What Not to Do in A Seminar

In the last instalment of this series we looked at the major form of learning at university, in the form of lectures. Therefore, it only makes sense for me to give you all a few tips on how to deal with seminars, or the forum in which we are supposed to use the information that you learn and try and use “critical thinking”, whatever that is supposed to mean.

In essence, a seminar is an extended debate between you and a smaller group of your course mates, in which that week’s topic is discussed, making use of the lecture and the suggested reading to inform you and help to form ideas on that topic. So, this is a few tips on what not to do in a seminar.

  1. Don’t do the suggested reading- In the same manner in which I told you not to pay much attention to the lecture, it is vital that you do not read the suggested reading. All of this is in service of keeping the crucial dynamic of a seminar, being that the seminar leader should become increasingly incensed throughout the weeks that nobody actually answers any questions that are posed, and instead awkwardly looks at their laptop screens, pretending to read notes that have not be written. If you ignore this one, it will largely hamper your ability to make friends with people in your seminars. As you may remember, everyone hates the person answering every question. This one really comes down to what you came to university for, an education or a social experience.

  2. Don’t show up after the first seminar- Seminars do have attendance records, unlike most lectures, so this is likely discouraged by the university, but if you do the work then it is unlikely to be problematic. By week 12 there should definitely be more empty seats than people in the seminar, with numbers steadily dropping each week. This is mostly to help that do keep going to slowly sit further and further away from the seminar leader to help punctuate the gap as they ask a question and everyone in the room trades nervous glances, before pretending to riffle through their notes for at least two minutes, before one slightly keen student finally cracks.

  3. Talk about anything except the actual topic in group work- After a few weeks of nobody speaking, soon the seminar leader will try to coax you into talking by dividing the room into a few smaller groups to hope that gets you to speak, trust me, it won’t. When this happens, I would advice dividing the time provided into 5% to talk about the question and 95% to talk about literally anything else. This is something of a calculated risk, as it may lead to problems when you are asked to feedback to the rest of the seminar what your group said. If you are unlucky enough to be selected from your group, then there is a second safety net that if you are not talking first, then you can say one thing and then claim you had said similar things to the previous groups. If you are first, then I’m sorry to say that you are up a creek with no canoe. But if you aren’t selected then you are in the clear, and you should be fine.

So, I now have the confidence in you that you can go into a seminar without making a complete fool of yourself!

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