How to Survive a Boring Seminar (and win some bets at the same time)

With the American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco next week, large-format printers around the world are working overtime to get all of the posters ready to go.  While you’re printing things out, we’ve prepared one more sheet that we think will help deal with one of the biggest problems facing meeting attendees…

Boring seminars.

They’re inevitable.  Given the diverse range of interests of most scientists, there’s just no way to imagine that every single seminar of a conference, symposium or retreat is going to interest everyone equally.  Additionally, attendance at these sessions may be mandatory (e.g., your PI is observant…), despite our complete lack of interest.

We’re all for toughing it out and trying to learn something – anything – from the talks.  In fact, it’s possible that listening to a talk you’d otherwise not be interested in may actually get you thinking about your own project in a different light.  Possible.

Figure 1. A zoomed in image of Round 1 (of Four).

It’s also possible that it’s the 8am session after last night’s open bar party.  Or it’s the last seminar of the conference, when your brain is about to explode and like the end of an Iron Man competition, you’re just limping across the finish line.

So is there any way to force your attention – to make the talks interesting?  Well, baseball can be pretty boring, but Pete Rose found a way to spice it up…

Like baseball, scientific talks follow a format.  Although the topics vary from speaker-to-speaker, they’re all going to present an introduction, share some data, wrap it up with a conclusion and then field some questions.  So anticipating what’s to come provides an opportunity to “discuss” when these events may happen and how they’ll unfold.

“Gambling” is such an ugly word…

To be clear, we’re not suggesting you put down money.  In fact, it’s probably better if you don’t.

But what’s the harm in guessing how many questions a given speaker is going to get asked?  Or whether they’ll experience technical difficulties during the talk?  They’re just points of interest that keep you focused on the talk in front of you.  We don’t think that will keep you out of the Hall of Fame…

So we’ve developed a single, downloadable sheet of paper that will cover four talks, usually the length of one session.  Each sheet will cover the opinions of you and five friends and any simple rules are included in the sheet.  Figure 1 shows a representative panel for Round 1 and what it might look like when filled out.

So while the large-format printer is busy cranking away on your materpiece, let the laser printer see some action.  Print off a few copies just in case you run across a slow session, or an open bar…

And of course, Good Luck!



Click the thumbnail below to download now.



4 comments so far. Join The Discussion

  1. PlayLady

    wrote on March 27, 2010 at 3:50 am

    I have to go buy new ink I've printed off so many of these…worth every penny!!

  2. Patrick Hillas

    wrote on April 19, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    You can't spell boring seminar without s-n-o-r-e.

  3. Maintain Your Sanity With a Smile | BenchFly Blog

    wrote on November 30, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    […] How to Survive a Boring Seminar (and Win Some Bets) – whether it’s too early or too boring, keep the seminar interesting with a little wager […]

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