academic seminars: what to expect

Attending a seminar at your local university or college is a great (and free) way to get an introduction to a field of study, connect with experts in a field, or just have a good time. They’re an excellent networking opportunity. Some time I’ll talk about the mentors and project partners I met through attending seminars. People are sometimes surprised to hear that you can just walk into a lecture hall even if you’re not enrolled at the college. The truth is, you can even come to class without being a student. That’s another topic for another post.

2015-11-05 16_01_21-ncsu seminars - Google Search
These are the sort of results to look out for. I’ll talk about my statistics seminar experience in another post.

If you want to find seminars to attend, what you’re looking for are department calendars. Some good search queries are: “[university] seminars” for calendars of different deparments, if you’re not sure what you’re interested in and want to see what’s available. If you know what topic you’re interested in, “[city] [topic] seminars” for particular department calendars from different universities.

2015-11-05 16_12_56-Chemistry Seminars for Fall 2015

This is what most calendars will look like. If you want to read up on the topic of the seminar before attending, they often link to an abstract (a brief summary of a research article) of the paper the presentation is based on.

If the calendar is public, you’re allowed to attend. You don’t need to be a student. You don’t need to be a certain age. You don’t need to have familiarity with the subject (I go into it expecting not to understand most of it). You don’t need to dress a certain way, but be conscious of how it will contribute to your goals. If I want to network with the professor after, I’ll dress a little nicer. Sometimes I want to quietly observe, so I’ll dress like the other students.

What to expect: Come about 10 minutes earlier than the scheduled start time so you can navigate the campus and get a good seat. Most seminars will consist of a powerpoint presentation followed by a brief Q&A with the audience. You can ask a question even if you’re not a student. Afterwards, the presenter will often stick around for a few minutes and talk to people one on one. If you feel uncomfortable asking a question in front of everyone, this is your time to come up, shake their hand, and say “Hi Dr. so-and-so, your presentation was really interesting, but I was wondering about…” If you can, stick around and listen to the presenter talk to the other students after the seminar, someone might have an interesting question. If you don’t have a question, it’s nice to say a simple “thanks for coming” to the presenter.

You can attend a seminar if you’re not a student, but be conscientious about the students who are there. Be aware that they’ve potentially put a lot of time and resources into being there. Give a student your chair if the lecture hall filled up fast. If the professor is running out the door, let the students ask their questions first.

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