Gilby’s Guidance #4

Seminar Etiquette 

Image: Matthew Shipp.
Image: Matthew Shipp.

I’ve always found it difficult to be sure of a difference between those in a class who are genuinely intellectual and those who love nothing more than indulging in the sound of their own voice. I have a clear set of rules when judging people on what they chose to say in a seminar (or god forbid, lecture) and feel these criteria allow me to steer clear of those who lack a censor between thought and speech.

The beginning of seminar etiquette starts with abolishing all of your prior knowledge on the subject being discussed. So, you have read Frankenstein for A-Level and know the entirety of the feminist theory behind it. Unfortunately, the rest of us are not interested in watching a bonding session between you and the seminar leader as you exchange notes. We all want to be as baffled as each other! So even if you know the answer, be socially aware enough to put it forth in a way that emphasises the stupid in you simultaneously. No one is impressed by a know it all- even if we do artificially pretend to be so that we can copy your notes at the end of the semester. (Sorry people whose notes I copied.)

Talk of seminar leaders seemed to dominate topic of conversation to a surprising degree. Whether you love or hate them, something vital to know is that however likely it may seem, you definitely do not know more than them. The most embarrassing thing is how much everyone else in the class will enjoy seeing the seminar leader proving how much more they know after you have attempted a heckle. It’s hard to imagine something more disturbing than a teacher’s pet until you have the misfortune of meeting a teacher’s pet peeve. As aggravating as a green line in a word document that disappears after a change in comma placement, just to reappear when typing the next sentence. In this category also  lies those who are unable to accept defeat. When being told that an answer could do with some modification, there is no need to grapple with your two-minutes-before-self in a bid to edit your answer in light of said criticism.

If you have spoken more than the seminar leader then you may want to assess the amount of glares you are receiving from around the room. The rest of us are uninterested in hearing you relay the reading that we were meant to have done and watching the seminar leader’s eyes light up with the establishment of a favourite. I have never understood how people deem it unsatisfactory to rest assured in there own mind that they are top of the class. Proving it to everyone else with what seems like an abundance of word vomit throughout the hour of the class will force people to dismiss any useful things you say with the rest of the noise.

If seminar etiquette was the topic of a seminar then I would have my hand waving and flapping for the entire hour, throwing out the, ‘well, I can see where you’re coming from, but…’. The amount I rolled my eyes at those around me in my first year of seminars and lectures, it is a surprise that I haven’t acquired an injury. I get that it seems like a platform to show off what you know but seminars are for everyone to try and arrange their own thoughts, so try and decipher the useful from the boastful! If you stick to the above then it’ll make for a much more enjoyable academic show and tell session.

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