GRS Rules and Suggestions

Luke Elson
July 2021

Purpose and Format of the GRS

The Graduate Research Seminar (GRS) is a weekly venue for students to try out their ideas, perhaps with a view to presenting in a conference, including in a thesis, or publishing. It is 90 minutes long.

The format is the usual philosophical adversarial style, but the mood should be supportive and the aim is for students to develop their work and their skills of presenting, asking questions, commenting, and responding.

Papers presented range from “here’s an idea for an argument, I just have a detailed handout” to “it’s been accepted by a journal, let’s look it over before I send it to be typeset”. Either is fine; most are somewhere in between.

The GRS is 90 minutes long.

For Presenters

You should email your work to me (Luke) and to your respondent (if you have one) one week before the GRS, to give your respondent the weekend to read it. This deadline may be relaxed for the first week.

Make sure to tell your supervisors when you are presenting. At least one should be there.

You have two main choices about format:

  1. the 3000 word conference paper model, where you read or talk through the ideas for 30 minutes, without the audience having pre-read. (You can circulate the paper if you’d like, but the audience may not have read it.)
  2. The 7500 word publication or chapter model, where you can’t talk through the whole paper in that amount of time, but can summarise the main points.

Please don’t expect the audience to read more than 7,500 words. If your document is longer, please unambiguously mark a 7,500 word section for us to read.

The length limit has two motivations. First, in most parts of the discipline, this is roughly the maximum length for a publishable paper (though they may grow during the review and editing process.) Sometimes there might be legitimate exceptions to the limit, for example a paper in the history of philosophy that includes extensive quotes. I can’t imagine exceptions would be common, but if you think your paper qualifies, please discuss this with me in advance. Second, the limit limits workload for everyone. Little is gained by having everybody read material that there won't be time to discuss in the seminar.

For accessibility reasons, you should circulate a word-processor document (docx or odt, after runnning an accessibility check), or a tagged PDF (modern word processors should do the tagging automatically). Unfortunately the PDFs produced by Latex are not accessible without a great deal of effort, so if you write in Latex you should use pandoc to generate a word-processor document, and then perhaps a PDF from that.

Advice for Presenters

You don’t have to use up the entire 30 minutes. In pre-read conferences, people generally summarise the paper for 10-15 minutes maximum.

Make sure to directly answer the questions you are asked. A good way to do this is to rephrase the question back to the asker and confirm with them that you’ve correctly understood it. A presenter who is uncertain will sometimes avoid the specific question and start talking about their general project, perhaps as a retreat to safer ground. Please try to avoid doing this.

You should have a visual aid. The standards are handouts or powerpoint. I advise a handout-it’s more useful to the audience than powerpoint. They can see the structure of the argument as a whole, have something to take notes on, and it avoids the awkward shuffle of “can you go back to that slide…” during questions. (Online, a presentation is easier.) You can email me a handout if you’d like me to print it for you.

You could ask someone (your supervisor or a friend) to take notes on the discussion, so you can focus on what’s being said. Some people like this; others prefer to keep their own notes or rely on memory.

For Respondents

You must get your comments to the presenter five days before the GRS, to allow them time to respond.

In general, the best comments are like the best speeches at a wedding – short. Summarise the main argument of the paper and raise one or two objections. Most people find the summary of the argument to be the most useful part of the comments, if only because it helps them double-check that they didn’t misunderstand the paper.

Don’t feel like you have to be an expert in the area or do any outside reading. The paper should be relatively self-contained, and ‘naïve’ questions from those who don’t know the area are often very helpful—for the author and for the audience.

For other seminar attendees

To ask a question:

  1. Put your hand up to ask a question on a new topic. The chair will add you to the list.
  2. To follow-up on a current debate, raise your finger. The chair may call on you. If you ask a follow-up, you might get bumped to the bottom of the list for substantive questions. (How exactly to raise a finger on a webinar is an evolving norm, unfortunately.)

Robust discussion is fine. But rudeness or unprofessional behaviour isn’t. Generally the Reading GRS is great about this. But think very hard before interrupting someone, and be aware of more subtle behaviours like eye-rolling.

If you are not comfortable speaking, you can ask questions in writing, perhaps by passing me a note.

When things are online

The main challenge with online is dodgy internet connections, which can be a problem when someone is presenting. If you are presenting and not completely confident about your internet, please consider pre-recording a screencast. Less stress for all involved!

Screencast recording instructions can be found here. I have found recording screencasts using Powerpoint Mac enraging (sometimes the audio mysteriously fails to record, and you don’t find this out until afterwards). I have started using OBS Studio instead, which is free and works well. It’s not very user-friendly but your favourite obnoxious internet personality probably uses it.