Sunday, October 25, 2009

Seminar at the Albert-Einstein Institute

On Friday, I gave a seminar at the Albert-Einstein Institute in Golm, near Potsdam. I won't bother you with the details since it was an only slightly modified version of my last month's seminar in Uppsala. Though the seminar at AEI was well attended - the audience was much larger than I expected - it didn't go very well. Constantly interrupted by questions, I forgot half of what I wanted to say, run out of time, and had to skip some slides. While that wasn't a disaster, it destroyed what I thought would have been a well-balanced and interesting composition for a seminar. Worse than that however, I didn't even manage to answer some of the questions to which I normally would have known the answers. I'm just terribly slow if you put me on the spot. All in all, it wasn't exactly the best seminar I've given, and I hope the audience got something out of it.



Stefan was also sitting through the seminar. He indeed drove me all the way to Berlin and back, and carried my laptop around. If you're one of those who don't understand why people get married, that's why ;-) While I was trying to locate the secretary at the institute, Stefan took photos of the whole building. It is located on a hill in between fields, and features a closed inner yard (not yet on the google maps photo) with some plants, tables, chairs and of course blackboards.



The average age of researchers at AEI seems to be much lower than at typical departments. There is also a strong pipeline going from Perimeter Institute to Golm; we met quite a few people I knew from Waterloo. Bianca Dittrich now leads a group on Canonical and Covariant Dynamics of Quantum Gravity, Daniele Oriti has a group on Microscopic Quantum Structure & Dynamics of Spacetime. My former office-mate, James Ryan, is now in Bianca's group, and Florian Girelli, whose desk I had inherited at PI, was visiting.

All together it is a very lively and active place in the field of Quantum Gravity, and one that will certainly continue to play a leading role.



21 comments:

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

The Albert Einstein Institute looks to be another of those places where from time to time I’d like to be just the fly on the wall. With all the glass that Stefan shows in his photo’s I wouldn’t be surprised this in part inspired the same being incorporated into Perimeter. I would also be interested to learn if the lecture you gave was conducted in German or English and if they record them or not.

You talked about all the interjected questions and it having you not quite wrap it up as you would have liked. This has my mind to go back to my readings of the proceedings of the Fifth Solvay Conference where you would have found the likes of Einstein, Heisenberg, Dirac, Schrodinger, Born, Pauli and so forth pounding away with the questions, with Pauli being known to be the most problematic in such instances. Not that I’m comparing the calibre of those in attendance, I just wondered if being a tough audience might form to be part of the culture.

Best,

Phil

Uncle Al said...

THE place for a productive scientist to be,

Science 326(5951) 354 (2009)
http://inauguration.kaust.edu.sa/kingsvision/thuwal.aspx
http://inauguration.kaust.edu.sa/university/interactive-map.aspx

KAUST, located at 22°18'8"N 39°6'5"E, is 76 miles from a thermonuclear hypocenter at 21°25′21″N 39°49′34″E. No problem!

Tkk said...

Hi Professor Bee,

AEI indeed looks impressive. I like the big glass wall better than the PI design. But glass wall design 'wastes' space and more expensive.

You have given quite a bit of presentations, mostly to technical audiences. But as you start presenting to larger audiences of diverse interests, in a big theater, and even in large public lectures, you will benefit form professional techniques. Such as careful design of the slides, use of multimedia, verbal techniques, control of audience and time, etc. Just as important is how to overcome 'butterfly', you know how stomach can churn in front of big audience - you start losing track, forget all you know, and just not being yourself. Doing it right not only gives everybody satisfaction, but also nurture your image. Courses are available. I was the most awful presenter until I tool a couple of courses and field practices. As confidence builds and I was able to 'control' the audience I turned from shy to total enjoyment.

One thing you don't need improvement is your fashion. Your outfit is real cool!! Shame on Stefan if he does not share my observation.

How come you presented in English in a German institution and audience?

The pictures were shot with the wrong color temperature settings. That's why they have such a strong blue cast. For the window shots, the blue cast is due to shooting inside the sun's shadow, where the building attenuates most of the colors except blue. (Ctemp of sunlight ~5000K, shadow ~9000K) Switch the camera Scene mode to 'Cloudy' to shift the camera white towards blue in order to compensate. For the classroom shot the blue cast is due to the fluorescent lighting. Switch Scene mode to 'Fluorescent' to compensate. (Ctemp of fluo ~7000K)

Steffen said...

Bee,

luckily you didn't come for a day when there's only fog around and you feel like ten thousand miles away from the rest of civilisation ;)
Having attended a few similar seminars, I was surprised by the number of questions - you subject must have been interesting enough for people not to fall asleep! :)
Don't worry too much - your talk was enjoyable (at least to me who's not too much into QG). You may consider to return - for longer, or at least to give a lecture in the campus lecture hall!

@Tkk: Max Planck Institutes, although located in Germany (most of them), are populated by scientists from all over the world, and English (in its different incarnations) has been agreed on for internal communication. Actually, I'd estimate that >80% of the seminar's audience weren't German speakers.

Arun said...

Hi Bee,

What was the most interesting question asked? :) (I have my own metric for what is interesting; but by your measure?)

Best,
-Arun

stefan said...

Hi Tkk,

The pictures were shot with the wrong color temperature settings. That's why they have such a strong blue cast.

Well, maybe... I have used my more than six years old digital camera - I am not even sure if it can handle this compensation.

For the window shots, the blue cast is due to shooting inside the sun's shadow, where the building attenuates most of the colors except blue.

Actually, the "window shot" is quite realistic in colour - it was a grey, foggy and overcast day, no sun to see nowhere.

But thanks, I'll try to see what I can do (or get a new camera ;-)...)

Best, Stefan

Georg said...

we met quite a few people I knew from Waterloo. Bianca Dittrich now leads a group on Canonical and Covariant Dynamics of Quantum Gravity, Daniele Oriti has a group on Microscopic Quantum Structure & Dynamics of Spacetime. My former office-mate, James Ryan, is now in Bianca's group, and Florian Girelli, whose desk I had inherited at PI, was visiting.

Hello Bee,
do You know a name for
"Reise nach Jerusalem"
in English?
Regards
Georg

Bee said...

Hi George:

It's called musical chairs. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Dear Arun,

None of the questions was interesting in an inspirational sense if that's what you mean. There were several question about how far black hole production at the LHC uses quantum gravity (answer: none, but already for a mass one order of magnitude above the (potentially lowered) Planck scale, that's a good approximation). That's a very good question because it clarifies the assumptions. The annoying thing though is that people frequently ask questions (like in this case) to which the answer is on the next slide. I find this a very bad habit that doesn't serve any other purpose than showing that the person asking is following. I much prefer if people wait till I'm done and if their question still isn't answered, they can bring it up. The question that I think was most useful for the audience was a clarification for the status of the GZK data (see eg. here). What do you consider an interesting question? And would you like to hear it in your seminar? ;-)
Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Steffen,

I'm glad to hear you enjoyed the seminar and it didn't just waste people's time. As I said in the very beginning, the main purpose of the seminar was to convince people it's a young but interesting research direction and there's work to do. I would love to come back :-) Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Tkk,

You certainly have a point there. Let me mention though that for all I can tell my seminars have improved very much in the last 5 years (to some extend simply because my English is better.) The problem is however that I am pretty much who I am when I give a talk, and I'm neither a big entertainer nor am I very fast in interpreting and addressing question. (Interestingly, I have larger problems with small than with large audiences). Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

in my experience, the procedure for asking questions is partly what you call "culture" and partly due to the seminar organizer. It changes from place to place and reflects only very weakly a particular research style or direction. To some extend the speaker can take care of the question procedure, but I find it's very impolite to cut off questions if they invited me. So I tend to take questions during the talk even though it can be counterproductive. But you are right of course that interjected questions can also be very fruitful. Best,

B.

Plato said...

Bee said:There were several question about how far black hole production at the LHC uses quantum gravity (answer: none, but already for a mass one order of magnitude above the (potentially lowered) Planck scale, that's a good approximation). That's a very good question because it clarifies the assumptions.

Some people by nature are "Home bodies" who dislike change and wish they could always stay in one place. But as we know, burgeoning young scientists have to be "quite fluid in their travel" in order to get a clearer picture of the places they operate in.:)

You know I have been following this subject under the context that you and Stefan have presented toward better clarification a long time now.:)Your moves toward clarification have been appreciated


Using string theory as a measuring tool, Son and colleagues Pavlo Kovtun of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Andrei Starinets of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, have found that water is 400 times more viscous than black hole fluid having the same number of particles per cubic inch.See:Exotic physics finds black holes could be most -perfect,- low-viscosity fluid

Microscopically, it allows one to move "toward assumptions?" While in the real world, we look at what Dorigo has to present in calorimetry style.

Best,

Kay zum Felde said...

Hi Bee,

interjected questions can harbor the whole presentation. Especially when these questions yield out of the original field.

I think, only from your description, your own statements and from paper titles, that you work on a broad base. So cross questions will surely come up and sometimes it is not easy to follow everything. You cannot be on top level all time.

Are you a perfectionist ?

Bee said...

Nothing real is ever perfect. I just know I've given better seminars.

Arun said...

Hi Bee,

I think our thoughts of what are interesting questions run along the same lines :). I haven't given a seminar in a long time, so dunno how I would react to interruptions.

My guess is you're being harsh on yourself.

-Arun

Tkk said...

"The annoying thing though is that people frequently ask questions (like in this case) to which the answer is on the next slide."

This is an indication that your slide can benefit from better design. The audience is always right, no matter how annoying they are to you, because you are the presenter, not them.

"I much prefer if people wait till I'm done and if their question still isn't answered, they can bring it up."

This is called controlling your presentation and audience. You have not done so. There are techniques to do this.

"The problem is however that I am pretty much who I am when I give a talk, and I'm neither a big entertainer nor am I very fast in interpreting and addressing question."

You are who you are and proud of it. Don't change. Nobody expects you to be an entertainer, but they will be pleasantly surprised if your presentation takes on the smoothness and effectiveness of a professional entertainer.

You have presented on a highly technical and difficult subject. I said 'difficult' in the sense that this is a new subject to your audience. Your goal is to convince your audience of diverse interests (albeit all physicists) about a new subject, full of new technicalities, that can be 'interesting' for them too. Well, it's interesting to you but why do you think it can be interesting to them, who currently has no or little interest? What's in it for them? Why should they spend their time on QG phenon? What are the potential paybacks? What are the risks - i.e. great deal invested with little prospect of discovery.

As presenter your main task is to answer these questions right on the first slide. That answer must be Yes, because if No you shouldn't be there at all. The rest of the slides should provide evidence to support your answer. And that must include subjects or lines or research, some early encouraging results, Q&A on each technical area, AND names of institutions and key researchers who are currently invested in QG phenon. You can generate excitement by showing a single major discovery/event that have received press reporting or large funding. You should finish with a summary to reinforce your answer, and say a few words about your own line of research.

You need to present a convincing case, like a salesman. 'Cause if you don't then you have wasted their time. Get my drift?

Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

Even though the nature of my work has me used to speaking to people I don’t know and at times several I’ve never been comfortable being the focus of a large group which being the case with such a lecture. Also as you say If questions are invited and being the type that aren’t simply redundant or off topic they can form to be as you sat helpful in getting your point(s) across.

I find the greatest risk one runs is when ridiculous questions are asked, as to have your response not have who asked to look as ridiculous as the question; which can be the result regardless of how you respond. To tell you the truth in such situations the only type of questions I would more likely ask being those which served to clarify the meaning of things, that is those which at the moment didn’t form to be self evident.

However, I've found many people not sharing this sensibility, believing instead there is no such thing as silly a question rather only silly answers. With all that said the questions become only problematic more resultant of the time restraints normally placed on them. Perhaps it would be better if such things where set up with places where you and others could meet to discuss questions you would rather have deferred to after and sorted out through dialogue and exchange of ideas.


Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Tkk,

Yes, you certainly mention some good points there. The issue with "the audience is always right" is however that one person interrupting with a question that would be answered on the next slide isn't "the audience." Half of the audience might still be stuck on the last slide, so just speeding up isn't a solution. You are of course right with "controlling the audience." However, if I was invited to speak and don't know the local habits, I think it's the seminar organizer who should manage the questions. I will shut them up only in really bad cases.

My slides usually go through some iterative optimization process. If I notice people find the order or explanation confusing, I rearrange or rewrite them. There are some points in the talk though to which I simply couldn't find any good solution. And then I am admittedly not to keen on spending an infinite amount of time on putting talks together.

Thanks for your advice; it is very appreciated.

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

I didn't say the questions were silly. They would have been totally appropriate in a discussion setting, but in that case I would have used a different structure for the presentation. Best,

B.