The "Hail Mary" title

Aug 24 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

 I have two invitations to give seminars at other institutions this year and my plan is to switch to using data exclusively from my own lab, rather than filling in holes using post-doc stuff. On the one hand, I'm excited to be able to do this because it means that my lab is churning out enough data that I can build a seminar around it . This is particularly good because my students are all working on very different projects that would not for a coherent story mushed together, so have to pick one project to talk about. 

With the semester starting, the organizers of those seminars have been contacted me for a title. The seminars are both in November and I expect to have substantially more data by that time for the two primary lab projects. At this point, however, I don't know which will produce a more interesting story, nor if the experiments we have on-going will work out for either, leaving me with a tough choice. Either project would make for an interesting talk for the audiences and I have no interest in doing two separate talks, one on each topic. Where is my Magic 8 Ball?

So, the fun begins by picking one of the two projects and continues in attempting to divine the amount and type of data I will have to talk about. If absolutely everything we have planned works out I should have a compelling story for each, but when has that ever happened? The real question comes down to whether it is better to provide a bold title and excuse your lack of data in the presentation if experiments don't work, or temper the title and surprise the audience with kick ass data if the experiments do work out? Is it better to have a bigger semi-disappointed audience or a smaller audience that walks away impressed. With that spin, probably the latter.

5 responses so far

  • Comrade Physioprof says:

    The best thing to do is use a grandiose, yet totally vague, title. That way you can talk about whatever the fuck you want when the time comes to give your seminar.

  • Genomic Repairman says:

    I agree just make it catchy but really goddamn vague like, "I will literally knock your fucking socks off with my spectacular science skills." You see a lot of these at meetings where the abstracts are due 6 months before the meetings.

  • Anonymous says:

    Audience size matters? I'm thinking it better to coin a title that fits close to what you have in hand and then impress if possible. Making excuses looks weak, even though the honest among us know we've been there too. Overbilling your work and then leaving a less than satisfying presentation will also leave some in attendance thinking you a windbag searching for some attention. In my experience smaller audiences will generally engage in a better discussion of the work - folks seem more at ease in a smaller group. I've even gone so far as to talk for the whole alloted time in front of a large audience so as to avoid the embarassing silence if there are no questions - but cut to the chase in front of a smaller group so that there is time for questions and discussion. So I agree with your final thought... go with the latter. As for which of the two projects to talk about? If you've got the stones - go with the more controversial. Go big, or go home.

  • gnuma says:

    Something vague, at least for now. I never pay much attn to titles anyway, just general topic and name.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    Vague sucks, but it might be my only option. After talking with the technician who is working on something for both projects, I think I have a better feel for which will have more data first, so that's solved. Now I just need it to actually work.

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