Nota bene

“It is disrespectful to the speaker to show up to a lab meeting – especially one at which a student is giving a practice presentation for an upcoming comprehensive exam and has specifically asked for feedback – without a pen, paper, laptop, tablet, or any other means of taking notes. It signals that you’re only there because you have to be, and that you have no expectation of learning anything useful or interesting, or of contributing any feedback”.



(Too busy for real posts. Grant season. One grant going in on Friday, two on September 15th, one on October 3rd, two on October 15th. See you at Hallowe’en).

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
This entry was posted in career, grant wrangling, rants, science. Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Nota bene

  1. yes it is, but unfortunately there are people like that. A former PD in my lab was like that, actually would have hir laptop open and be working on teaching stuff while we gave lab meeting…

  2. 96well says:

    It’s my feeling to observe an increased number of people that are there ‘just because they have to be’. Young members do not like lab meeting, don’t give feedback in the room and are annoyed if someone gives them any feedback. Research is mostly communication, with publishing only the most condensed form. I can not understand how it is possible in the same time to dream about your name in a Cell paper, and get so bored at lab meetings.

  3. Alyssa says:

    I don’t think this is a logic statement (person doesn’t bring note-taking materials == uninterested). I find if I’m taking notes, then I’ll miss things. I’d much rather sit there and concentrate on listening and/or reading the slides/looking at the figures/etc., then write notes afterward if they want a hard copy of my thoughts.

  4. Liz says:

    I don’t think it is disrespectful. I bring a notebook for talks given by people outside of the lab, to write down specific details that I won’t remember and want the information for future use (ie: they used compund x at 5ug/mL and saw phenotype A, etc.). For less formal lab meeting style talks where feedback is being asked for, I prefer to watch and listen without taking notes and then give oral feedback during the discussion time. I would say >80% of my lab never brings a notebook to our lab meetings.

  5. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Ooh, look, a discussion! My cunning plan worked. Please keep it going and I’ll respond when I have more time 🙂

  6. Pharm Sci Grad says:

    At least in my lab meetings, we tend to interrupt as it goes, rather than hear all of the presentation at once. So often, I have no need for writing material – it’s very “stream of consciousness” – but the presenter sure better have brought something to write with!

    Usually all I’ll write on the paper (if we’re waiting until the end) is a slide number for hir to go back to so I can make my comment.

    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      My old labs had meetings like that, but not my current one (although the PI will interrupt mid-talk, and sometimes the speaker has a specific question for certain member(s) of the group with expertise on the technique involved etc).

  7. Grant says:

    I habitually take a notebook, but if I know the subject very well (as in a recent talk I attended) it’ll probably not come out of my jacket or vest pocket, or wherever I’ve stuck it. Likewise for talks well off my subject that I’m only attended for “amateur interest”. (Like a talk on the Mayas that I’ll be attending tomorrow night!)

    @Alyssa: I’m hard-of-hearing (or deaf, depending on the situation). For most speakers while I’m writing, I’m not hearing much! So, like you, for stuff that matters I prefer to watching the speaker, reading the slides, etc.

  8. Grant says:

    @Cath@VWXYNot? – sneaky.

  9. ecogeofemme says:

    I completely agree with Alyssa. If I’m taking notes, you don’t have my undivided attention. Notes means I want the info later. If you want feedback on your presentation, then it’s about you, not me (i.e., I can’t be worried about taking notes for my use later).

  10. @stephenemoss says:

    I find this an odd assertion, or is it a hypothesis? I never (or almost never) take anything to a talk, for the very reason that I want to give it my undivided attention. On the extremely rare occasions that I need to note something in writing, I use the notepad app on my iphone.

    By the way, I’m looking forward to my first visit to Vancouver in a couple of weeks.

  11. SB says:

    I don’t think not taking notes automatically equates to being disinterested in the talk. My PI gives great feedback and I’ve never ever seen her with a notepad. I know I, personally, retain a lot more if I do take notes (it helps to ensure I’ve absorbed the key messages from the talk), but this isn’t a universal phenomenon – lots of people, especially those with lots of experience, seem to be able to remember everything just by listening.

  12. ricardipus says:

    Incorrect. I seldom take notes at lab meetings or seminars any more, because (a) it wastes paper, and (b) I will never, ever look at them again.

    Even my leaky memory is good enough to remember something I want to ask about for the 20 minutes or so that a lab meeting presentation takes. And if not, it’s at least good enough for me to remember to ask the speaker to flip back to “the slide with the [enter interesting data class here] on it” to jog my memory.

    As for taking notes on laptops – in anything smaller than a lecture hall, the tip-tapping of the keyboard is just rude. I use one for meetings where I need to generate minutes, but would never do so in a presentation, particularly one by a student who is likely already nervous.

    • SB says:

      Agreed about the no laptop rule… I’ve never found the sound of laptop keys distracting, especially when there is ambient noise, but as a presenter, if I see somebody with a laptop I am likely to assume they are checking e-mail/social media and not actually listening to my talk (clearly because my science is bad/uninteresting).

  13. OK so y’all have made me feel DUMB because there is no way I can remember all the feedback I want to give without writing something, even if its the slide number. Mind you, I”m the annoying lab member that times your total talk time as well as how long you’re spending on different sections so that if you’re going over you allowed time (they’re strict on the thesis and comp time) I can tell you where you can cut…..

  14. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    I’m with you on this one, ScientistMother – if I spot a typo on slide 2, think that the presenter spent too much time talking about one of the three bullet points on slide 4, notice that there’s too much text on slide 6, decide that the paper mentioned on slide 7 looks sounds really interesting and that I should go find it after the meeting, think the axes should be labeled better on slide 9, spot a logical inconsistency on slide 11, and decide that the order of slides 13 and 14 should be switched, there’s not a chance in hell I’ll remember the typo by the end of the talk if I haven’t written it down (or the too much text, or the axes, and I can guarantee that I’ll never find that paper again). Fair play to those with better memories than mine, but I need to take those notes (quickly, while still paying attention to what the speaker’s saying!) if I’m going to keep up and contribute properly.

    In regular, non-practice talk lab meetings, I also like to jot down acronyms / other technical terms that everyone else seems to know but I don’t, to look up later; interesting papers that get mentioned that I’d like to read; possible connections between a new result and something else I’ve heard about before, in someone else’s lab meeting or in the literature; and, of course, ideas for snarky blog posts 🙂

    I may also be biased by having “grown up” in two labs where pretty much everyone took notes in dedicated notebooks at every lab meeting. And also maybe the body language, attitude, and non-contributions of the people at Tuesday’s meeting who didn’t have note-making materials with them. Maybe. 🙂

    • ricardipus says:

      Hm… I’m going to backtrack/amend and say that in those instances where the lab meeting is being given as a rehearsal talk by a student (for a presentation in front of the department, or for a conference talk, for example) – I will *always* jot notes down about improvements I want to suggest.

      But in a regular “this is my results update” type talk – no.

  15. rpg says:

    Slightly off-topic, but in a certain department…

    no. There’s a blog post there. Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

  16. Bob O'H says:

    I gave up making notes because I never read them afterwards anyway. A better way of signalling interest is to join in the discussion.

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