Tag Archives: curmudgeonliness

Conference nametags mostly suck

I’ve been to a lot of conferences, and at every single one I’ve been issued a nametag.  I don’t know how those nametags get designed, but I’m guessing it’s mostly an afterthought.  That’s because they’re mostly terrible.  If you think about it, that’s pretty astounding – because as easy ways to improve a conference go, better nametags are such low-hanging fruit they’re practically lying on the ground.

Here’s a good place to start: what’s a nametag for?  Continue reading

Does anyone else find “Up Goer Five” a bit condescending?

Image: just a portion of the original “Up Goer Five” cartoon, diagramming a Saturn V rocket.

Like a lot of people, I’ve been enjoying the “Up Goer Five” phenomenon.  If you don’t know about it (unlikely!), it started as an xkcd cartoon in which Randall Munroe labelled a diagram of a Saturn V rocket using only the thousand most common words in the English language.  Munroe followed it up with a book along the same lines, Thing Explainer, and the idea really took off, with scientists in all disciplines trying their hands at it.  It came up most recently for me because the 2016 meeting of the Ecological Society of America had an Up Goer Five session.  I wasn’t able to get to any of it, but I got a taste via Twitter and via titles and abstracts posted online and around the convention centre.

Up Goer Five is fun – tons of it.  But I have the unsettling feeling that I’m missing something, because I don’t quite understand what Up Goer Five is for.  Or at least, I can see three things that people may think it’s for, but they seem at odds with each other, and I’m not convinced that any of the three does more good than harm. Continue reading

Cat chasing laser pointer

Can we just put down the laser pointers please?

Photo © Hey Paul via flickr.com, CC BY 2.0.

I’ve been to three conferences this summer, and seen dozens of talks: some short and some overlong; some riveting and some dull; some good and some bad.  Wouldn’t it be nice if the good talks could be even better, and the bad talks a bit less bad?  There are some difficult ways to accomplish that, but here’s an easy one:  let’s all agree to leave the laser pointers to our cats. Continue reading

Why do conferences have themes?

Images: Twitter conversation with Tamara Kelly, @TLJKelly, reproduced with her permission; meeting logos, fair use for critical commentary.

 Warning: I’ve got my curmudgeon hat on today.

I just registered for the 2016 International Congress of Entomology, which brought to mind a recent Twitter conversation (pictured above). Tamara Kelly was wondering why this teaching-and-learning conference had a theme, and suggested that “You’d never see a scientific conference with a ‘fit the research you’ve been stressing over for 2 years into this artificial theme’”. Well, it must be Somebody’s Law that as soon as you say “never” on the internet, someone calls you on it, and I’m afraid I was That Guy. 2016 ICE is themed “Entomology Without Borders”. In fact, almost every conference I go to has a theme, and I’ve never understood why. Continue reading

Please stop asking me to think outside the box

Caution: curmudgeon ahead.

If you’ve been around universities for a while (and believe me, I have), I’m sure you’ve heard someone suggest that it’s time to think outside the box. Often, it will be an upper-level administrator: the notion that it’s good to think outside the box seems to be some kind of virus transmitted by contact with offices containing nice furniture but no journals. (An important note: administrators are not (all) evil. I’ve done my time in administration, and you should too. But I’d be lying if I tried to convince you administration was entirely free of vacuous sloganeering.)

What might it mean to think outside the box? Usually, it seems to mean deciding to do something that nobody else is doing. This is sold as creativity, and if you don’t think very hard, that’s a pretty appealing prospect. Who wouldn’t want their programs to be unique and their initiatives to be trailblazing?

Well, me, for one. Continue reading