Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The answer my friend...umm, nevermind!

Robert Lucky recently had a short opinion piece in Spectrum, where he confirms an uncomfortable feeling I've had for a long time:

'Many questions following technical talks seem intended more to show the expertise of the questioner than to elicit information.'

I am glad I am not the only one who thought so. Lucky has a few other observations:

'The (typical) question goes something like this: “Are you aware of the work on this subject by Professor John Blutarsky at Faber College in 1962?”...“Oh, yes, that Blutarsky,” you say, playing for time. “It’s been some time since I studied his work, but I believe that his assumptions were quite different, and we all know how much technology has changed since then.”...There is an uneasy stirring as people crane their heads to view the questioner. Who is this expert who is familiar with Blutarsky, whose obviously important work the speaker seems not to know?'

There is another category of questioners: those who don't want the speaker to leave with the impression that no one was listening. So a few questions are raised about obvious drawbacks/extensions to the work, something along the lines of 'have you considered the case when k=0', or 'how will your approach do if conditions z hold'. The speaker might then explain that they were not really focusing on the k=0 problem, though with some modifications, it might be possible to get reasonable results. Of course no one really cares what those modifications might be: they are just relieved that the talk did not end in the question-free zone. That would be bad karma.

You can read Lucky's article here.


musical said...

High Five, sbkt :)

No, you are not alone and thanks for informing me that there do exist people who think likewise :).

Most tech talks end up with quite a few questions from "show-offs". or there is an attempt to promote their idea to the speaker.


sbkt said...

Thanks, musical. Kind of glad its not restricted to my area alone ;) .

bytewords said...

Love this one :). The pleasures of academia...

sbkt said...

haha, thanks bytewords!