, 2009 by jose

This single Graham’s post explains more about productivity than most entire blogs on the topic out there. It was a revelation to me. Any day that has more than two non-clustered events  becomes wasteful automatically. It’s like your mind can anticipate the futility of trying to get in the zone only to get kicked out of it by a meeting. This also explains why the typical ‘maker’ (a postdoc, or grad student working close to the data) tends to gravitate towards late nights work stunts, whereas professors rarely do. In fact, one big difference between professors and grad students is the number of meetings they have to endure… Can you be a maker and a professor? If so how do you do it?

Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule

Study Hacks on Rethinking What Impresses Employers and being a hyperspecialist

August 18th, 2009 by jose

Cal Newport says people think that the more hard things they do, the more impressive they’ll be to potential employers. He calls this the diligence hypothesis. This is a leitmotiv in his blogging.

However, this trend of getting (and looking!) as busy as possible is not exclusive to undergrads (his audience). I don’t know any academic that doesn’t look stressed. We mostly hoard more tasks that they can realistically accomplish. But academics love their jobs (or so legend has it), whereas most people don’t. People who have day jobs say their long-term strategy for dealing with no life is to amass enough wealth to have more freedom of time to be able to do  things they love. We try to do the opposite: a job we love that invades every corner of our lives.