I was asked to give a talk at a workshop. I plan to tell a short story, 5 - 7 minutes, about how my collaborator and I came up with the idea presented in the talk. This story would:

  • Give the motivation: I have this problem, and my collaborator had a solution for a (seemingly) unrelated problem.
  • Explain the contribution: I did this and he did that.
  • Explain the intuition of the solution: he said this and we recognized that etc

I think the story would be interesting, and as it involves two people, I wonder if I should use two rage faces representing my collaborator and I (yes, I often visit 9gag).

On one hand, I think it would be funny. On the other hand, I'm afraid people may think I am not polite/unprofessional, in particular old people. The workshop is co-located with a top tier conference, and I don't want to leave any bad impression.


Update: Thanks everyone for the answers. At first, I intended to use the avatars on our homepages, but I think it's very award to keep showing my face from slide to slide. That's why I think about rage faces, the reason is that they are very simple, but emphasize the emotions very well: struggle, then confused, then surprised...

But I understand not many people like it, so I will think of other way.

  • Please do not use comments for answers or discussing the latest fads in memes. Comments have been moved to chat. Please read this FAQ before you post another comment. – Wrzlprmft Aug 9 at 8:38
  • You could simply use each of your initials (/ first name); is it even really necessary to explicitly depict emotion (whether with avatars or whatever?) anyway? Generally it should be obvious what someone's reaction to something is from the wording of their comment. – smci Aug 11 at 0:59
up vote 127 down vote accepted

TL;DR: If in doubt, leave it out.

In talks, avoid anything that can offend or be misunderstood, especially if you do not know your audience. It is ok to make self-deprecating jokes, but you want to keep the atmosphere somewhere between serious to light (depending), but outside the sentiment of sadness or anger if you do not have political ambitions. Your "angry faces" may be funny, but never underestimate that they may be misunderstood (including people believing that you did have a fall-out with your friend in the preliminaries of this work - you would be amazed at what people can read wrongly into a throwaway remark).

Myself, I am quite happy use caricatures in talks, but spend time choosing them carefully to help to highlight the scientific point, never on a meta-level. People are busy enough trying to understand what you are doing, do not waste their brain power on issues you think are funny, but irrelevant to the matter at hand.

But if you think something can backfire, you are probably right. If in doubt, better one caricature/clever idea less.

Please don't do it.

Look at all the cases of your audience:

  • People who know rage faces, and who like them (the minority)
    • Even if they like them in general, they might not like them in a presentation
  • People who don't know rage faces
    • For them it will seem odd
  • People who know rage faces, and who can't stand them
    • Myself included, I would judge you really hard on why you decided it was a good idea, and I will say you know little about internet culture (judging that you like 9gag, which steals content from everywhere without crediting anyone)

Memes are a shitty form of humor, from experience, and depending on your subject you should apply humor from the improvisation of your presentation (look at good humorous TED talks, or how improvisation theatre works).

I would visit this site before adding rage faces: https://www.reddit.com/r/FellowKids/

  • 82
    “Memes are a shitty form of humor” — that’s a pretty one-sided, and, dare I say, ignorant opinion, given what a pervasive part of culture memes are. Even if restricted to image macros, it’s probably an opinion that most of your contemporaries don’t share. – Konrad Rudolph Aug 8 at 14:26
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    This answer starts off good; but then turns into a heavy focus on opinion that doesn't really add anything. – JMac Aug 8 at 14:30
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    @KonradRudolph: that's indeed a strong opinion (that I share with Loop). The problem here is that a non-negligible part of the audience may share the same opinion (or a tamed version of it), so using rage faces would be counter-productive (especially since, I assume, the ones that are more likely to be annoyed are the older academics, hence the people that are good to have in one's network - I am also assuming that the OP is quite junior in academia). – Taladris Aug 9 at 2:04
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    People who know rage faces, and who like them (minority) That is incredibly dependent on your target audience. If you're targeting millenials, the majority will understand them. (but then you risk coming across as overly wanting to connect with your audience). Your assertion that people who like them are somehow in the minority to people who know and hate them seems very subjective. – Flater Aug 9 at 7:36
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    @Taladris You may not realise that most good presentations include memetic cultural references, sometimes inadvertently. It's really pervasive (that's kind of the point of memes), and not restricted to a generation. Here's a random example of a senior faculty member endorsing memes (that popped up on my feed just now). twitter.com/pastramimachine/status/1027363206526689280 — It's one of countless others. – Konrad Rudolph Aug 9 at 8:31

The problem with internet culture references is that some people might not get it and that out of those who get it, many might dislike it. This is one reason why people prefer more neutral presentation layouts. Another reason is to avoid sidetracking the core of the presentation. As an example, you don't want attendants trying to figure out how to interpret the emotions those rage faces show and thinking about how they might fit into the context of your research process.

As a rule of thumb, I gauge the level of detail of any non-technical content of my work. If it seems to invite second thoughts or even pause, let alone ambiguity, it is a serious red flag.

In your case, those rage faces ask definitely people to interpret them and put them in some context. As such, I could imagine them in a comic-like presentation, where you literally show the progress of your research as a comic, but that doesn't strike me as very professional. For other purposes, they carry too much detail and food for thought to be useful.

If you do want to include emoticons, memes, etc., I'd advise using simpler, more minimalistic ones.

<…> and I don't want to leave any bad impression.

Then definitely don't use memes, especially old memes such as rage faces. I cannot overstate how dated that format of humor is today.

There's an argument to be made in favor of using more recent memes if the audience can accept humor at all, but from your last line I think the best idea would be to avoid dubious humor entirely.

I think a middle ground between the adamant "don't do it" voices and the desire to shake things up and be unique is to use other fun images that aren't rage faces.

Spend some time finding unique images that enhance the presentation and add a touch of humor (with proper attribution, of course). Or even draw your own "rage" faces and sprinkle them throughout. Make sure that the actual content of your presentation remains the focus, though.

If you really want to add a personal touch to your presentation, I think there's room for that without recycling old internet memes. Doing a little bit of extra work will go a long way in showing your creativity and willingness to think outside the box.

Avoid the whole issue: The fact that you have space in your talk to consider illustrating two researchers discussing their problems is a problem to begin with. The solution to that problem will avoid the whole question of memes.

In general, 5-7 minutes of background on the primary content is too much, unless this is a 90 minute talk. But it sounds like the genesis of this work had an interesting cross-domain component. The interesting part is the overlap of problems leading to a novel solution, so in this background section, illustrate the problems and the crossover. If you do a good job finding and describing this material concisely, you will not have any space left over for caricatures of two researchers.

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    To each their own, but in my experience, most talks are so boring and formulaic that most people don't get much out of them. In contrast, it would be refreshing and engaging for a talk to spend 5-7 minutes telling an interesting story about how their research came to be, if it was done well. The particular idea of memes doesn't sound great, but breaking away from a formulaic intro-details-conclusion format does. It's also relevant that it's at a workshop, not a conference. – 6005 Aug 8 at 19:01

It sounds like you care at least somewhat about leaving a positive professional impression, but the other answers overlook that you might have goals other than an academic career.

I went to graduate school with a student who did a lot of things like this. He enjoyed making things "his style" immensely, and planned to work in industry following graduation. Shaking up the "dry" academic environment was great fun for him, and actually served to help other like-minded folks find him at conferences. He ended up working at an industrial lab that fit his personality exactly, and I think he got this job via contacts made through his antics.

I think the other answers are right that this is a bad plan if you want to work in the academy, which is often pretty formal. Many researchers are likely to be offended by this kind of content, and it is borderline unethical to antagonize them this way. But, if you don't mind having some people think you have been immature, this might not be a problem.

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    It's by no means universally true that academia is more "dry" than industry; in fact, in my experience it's exactly the opposite. In addition (as other answers have mentioned) there's a problem with rage faces specifically, in that they're a 10-year-old meme (i.e. early Jurassic in meme time): there's a danger that the cool kids in the audience will be thinking not "This guy's cool just like us!", but "OMG look at this cringey academic trying to be down with the kids by referencing ancient memes! We certainly don't want him working in our cool edgy industrial lab!" – Pont Aug 8 at 17:20
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    Industry is bone-dry compared to the eccentrics you get in academia. – Jamie Clinton Aug 8 at 18:17
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    @JamieClinton You make a good point. I think this particular kind of behavior (posting memes) was much more tolerated in the industrial labs I worked in than in the academic ones, but was just barely tolerated by my boss's boss, and the memes had to be put away entirely when senior management came to visit once a year. In academia, older eccentric behavior (like posting newspaper comics) was widely tolerated, but memes seemed not to be. – John Doucette Aug 8 at 18:25

protected by Alexandros Aug 9 at 19:45

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