THE Scholarly Web - 12 September 2013

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

September 12, 2013

Last month, Times Higher Education published a list of the six questions that every academic has encountered during Q&A sessions at conferences – from “The Wandering Statement” to “The Display of Superior Knowledge”.

We took the discussion online and used our Twitter feed to ask our 82,000 (and counting) followers to tell us some of the most memorable questions they had ever heard while attending an academic conference.

Some people, it seems, use the Q&A to be utterly dismissive of the speaker’s work. “Tell me, X, what was the point of your paper?” was one question heard by Peter Stockwell, professor of literary linguistics at the University of Nottingham (@PeterJStockwell). “Does what you’ve been talking about really matter?” was another, recalled by Simon Knight, a PhD student at The Open University (@sjgknight).

Gerard Gorman, lecturer in earth science and engineering at Imperial College London, proved that some people simply miss the point. He heard a maths professor ask how it was possible to get results out of a supercomputer “without a printer connected to it”. The response in the conference hall? “Silence” and “disbelief”.

Tommi Himberg (@tijh), a researcher at the Brain Research Unit of Aalto University in Finland, introduced a new genre of question: the “job application”. This, he said, is “asked by almost-PhDs” and includes “long intros about their work”.

Some questions were blunt. “My favourite ever #HEQandA: ‘Don’t men get chlamydia?’” tweeted Rachel Forsyth, who works in curriculum development and innovation at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Others were pernickety. “I wondered, could you go back nine slides? The fourth data point in the cluster to the left of the axis, are you sure it’s correct?” was a question tweeted by Craig Holmes (@craigpholmes), labour economist at the University of Oxford, who presumably has heard such nit-picking in action.

Some took the discussion away from traditional conferences. Jo Gavins (@lyricsheffield), senior lecturer in literary-linguistics at the University of Sheffield, recalled how one professor had said to a PhD student undertaking a public viva in the Netherlands: “I have a question in 6 parts. Do you want each part separately or all 6 at once?”

Setareh Chong (@etceteraChong), biochemistry teaching fellow at the University of York, told the story of a presentation that was moving too quickly for one delegate.

After asking the speaker to slow down and being told that doing so would mean there would be no time to conclude the presentation, the questioner replied: “I’d rather understand 100 per cent of 50 per cent of your data, than 0 per cent of 100 per cent.”

Jamie Christie (@jamie5on), a research fellow at University College London, couldn’t recall any grating questions – but he has witnessed an audience start clapping during a talk in order to force the speaker to stop. “He was 10 mins into lunch!”

Jack Rosenberry (@JackRosenberry), journalism professor at St John Fisher College, New York, has also seen speakers displaying less than impressive time awareness. “Once saw presenter with 40+ slides for 10 min presentation,” he tweeted. “What was he thinking?”

Send links to topical, insightful and quirky online comment by and about academics to

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Post-doctoral Research Associate in Chemistry

University Of Western Australia

PACE Data Support Officer

Macquarie University - Sydney Australia

Associate Lecturer in Nursing

Central Queensland University
See all jobs

Most Commented

women leapfrog. Vintage

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman offer advice on climbing the career ladder

Woman pulling blind down over an eye
Liz Morrish reflects on why she chose to tackle the failings of the neoliberal academy from the outside
White cliffs of Dover

From Australia to Singapore, David Matthews and John Elmes weigh the pros and cons of likely destinations

Mitch Blunt illustration (23 March 2017)

Without more conservative perspectives in the academy, lawmakers will increasingly ignore and potentially defund social science, says Musa al-Gharbi

Michael Parkin illustration (9 March 2017)

Cramming study into the shortest possible time will impoverish the student experience and drive an even greater wedge between research-enabled permanent staff and the growing underclass of flexible teaching staff, says Tom Cutterham