Answer the question!

When I was teaching , my first piece of advice to students who were getting ready to write an exam or an essay was always to ‘answer the question’. With each class, I would go on at length about breaking down questions, making sure they understood what was being asked, and then putting together a clear response. Well, yesterday I completely dropped the ball when it came to taking my own advice.
I was co-presenting a paper with a friend at a conference. I think the paper was good and the presentation was not bad either (although I am not a huge fan of ‘reading’ at conferences, which is something I’m going to write about in more detail another time). Anyhow, then it was question time. I get excited at question time at conferences. I like asking questions and making comments, and I really like it when someone asks me a question. Anyhow, most of the questions were directed towards one of the other presenters, but finally there was one for us. I do not know what came over me but for some reason, my brain disconnected from ears at the moment the guy asked the question. D (my co-presenter) responded and then he repeated part of the question and she threw it to me. What I should have done, and what I usually have no problem doing, is to ask him to repeat and clarify what he was asking, but for some reason I just gave a big deer-in-headlights face and babbled something completely unrelated, and smiled. He shifted around uncomfortably, obviously decided to spare the fool any further torture and said ‘thank you’. Yikes! I was mortified.
I know that this is an inconsequential moment and probably means nothing to anyone but me but my mind is screaming out ‘fix it! fix it! make me smart again!’. Urg. I even have thoughts of submitting work to another conference just so I can have a do-over.
However, I cannot do this because it would suck at least a week of work-time away from the thesis and also because it is quite silly. My ego is bruised because a bunch of people got to witness me not being smart. Poor me.
So, it’s a reminder…answer the question, and if you don’t twig exactly what the question is, then don’t brain-fart and start babbling – ask for clarification, take a moment to think, and then respond. You can always offer to discuss the question after the session if you feel there is a lot more to be said/you are having trouble being succinct on the spot.

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