Today I attended a major cancer center's weekly seminar. I had never visited this center, so I was looking forward to getting a sense of the culture, even if I couldn't understand all the material related to imaging agents in glioblastoma.
What I witnessed was unfortunately, not uncommon in biomedical research. I don't mean to pick on this center, or this speaker, it's what I've seen throughout my career and at many institutions.
Although this was the regular weekly center-sponsored talk, only about 30-35 people attended. More striking was the audience composition, which based on looking at the ages, I guess only 2 or 3 faculty attended. The rest were probably graduate students and postdocs. Rare is the Cancer Center that really does pull faculty together (they do however look interactive in written grant proposals!).
The presentation was also pretty typical; about 50-75 very complicated slides in 50 minutes, a thematic question buried somewhere in the talk, and little evidence that the speaker was concerned about what audience was comprehending or whether they were even listening. Had the speaker taken a look, he would have seen audience members furiously doing emails, surfing the web. A few were dozing
After the 50 minutes, ~75 slides, AND ZERO audience interaction , the remaining faculty member (the Center Director crept out early) asked the audience if there were any questions. There were none and about two thirds of the room starting emptying. Feeling a bit sheepish, the remaining faculty member posed a question as people continued to file out.
Again no particular criticism on this Center or this speaker. It's way too typical. We need to rethink how we communicate science.
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I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!