May 27, 2013
Daniel Dennett's seven tools for thinking
Daniel Dennett is one of the leading philosophers of our generation. Here he offers seven tools for thinking.
One that I thought especially good advice for young scholars was first offered by Anatol Rappaport: how to compose a successful critical commentary:
1. Attempt to re-express your target's position so clearly, vividly and fairly that your target says: "Thanks, I wish I'd thought of putting it that way."
2. List any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
3. Mention anything you have learned from your target.
4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.
One immediate effect of following these rules is that your targets will be a receptive audience for your criticism: you have already shown that you understand their positions as well as they do, and have demonstrated good judgment (you agree with them on some important matters and have even been persuaded by something they said). Following Rapoport's rules is always, for me, something of a struggle…
September 06, 2012
Tackling the dissertation proposal
Leonard Cassuto offers reasonably good advice on preparing for, and preparing, a dissertation proposal. Standards and expectations vary from field to field and department to department (even within a field) so take the advice with some caution, but as he says, "consult your advisor"!
In a commentary on Cassuto's article, Daren Brabham adds this very important point:
I want to emphasize that the prospectus document is meant to get you to the meeting so you can talk about your project in front of a panel of experts. The meeting is meant to help clarify issues that may have occluded your view and to engage in a conversation with your committee about the work you plan on doing. Defense, may in fact be the wrong posture for these meetings. I found that my committee members asked tough and important questions, listened carefully to my responses, and pushed me–all of this was not to make me defensive about my project but to aid in widening my field of vision so that I could see important issues I was missing. What emerged is a set of lingering questions that I must attend to in my dissertation, but the tone of the meeting was never defensive. Instead, I found my meeting to be a rigorous and challenging conversation with experts in the field. This conversation model is important because as we progress beyond comps and through the dissertation process we emerge as colleagues instead of students. These meetings, as conversations, help facilitate that movement.
August 25, 2012
Many fields -- and more as time goes by -- use posters to communicate research results at conferences and workshops. Just as with writing a paper, or giving a talk, preparing a poster that effectively communicates your ideas and results requires a set of skills. And as with every different mode of communication, the skills are not identical as for other modes.
July 04, 2012
Writing like a scientist (or not)
A charming essay by Adam Ruben on how to write like a scientist, whether you want to or not (beware: tongue planted firmly in cheek).
How to Write Like a Scientist, 23 March 2012, Science.
November 11, 2010
Paul Edwards: "How to give an academic talk"
My colleague Paul Edwards has been giving talks about how to give talks for over a decade now. There's a good reason he's asked so often to do it: he has very sound advice, and he's given it a lot of thought. He also has created a detailed advice handout, now in version 4. Of course, I don't agree with everything he recommends, but I do think he's right on the money on almost everything. And if train yourself to use his advice, and practice, you'll get good enough that you can make your own judgments about what works best for you and your personality.
But, for god's sake, work on your presentation skills and practice. Effective communication to an audience is not an in-born skill for most people.