Does anyone else find that the well-meaning trend in seminar of “first question from a student” tends not to succeed?

My proposal: THIRD question must be from a student.

Students usually need time to process the talk and build up the courage/conviction to ask it. And once faculty get the ball rolling it feels easier to raise your hand. I think it’s on hosts to check the vibe partway through and explicitly ask for students to talk, but at the start never seems to work well.


And by “not succeed,” I mean an awkward pause followed by the host relenting and letting a faculty member ask a question.

I know that waiting longer can help, but as a trainee that awkward pause stresses me out and interferes with my thinking of a question to ask!

@askennard When seminars went online during UK COVID lockdowns I noticed a much greater range of people asking questions than in person.
At least in part this was due to being able to type and edit a question - which helps with formulating the question more clearly - and having that extra thinking time in a space where people aren't looking at you.

Even when people were then called to read out their questions by the chair there was still an increase in students asking questions

@askennard some of the improvement was through the tech, so there might be ways to build on that in person, still.

Perhaps one option is to use something like Mentimeter during the seminar, so that the host can see questions coming in from everyone.

Some of the improvement was from the change in the culture that came from seeing this model bed in and be supported by the chairs, speakers and attendees.

Plans to increase participation need continuing input and support week after week

@Retropz you’re absolutely right that continuous support and a consistent format would help. I think this was the root problem at the recent seminar that got me thinking about this: the host didn’t mention that he would ask for a question from students until immediately before. It felt like an afterthought. To everyone’s surprise this didn’t work! 🙄

@askennard I think it puts undo pressure on the trainees. Around me it's particularly difficult to get students to ask questions. I think the best approach is more subtle and requires a good moderator: When four people raise their hands to ask a question, three are old white males and one is a trainee, let the trainee ask the question. One can encourage questions from trainees, but making it mandatory puts a burden on them.

@JoseEdGomes I agree that the most important component of any potential strategy is a moderator that actually cares about the end goal of encouraging trainee participation, and acts deliberately to achieve that goal! Otherwise it’s just so much more meaningless posturing.

@askennard @JoseEdGomes

The moderator is really important.

If a talk is really bad, it's usually only the PIs who can come up with a cogent question.

I think a good moderator should know the seminar was a stinker and if so just let the PIs ask questions. If it was a fantastic talk, that is when to pause before picking a PI question or cajole students to ask questions.

Having the moderator choose the questioner is ideal, because the speaker usually has tunnel vision.

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