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(1) Send your comments to the author at least 2 weeks before the conference.

(2) Less is more. It's fine to use all ten minutes, but everyone will be grateful if you use 7 or 8 and free up extra time for the Q&A. Pick a core idea or two, and don't try to cover everything.

(3) I see the commentator's role as (i) summarizing and contextualizing the key findings in the paper for an audience who may have missed them or needs a second pass at it, and (ii) raising issues which the audience might wish to pick up on for further discussion. In other words, IMO you're a lifeline who helps to steer the discussion (and thus avoid a situation where everyone is too poleaxed to ask anything).


Seconding something earlier commenters said: remember that it's not really about you. The audience came to hear the main speaker and you're there to help them have a conversation with the speaker.

Don't destroy the speaker (even if you could). Raise a manageable number of points that will spark discussion. Help the audience to understand your points, and quite possibly the paper (remember they're nonspecialists who are feeling exhausted from all of the previous talks).

It certainly is a good idea to put your best foot forward, signal your expertise early, and make important points. But don't feel like you need to steal the show.

Trystan Goetze

It might be worth taking a look at this discussion from a few months ago: https://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2021/04/potential-roles-for-conference-commentators-guest-thread-by-jonathan-ichikawa.html

This was in response to a Twitter thread by Jonathan Ichikawa about things commentators can do in addition to raising objections to the presenter's paper. First-time commentators might find some useful suggestions!

Prof L

I'm reiterating points from Michel, but it's worth repeating. Get the basics right.
(1) Give your comments to the author on time.
(2) Stay within the time frame. Make your goal 80% of the time allotted. It's disrespectful for anyone to go on too long, respectful to end under time. Plus, I've never heard an overlong set of comments that made me think "this went over time, but they needed all that time to make these important points" ... overly long comments are almost always rambling and opaque. Avoid the rookie mistake of trying to stuff every interesting thought you had about the work into the comments. If you are a good philosopher, you'll be leaving out lots of interesting and important things you could have said.
(3) Focus almost exclusively on clarity. Make a *one or two* points, make them *well*. Do lots of sign-posting. The audience will be largely unfamiliar with the work in question. Present the relevant elements of the work you are responding to sympathetically and clearly, and then make your response similarly clear.
(4) Be both challenging and charitable. Comments that do not challenge are boring. Make the challenge as strong as possible, while at the same time being a charitable reader and expositor of the author's work. Don't ever be nasty or mocking or say things that call into question the qualifications of the author. You can raise substantive objections and important overlooked distinctions kindly.

Prof L

Also, wrt dress: business casual will never be objectionable at these things, although you do see some variation, especially among men. I recommend slacks (not jeans) or a skirt and a button up shirt or blouse. Don't wear a tie (unless you're a super hip dresser and you make it look cool). Blazer or sport-coats I take to be optional.

I take this to be the general academic dress code, and to hold for everything which involves faculty from multiple institutions: invited talks, symposia, job interviews, faculty seminars, conferences, or anything that costs money to attend. Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I would maintain: 1) There are no suit-and-tie expectations EVER in academia. And 2) At any academic event where you are interacting with faculty from other institutions, dressing as described above is appropriate.


On the dress comments, just going to mention that I once went to a continental talk at an APA and the people there were dressed way fancier. So I think the advice people are giving mostly holds for analytic talks (unless the talk I went to was an anomaly).

anonymous tenure track at R1

I feel like I've been at different APAs than the rest of the people here, because (with the exception of formerly at the Eastern when job candidates were interviewing) I feel like the vast majority of people do not wear "business casual" clothing. I think it is perfectly fine to wear whatever you wear in your day to day life (either at work or not, so long as it's not, like, pajamas or underwear or a bikini or something), and that you're more likely to fit in with the rest of the room/conference that way.

Marcus Arvan

Hey Prof L: there are definitely no suit-and-tie expectations in philosophy. But there definitely are in other academic disciplines. I’ve given papers at political science and economics conferences, and they are very dressy, with most men wearing blazers and ties, if not full suits and ties. I was “business casual” and stuck out like a sore thumb, being plainly underdressed compared to everyone else. Similarly, my spouse works in an academic field that intersects with business and management, and virtually everyone there dresses very formally (always with ties). Anyway, it’s definitely worth knowing that norms can vary a lot across academic fields!

Prof L

I run in history circles—maybe we dress a little fancier than others? Or perhaps my memory is just not serving me well. At the end of the day, people won't remember what you wore (unless it's egregiously casual or egregiously formal, or absolutely fabulous).

And thank you, Marcus, for the info about other disciplines, that's a helpful corrective.


historygrrrl's philosophy fashion insights, based on APA observations

* Ethics: Business casual. Khaki or similar slacks, plaid button-up shirt, sweater.
* Applied ethics/political philosophy: Khaki or similar slacks, dress shirt with collar (often white).
* Mind: ‘Alternative’ fashion, sometimes an unkempt look.
* Metaphysics/language/logic: Casual but generally put-together; think West Coast.
* Continental: Modern European style. Think expensive jeans, properly fitted blazers, dark colors, matching dress shoes.
* History of Philosophy: Formal style – pieces that were once expensive, but may have been sourced from a thrift shop. Tweed and sweater vests may be present.

Styles are a bit more variable for women/non-binary folks (but still follow similar parameters).


Good suggestions here, but I have to disagree about the point that the commentator should summarize the main points of the paper. There are exceptional cases where the main paper is very technical or confusing, and where the audience will be grateful for a summary. But 95% of the time that is not necessary, and it wastes everyone's time. After all, the speaker just explained their argument and everyone heard it. It's okay to briefly state the point in the paper your comment is about to give the relevant context, but no more.
Regarding the "don't destroy the speaker" comment: you should be polite and charitable, but if you have a serious objection, you should say what it is. The speaker and the audience want to know. Optimally, offer a way to make it constructive rather than just negative.

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