About Me

My photo
I'm an assistant professor of neuroscience at Washington State University in Vancouver, where I use tiny zebrafish (the size of an eyelash!) as a model system to study human hearing loss and how we can prevent it. I'm also a long-time Toastmaster and I teach communication workshops. This blog represents the merging of my two passions - science and communication, which has really become one central passion - the science of communication. There's a revolution in science right now...the idea that we scientists should sometimes leave the lab and talk about what we do, and why we do it, to real people. This blog looks at why we should do this, and how to actually talk about science with non-scientists (and with each other!). Portions of this blog are also featured on Qualia, the AAAS MemberCenter blog site.

Monday, September 3, 2012

To be or not to be…what is the question?

I while back I posted about how to deal with Q&A sessions from the speaker’s perspective. More often, however, we’re in the audience.  As an audience member, how do we ask good questions?

I think the answer is simple, but it’s not always obvious, or at least, not always followed.  Simply state your question, then be silent.  Don’t preface your question with a story or a lot of data.  Don’t make several comments-this is Q&A time, not comment time.  And please, be polite. I’m not saying you shouldn’t engage the speaker if you feel that he or she missed something important, and be all means talk with them if you have findings that fit with theirs, or if you have new insight into their work.  In my opinion, however, these discussions – for that’s what they are, should be left after the talk when there’s time for a lengthier chat, and when a room full of grad students or nervous podium speakers isn’t listening in.

I think that F.D. Roosevelt’s advice on public speaking applies best to asking questions during Q&A:  “Be sincere; be brief; be seated.”


  1. Great advice. A monthly speaker event that I go to generally has a Q&A at the end. The moderator has a spiel: "A question is something you ask because you don't know something and want to find out the answer. It is not your personal theory. It is not a rant."

    It's really amazing how few people grasp that concept. And I love your quote from FDR.

  2. Great quote from the moderator. I think it's helpful if a moderate sets the tone for Q&A like this. That way the speaker has "permission" to deal with non-questions appropriately.