Do you remember the first seminar you attended? I do.
An assignment in my Writing in the Majors Evolution course at Cornell was to attend a seminar.* (One of these days, I’ll write a whole post on this course. It was truly life changing.) As I recall, I left this assignment until late in the semester, and went to the particular seminar I did because it was the one that fit in my schedule. Given that, it is somewhat amazing to me that I still can recall specifics of this seminar!
The seminar was about was the evolution of flight. I’m pretty sure it was by Kevin Padian. (I wish seminar schedules from the late 90s were available on the internet so I could check!) My memory on a lot of the specifics is understandably hazy, given how long ago it was, but I remember that one major question was whether flight evolved from the ground up or trees down. What I recall most, though, is that he did a demonstration of how birds fly. It wasn’t the up-and-down flapping motion that I thought! It was a figure eight sort of motion that I can still do, thanks solely to this seminar. I’m not sure what the moral of this story is, other than perhaps that I should start mimicking how Daphnia swim if I want people to remember my seminars almost 20 years later.
Why did I just remember this? Because my 5 year old was showing me how birds flap their wings, and we started talking about this and I gave her a demonstration of what I learned in that seminar. Given that inspiration for this post, I’ll answer the “what was the first seminar you attended” question for her: she went to a seminar by Bonnie Bassler when she was still an infant, worn in a sling.
It does make me wonder if these sorts of attend-a-seminar assignments tend to be effective. For me, one thing it helped with making me aware of these seminars and that I could attend them. I started attending seminars more regularly the next year, but that was largely because I had joined a research lab by that point and it was part of the culture. I remember that David Tilman and Peter and Rosemary Grant gave seminars on the same day while I was an undergrad, with a group of people hustling from Tilman’s seminar to the one by the Grants. I also remember that I crashed the grad student pizza lunch with the Grants and thought that whole experience was very cool. It’s funny to me that I can remember all these details about these seminars that I attended 15-20 years ago, but often can’t remember my own phone number.
Do you remember the first seminar you attended? What career stage where you at? Was it memorable? If yes, do you have thoughts on why it was memorable? My guess is that speaker charisma is probably more important than topic.