I'm going to present a paper, in which we propose several algorithms to solve a problem. One of the algorithms is actually developed by co-authors at a different university, who will not attend the conference.

I only understand this algorithm at a very high level, and I have no idea how it is implemented, which parameters was chosen etc. It uses some techniques that I have very little background. It would take me months to understand all the techniques and the implementation. And to be honest, I'm not really interested in this algorithm since we have other alternatives that perform equally well if not much better.

However, if I am asked about this algorithm at the conference, how I should reply. I couldn't say somebody else did it, and I don't know.

  • 3
    You should, in principle, know the paper in better-than-high level. You know that probably, in a conference, you won't be asked some really deep question. In the unlikely case you are indeed asked a technical question about these algorithms, and you do not know how to answer it, probably it would be better to be honest. Or to make it clear during the presentation that this part was developed by such-and-such co-author who does not attend the conference.
    – PsySp
    May 13, 2017 at 10:03

1 Answer 1


couldn't say somebody else did it, and I don't know.

Yes, that is more or less what you should say. It is completely normal for collaborative works that different co-authors are knowledgeable about different parts of the work. In particular, works that span several otherwise separate areas, it is not unusual for experts to contribute their respective techniques to create an integrated solution together. In such a case, the various co-authors basically see the components contributed by others as some kind of a blackbox. They should know what those components do, but they do not necessarily know how they do it.

In such a case, it is reasonable to answer:

The ... algorithm is a work by my co-author ... who unfortunately cannot be here today. I recommend to direct specific questions on the algorithm to them.

You should be ready to provide some way of contacting the co-author (e.g. e-mail address on the slides).

  • 1
    I support this answer, but have something to add. You can ask one of the co-authors to brief you in preparation for the conference: "What questions do you think are most likely to be posed about your algorithm? What minimalist answers would you suggest?" In other words, your co-author can prep you minimally about his or her part of the paper. May 16, 2017 at 4:28

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