There is another research group at another university in my town. They asked me to join one of their monthly brown bag meetings and to serve as a discussant. They have invited an external speaker and he will present something that is related to my own research.

I received the presentation slides in advance and I have read two related papers of the speaker to prepare. Although I do have some questions and points to discuss, I am not exactly sure how to go about this. I have never done this before and I have only once witnessed such a thing at a conference but thought the discussant there wasn't a good example. So I was hoping for some general advice and experiences. Some questions are:

  1. Should I prepare some slides myself?
  2. How long is this kind of discussion usually?
  3. Should I try to engage the audience or is it more of a one-on-one between me and the presenter?

Since we don't know your field, I'll add generally-speaking for my field, economics:

  1. Slides are common for discussants at large, formal conferences, but never for more informal brown bags
  2. Again, at conferences discussants tend to go longer, 10-15 minutes. At a brown bag, five minutes or less seems about right
  3. You should engage the audience in the form of opening up a thoughtful insight or question on the paper, one that the audience can then pursue in Q&A. Usually it's presented in the form of you talking to the presenter though.

But those are just broad strokes, the key here is I think you should just ask. You don't have to mention you've never done this before; just ask how long they want you to talk for and whether you should prepare anything.

  • Thank you, definitely helpful. I especially liked the idea to open with some thoughtful question/comment. In hindsight I agree that slides are not necessary (I did not do it). Sometimes during discussions people want to revisit slides from the presenter so I think it is better if that stays on the wall. Nov 9 '16 at 20:08
  • 2
    Actually I've seen that a lot, where the discussant asks the presenter to go back to a particular slide, then uses that in their response, so that's a good thing to mention.
    – Jeff
    Nov 9 '16 at 20:11

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