Last week in the Times Higher: My little paean for the seminar, including some notes on I think digital communication might help ‘reboot’ them.
Some background: I used to love seminars. As a PhD student, I’d fill my diary with listings for these little academic get-togethers, full of excitement about what I might learn, what new area of scholarly work might be opened up to me, what new bibliographical trails I might fall into and new shelves in the library I might find myself drawn to. Of course, I’d often get stuck working on something else, and wouldn’t get around to going, but my diary lived in hope at least.
A couple of years ago though, I lost that hope. It wasn’t just that as a lecturer I was simply busier. It was too many seminars had left me digging my nails into the desk with intense boredom. The low point came about a year back when I realized the chap next to me (a highly educated and expert colleague, I should add) was watching a video of a cat playing the bagpipes. I didn’t blame him. In fact, I passed him a note suggesting he googled “fainting goat kittens”.
I don’t even like cat videos.
It’s not just the distraction of YouTube that threatens the seminar. Increasingly, academics are going online to get the professional interactions that the seminar used to (or should) provide: there is research blogging, for example, and I think the recent development of a twitter journal club is fascinating (and ripe for extension to other professions/ areas of research). However, I still think there is something to be said for events where we meet in person. Moreover, I don’t think we should see this as online vs traditional. Indeed, digital communications may be used to improve the quality of seminars, in particular opening them up (which I think will have the effect of improving them).
So, please do share any tips on improving seminars, digital or otherwise. Maybe you disagree, and think we should dump the idea entirely and just congregate on the blogosphere? Or maybe I’m just going to the wrong seminars. What’s it like in your bit of academia?