Friday, 23 January 2009

The Spoken Academic Paper is Dead (I Hope)

Academic conference papers seem to me to be a special torture reserved for those of us who don't much like public speaking. It might be reasonable to assume that this, along with the bit where my own attendance at such a conference coincided with a bit of a breakdown this time last year, is behind my hatred of the things. In fact, it's rather simpler. I don't think they work.

  • They are orally presented things, and so don't allow for rereading as an article would.
  • Nor do they allow for the level of detail that an article would, since the audience won't be able to write that fast.
  • But they do generally insist on a complete written version, being 'papers' that are presented. This is absolutely at odds with most techniques for giving a good talk that actually communicates something.
  • As such, they turn even people who would normally be highly entertaining speakers into boring automatons. Someone I know, who is an excellent lecturer, and one of the few historians I know who can genuinely write, presented one of these papers not that long ago, on a subject that was of direct interest to me, and I was still bored.
  • Half the people that go to them do so because they think they ought to, or because their academic department has insisted. This is in the name of producing a 'research culture' when such a culture is probably more dependent on the individuals involved than on compulsory structures.
Please, if you happen to be involved in an institution that engages in this nonsense, encourage them to stop it. Written articles are more user friendly. Seminar type presentations are more informative. Even public lectures have their place, but please, do away with this bizarre, useless hybrid.


Peter said...

Unfortunately, be it vestigial or not, it seems to have become a necessary evil of the academic (and marketing?) world. I only say this because I have to present such a paper for my day job in May.

Thanks for reminding me how painful it's going to be.. :)

stu said...

My pleasure.