On attending a graduate seminar.

I attended a seminar at an institute at the Munk Centre for International Studies recently.  It was a talk given by a doctoral fellow and was tangentially related to my interests in health information and policy.  I was very surprised when the speaker proceeded to read her talk (for 40+ minutes), accompanied by slides that had densely worded sentences on them, summarizing what she was saying.  She was very articulate, but it was like having someone read a journal article to you, and in a field with which you are not completely familiar.  I managed to stay on track for the first 30 minutes, but the last few minutes went right over my head, particularly when she got into this.

We had a break, and then the respondent read her comments.  Again from what appeared to be a typed script.  

[Is this reading-from-a-script the norm at academic talks?  It certainly wasn't in mathematics, but that's a completely different animal.  I don't remember it happening in any of the epidemiology talks I attended as a grad student, or in public lectures I've attended recently.  Definitely in some homilies though!]

Once the questions started, and no script was available,  the presenter appeared extremely nervous and quite ill-at-ease, punctuating her partial sentences with “like”, “um”, “er”.  Many times, a simple “Good point.  I will have to look in to that.”  would have sufficed to answer questions.  Rather than going at the question indirectly with a vague answer.  

She also nervously played with her hair, which was extremely distracting. 

I started thinking about the different skill sets required for writing and speaking, and how proficiency in one certainly doesn't guarantee the other.  And how we probably get better at both as we get older.  I certainly did.  The major problem with the reading from the script is that finely crafted sentences that work on the page can be very difficult to parse when they're coming at us aurally.  By the time on ehas  figured out what a sentence means, the speaker can be three or four sentences ahead.  

Ah well.  Right now I have a sample of one from this institute, so I will certainly return and see if it's the norm for presentations.  It's good for my aging brain to work a little.  Sort of like sight-singing of renaissance music with no bar lines and tight harmony.  You just have to keep going and hope it all hangs together by the end.

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