My university has a course called "Technical Communication" that aims to teach undergraduate math and computer science students (usually sophomores and juniors) how to give good talks. We have lots of great materials for teaching them how to speak clearly, how to engage with the audience, how to construct a technical talk, how to make good slides, etc. We also bring in external speakers so that students can see how professionals do it.

I'd like to add a bit to the course teaching students how to ask good questions when attending seminar talks. I have my own technique for coming up with and keeping track of questions I want to ask speakers, but I'd prefer to have some article or chapter on this topic that I can share with the students.

Can someone please recommend such a reference?

I very much like the advice in this Academic.SE question, but asking students to read that thread feels a bit informal. I'm hoping for a source with similar advice but written with an audience of students in mind (ideally, a pdf I can give them to read, like a book chapter).

  • 1
    Could you expand on your end goal? For example, are you trying to address students not asking (or only rarely asking) questions in seminars, or that they are asking "bad" questions? The former may have a lot of contributing factors beyond knowledge of how to ask a good question, see e.g. Students and postdocs not asking questions, Should I be worried that I don't have ideas of questions to ask during seminars?.
    – Anyon
    Aug 28 at 15:17
  • @Anyon Mostly the former, but both are important. I ask lots of questions in seminars (or one-on-one to speakers after) and this has generally been a very good thing for my research and for my career. My advisor was the same way. I constantly hear good things about other mathematicians known for asking good questions in talks. I suspect this is a teachable skill. I think most of our students are shy, but this can be overcome. Both of the links you shared have good tips, and I commented on a few I liked. I'm still hoping for a more formal reference (if I can't locate one, I'll write it myself) Aug 28 at 16:04
  • 1
    Expanding: I want my students to be active listeners, to think about where the speaker might be going next, to think of other ways the speaker could have proceeded, etc. I want them writing down questions as they pop up, and knowing when to ask (eg, sometimes you ask your neighbor, clarifying notation is good to ask right away, but "why did you do it this way?" might be best for the end of the talk). All talks are aimed at exactly these students (not at the faculty) but often no students ask questions. Having lunch with the speaker before might help (that's what we did when I was an undergrad) Aug 28 at 16:09


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