How to ask good questions in workshop
From PhD Prep Track
At most universities, professors from other schools will visit and present research they are currently working on. In these sessions, the audience can ask questions and make suggestions. Although not all participants may agree, the primary purpose of the workshop is to provide feedback that will help the author(s) improve the paper and potentially prepare it for publication. Keeping the purpose of the workshop in mind will help provide context and mold the content of the comments you might make. It may be helpful to consider the following questions that often come up in the referee process for journal publication:
- What is the research question?
- Is this question important in the context of the current body of research?
- Do the hypotheses effectively test the research question?
- Is the hypothesis development internally consistent?
- Can the hypotheses be rejected?
- Can the results of the hypothesis testing address the research question?
- What if the paper rejects the hypotheses, fails to reject, or goes the other way?
- Does the sample and methodology effectively test the hypotheses?
Here are a few suggestions for making workshops productive.
- Be prepared. For several reasons, in most workshops, there is a such thing as a stupid question or comment. Although you should not be excessively concerned about this, adequate preparation by reading the paper, and potentially related papers will help you distinguish between "good" and "bad" comments and make the workshop productive for you and the presenter. An example of a stupid question is a question that is already addressed fully in the paper (you can question whether they addressed it fully/correctly but make sure to put it in the context that you already read/understand their current thinking).
- Do not ask questions or make suggestions to demonstrate your intelligence. You are there to help improve the paper not show off how smart you are.
- Seek to be constructive. Even if you find a fatal flaw in the paper, provide some suggestion for how to fix it (even if it means doing the experiment/archival analysis over again).
- Don't take your questions or the presenters response personally. It is hard to present and be politically correct at all times. Understand that the presenter is under a lot of stress and is trying to do their best to answer questions.
- Don't beat an issue to death. If a few people have made comments about a problem in the paper and the presenter has discussed it, move on to another area. Workshops get bogged down and waste the presenter's time if you stay on the same issue for the entire workshop.
- Not all research is connected to what you do. Be careful not to always tie everything everyone else does to your research (e.g., I'm interested in banking and so every paper has something to do with banking or should have something to do with banking).
- Realize that each research methodology has limitations. Be careful not to spend to much time criticizing inherent limitations to a research methodology.
- Be open minded. If everyone does the same type of research, research would get very boring very quickly. Try and see what are the benefits as well as the costs to research design choices.
- It's nice to provide written comments or marked up manuscripts to the presenter.
- Providing positive feedback can be very helpful as well. While it may not be appropriate to spend an inordinate amount of time on positive aspects of the research in workshop, a brief comment is nice to hear as a presenter. Another excellent place to provide positive comments is in written comments.
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