To Go? Or Not To Go? Departmental Seminars

Let’s face it – as graduate students, we are saddled with juggling the classes we’re taking, the research we’re conducting, the classes we’re teaching, and then all the other things we’re involved in (voluntarily of course, since we are choosing to be here!).  Time is clearly a precious commodity in the life of a graduate student.  So when your home School or Department hosts a seminar, lecture, or other event, the debate is always whether or not it’s worth your time to attend.  Most students consider such things as:

1) Is the topic of direct interest to me or does it impact my area of study?

2) How long is the seminar/lecture?

3) Does it fit in my current schedule?

4) Who else will be there?  Will I be expected to be in attendance?

and most importantly 5) IS THERE FREE FOOD?!?!?!?!?

It’s kind of like betting in a poker game…


To go, or not to go? To check, call, bet, or fold? See the analogy?

Now, as you weigh those factors, you should also keep in mind that these seminars are offered as an opportunity for you to expand your own professional development.  Usually the speakers that present are selected because of their reputation in a particular area, meaning what they have to say is worth hearing.  Even if the topic is so far outside of your professional interests, it is always good to build the breadth of your academic knowledge, to at least be familiar with a wide range of topics so you can have an intelligent conversation when you meet others at conferences, symposiums, etc.

It’s also worth noting, that a lot of times the things you learn may not be directly related to the presentation topic.  Oftentimes, these seminars offer insights into how to discuss scientific papers, controversial issues, current events/research, and other topics, in a scholarly manner and see the range of viewpoints on a particular issue, which is always helpful no matter what your profession.  Moreover, it gives you a chance to see how experts choose to present their information, converse with the audience, and answer questions, all of which are essential skills for an aspiring professional.  So, while it may seem like something that takes up some of your precious time, the next time your department hosts a seminar, I would highly encourage you to attend and see what “golden nugget(s)” you can take away from it to further your own professional development.  You might just find it handy when you interview for a job or present at a conference!