Human behavior during seminars

If you are a scientist, or a friend of a scientist', or just somebody who passes by near a university, you probably know what I am writing about. A seminar (aka talk, piece of a conference, etc) is a period of time that usually lasts 45 minutes of an hour, and seems to last more or less one century. I am not joking: if you attend a seminar because you really like the speaker or the topic, you'll soon find out that the amount of ideas, definitions, theorems that slide on the screen is too much even for the bravest audience. If you attend the seminar because your boss told you to do so, time will stop forever.

Anyway, I wish to spend a few words about those strong and brave people that populate the seminar room. I do not pretend I am the first one to write about this, but anyway I'll do.

No matter if you are in the first row or at the very bottom of the room, everybody around you will start oscillating his/her head like a pendulum going up and down. And, like a physicist of the 17th century, experience teaches you that the oscillation increases when the speaker looks at the audience. Beware: just a few of them can really understand the speaker's words, but everybody wants to look like he/she could even improve the speaker's seminar.

Needless to say, this is generically false: the seminar usually deals with results obtained over the years, and it is completely natural if the audience gets lost after 20 minutes. And then, something happens: like a flood, or like a wave, each man or woman in the room wears a very peculiar expression, the eyes stare at the point at $latex \infty$ and their minds run so fast towards the coffee/tea break.

Some particularly trained guys can now focus their attention on that very difficult proof that seems to resist to their assaults, but most will just sit down and wait for the climax: the long applause that every audience must tribute to the speaker. Well, there is another embarassing moment: the final "Questions? Remarks?". Unless you wrote a paper with the speaker, or unless you are a true genius, you will feel like at school, when your teacher was waiting a clever answer from you and you had no clever answer at all.


To finish, I confess that seminars are a most important part of every scientist's life. You can't select those seminars in which you can learn something. Just listen and hope, because there is no better way to improve knowledge than listening and learning.


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