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Michel X.

This isn't necessarily an instance of "bad" behaviour, but I do think it's something to avoid. It's something that seems quite widespread in philosophy, among faculty as much as grad students:

Reading your paper.

Here's why I don't like it as an audience member: (1) it's boring (even if you're a good reader, which most people aren't), (2) it's harder to follow, and (3) people have a tendency to either overrun on time, or to rush through much too quickly.

Even as a presenter, my experience has been that people are more engaged and give better feedback when they're talked through a paper rather than having it read to them. It's also been my experience that, when reading, I'm less prepared for the Q&A and have less mastery over the material (I rely on what I wrote to speak for me). It's just more pleasant all-'round when I've taken the time to condense my paper, and think about how to explain it to everyone.

Marcus Arvan

Michel: Totally agree with you on the paper-reading thing, and glad you brought it up! It's totally deflating when you show up at what looked like it might be an exciting talk, the person reads the paper, and you can't follow it. I've read my paper a couple of times, and I felt bad for my audience. I'll never do it again! (The only case I could see it be justified is if someone has some kind of anxiety issue, in which case I totally understand).

For my part, one of my biggest pet-peeves at conferences is grandstanding -- the person (audience member or commmentator) who tries to a "definitive refutation" of the author's argument, where it's really clear the person's main intent is to show that they are the smartest person in the room (or, at any rate, far smarter than the paper-presenter). I think this is incredibly bad form, and happens way too often. There is nothing wrong with raising difficult objections, but I propose that one should always envision one's goal as that of *helping* the author. If you raise a devastating objection, you should at least try to help the author think through how they might deal with it.


What are the norms governing staying in a secession with multiple speakers? My understanding is that it is OK to leave after a talk (preferably after Q&A), since you may want to attend another concurrent session. Are you required to stay for all speakers if you are presenting? My understanding is that it is nice to do so, but if your friend, supervisor, mentor, (or whatever) is presenting in a concurrent session, it is OK to duck out. Thoughts?

Michel X.


My take is that if I'm presenting, it would be rude and disruptive to leave immediately following my own talk. So if I'm first out of three speakers, I wouldn't leave after my talk, but I might after the second. (Similarly, I wouldn't miss the talk just before mine if I was second or third in the order.) I would probably also inform the speaker that I'll be missing their talk, and might (if I'm genuinely interested) try to talk to them about it later.


This is an instance of testimonial injustice (in a sense) which I've personally experienced and *many* other women have experienced it:

I asked a question. The speaker didn't understand what I was asking (it was a very clear question). I re-stated it. Didn't understand. I re-stated again. Didn't understand. I gave up.

A guy right after me asks the exact same question (worded almost identically to my first version). Gets an answer. Makes no mention that he gets what I was asking him.

It's *infuriating* and now the speaker is "that guy who…" to a lot of people. Don't do this. Moreover, if you're the chair, do something. If you're the next Q+A questioner, SAY that well you just asked exactly what X asked...


This post is symptomatic of the over-professionalisation that stifles actual thinking. It seems she is more concerned with schmoozing that intellectual discourse. I am ALL for not being an asshole, but paranoia all too often gets in the way of what could have been an interesting debate. Being a "generous scholar" is about telling somebody the truth about their work, whether good or bad. And if they're mature, they'll accept it even when it hurts. I am so tired of being paranoid about this nonsense.

Marcus Arvan

Timo: I don't agree with all of her recommendations in the post either, but I have to say, I've learned that being a decent human being and professional requires some restraint. It is far too easy to abuse your, "tell it as it is" maxim and veer off into sheer assholedom. I've seen far, far too many philosophers "justify" boorish behavior at conferences by saying, "I'm just telling it like it is." If someone's work sucks, it'll come out in the wash sooner or later. There's no need to make a point -- and spectacle -- of it. Early in my career, if I had a devastating point, I'd just go for the jugular. These days, I think it is just unkind. It's a human being presenting their hard work. If you have an objection, that's fine -- but making a show of how awful someone's argument is just comes off as cruel, and accomplishes little of value. Or so say I.


A large part of conferences happens outside the sessions. This summer I was at a number of conferences where I did not really know anyone. Fortunately, whilst somewhat awkwardly standing around at the end of the day, a group of attendees invited me along for dinner and drinks. Each of us talked about our research and I got some great feedback.

It's annoying when you attend a conference to meet scholars and find that people only want to socialize with the grad students from their school. This happened at the very first conference I attended. If you do have a posse at a conference, try to find a few new faces to invite along. The new faces will appreciate it!

Marcus Arvan

Eric Schleisser has posted a great example of bad conference behavior over at Digressions&Impressions http://digressionsnimpressions.typepad.com/digressionsimpressions/2014/04/on-speakers-and-commentators.html ). One should NEVER revise and present a different version of your paper after receiving your commentator's comments. I've seen people do this, and it is one of the biggest jerk moves I've ever seen. If the commentator refuted your paper, you need to present the mucked up version you have and respond to their comments *after* your presentation.

I've also seen one person (a very well-known person, who is well known for doing this) who, when serving as a commentator, has a habit of sending the author a commentary several weeks before the conference and then *another* commentary or two a couple of days beforehand. Sorry, but you only get one commentary!

Michel X.

On that last note... if you're not reading your paper, it might be worth informing your commentator of that fact when you can, and perhaps giving her a quick rundown of the points you *will* focus on. Just so's they don't feel like you were pulling a fast one on them by not mentioning stuff crucial to their comments.


In response to Michel, I'm probably really guilty of this. I flat-out refuse to read papers, and what I do is present them w/ lots of visuals. This means that some (or a lot, really) of the minutiae are left out.

The problem happens, generally, when people's comments focus on the minutiae rather than the big moves in the argument.

I always present the big moves. So focus on those! No one really cares--at a conference talk, at least--about the itty bitty details. Focus on the bigger moves. If you want to make comments about the minutiae, send those in an email (hopefully the speaker is very happy to have them--I know I am).

Jenny S.

To counter the near consensus here against reading the paper, I would say that it really depends on the conference. For a submitted colloquium or symposium paper at APA, it is very appropriate to read because (a) you're supposed to be presenting the approved version which (b) you aren't supposed to have worked on since sending it to the commentator(s). This is obviously different from other conferences, and even from other types of (invited) sessions at APA, but the rules of APA presentations make reading appropriate.

At my most recent APA colloquium session, the commentary focused on my emphasis in what was - at this point - a relatively early draft of the paper. There was just no way to reproduce the emphasis in the version the commentator had been working from other than reading out the paper.

Even so, the norms of APA are (luckily) unique, and don't transfer to other conference settings.


The only ONLY thing I did not like about the article was the fact that in example 2 she chooses (quite deliberately it seems to me) to have the rude academic be male, while the shy, neophyte scholar is female. As if female scholars cannot be equally as damning and overtly toxic at conferences when assessing the work of their male co-workers. This lead me to sort of be annoyed with the article's not-so-tacit feminist/political agenda. The point is for *all* scholars to work to develop better manners. Although, given 'climate' issues and the like, one might be able to assume that a lot of times conference rudeness is attributable to men, that is obviously not always the case. We all need to get better at not being jerks.


Regarding the 'reading' vs. 'presenting' debate. I think Rachel is right that we should stick to presenting big points at conferences. But, often times, big points are made rather quickly. I have run into this problem before. At the last conference I spoke at, I went with the 'talk' rather than 'read' method, and essentially ran out of things to say before my 20 minutes was up.

I don't think there is a real big problem with engaged reading as a form of presentation. I took an MA in the UK, and at every conference I attended, both professional and graduate, I can see it was uniformly the norm to read your paper. When I returned home to the states, I asked an old undergraduate professor of mine where he stood on the issue, to which he responded with what I take to be a very, very strong reason for why one should read their work. He told me that he is a slow writer, and tirelessly works for clarity. Once the clarity is down on the page, why steer away from it at a conference? If one expresses their thoughts more clearly in writing than in speech, why not then read your words?

Marcus Arvan

I think Jenny S. is right about conference venue. It is tough to present (rather than read) papers at the APA, in part because of lack of A/V equipment. But, I still prefer it when people present their papers, even at APAs.

Wesley Buckwalter

Some great points raised above. As conference audience members, we philosophers have a lot of room for improvement. Maybe a good rule of thumb is to try and remember that the best questions, comments, and suggestions voiced at conferences are ones that genuinely try to help speakers strengthen or advance their research projects forward, not tear them down. Questions and comments of this sort can often be very helpful regarding both big moves and small details of arguments.

Michel X.

S @ 6:18: I think you're being uncharitable to the article's author. I took her point to be just that, not one about gender dynamics (although I do think I've seen those scenarios play out along those gender lines more often than the reverse and, while it's never a good thing, there are power dynamics at work that I do think are more troubling when it's the men grandstanding and the women who are on the receiving end).

S@ 6:27: I think the line your professor gave you, about the written work being clearer and more polished, is a pretty standard argument offered in favour of reading. But I don't think it stands up to much scrutiny. Partly, that's because the audience doesn't have the benefit of having the (clear) written text in front of it. Partly, it's because people vastly overestimate their abilities to read engagingly. Partly, it's because papers are written for reading (not hearing) audiences, and there's a difference in how one should write for each.

But mostly, I just think that if one knows enough to write a clear paper, one knows enough to be able to present one's material without the benefit of hiding behind prepackaged sentences. We don't teach classes by reading out loud, and there's a good reason for that. I take it that the point of conferences is to communicate one's work to a wider audience and to gather useful feedback on it while it's still at a relatively early stage; to me, that's a lot like teaching a class, just on a very narrow topic of my choosing and to a much more experienced audience.

That's not to say, as Jenny S. points out, that there aren't occasions where reading is appropriate. I'm sure there are, and there are definitely groups of people for which reading is appropriate (e.g. if you're presenting in a non-native language, if you suffer from anxiety, if you're an early grad student, etc.). But I don't think reading should be the norm. I'll readily admit it's for selfish reasons (viz., I find it boring and I have a very hard time following the line of argumentation, even in my own areas), but I don't think I'm alone in having these troubles.

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