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I noticed during some conference talks that some presenters use their initials rather than their full names on some presentationn slides. Specifically I noticed this when they show name-labeled photos of their teams or have slides where they highlight key contributors to a broader scientific field.

I'm not sure whether this is a cultural quirk (I did't catch any pattern regarding nationality), a means to draw attention towards your research team (it seems to be more common for team leaders and professors) or just a boastful way of understatement (since everybody knows who "X.X." is).

Additionally, is doing this appropriate and/or advisable for an (under)grad student and if so, in what context?

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  • @DanRomik The link in your comment no longer works.
    – KCd
    Jun 7, 2020 at 23:10

2 Answers 2

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The convention in mathematics is to use your last initial during talks when citing your own work. Probably it seems a little vainglorious as well as unnecessary to write out your entire name. There's no reason undergraduate/graduate students shouldn't participate in the same conventions as more experienced researchers.

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    Right, either the last initial or sometimes the last initial followed by a horizontal line, e.g. (Theorem (C----)). To me the most honest explanation of this is that it is a cultural quirk. I follow this practice myself, as do most of my colleagues, but it is hard to argue objectively that this is done out of humility. I get for instance a small whiff of the Jewish practice of unwillingness to write out the full name of God, and the implications of this association are not very humble! Anyway, we do it because others around us do it is the simplest and most correct explanation, I think. Oct 23, 2017 at 22:46
  • On the other hand, doing this when identifying photos is something that I have not seen before, so maybe that comes from a different part of academic culture. But the explanation that I gave in my previous comment presumably applies to this case as well: they are doing it because others around them are doing it. Oct 23, 2017 at 22:48
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    But when it occasionally happens that someone does write out their full name, isn't there a small voice in your head saying, "What a jerk"? Oct 23, 2017 at 22:51
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    Close, but not quite. The small voice says: "Alert -- this person is not doing the culturally acceptable thing." Whether I think this makes them a jerk depends on lots of other things. It might make me think for instance that this person has not given or seen many math talks.... Oct 23, 2017 at 23:00
  • ...And even if I did think that...so what? It would still be an instance of cultural programming rather than cosmic truth. Consider for instance the case of "Tai's model" (google it if necessary): among the things that M.M. Tai got called out for was actually herself using that phrase. In her response, Tai makes clear that using the same language to describe her model as those around her are using is simple and logical. I think she has a good point there. Oct 23, 2017 at 23:05
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  1. Long Names: individuals with long names
  2. Gender-Neutral Names: J. Doe. Vs. John/Jane Doe. Some fields are still ambivalent towards gender equality, and as a result using initials anonymize the author's gender.
  3. Marriage or Legal Name Change: Sometimes people hyphenate their last names when they get married.
  4. Space Limitation: on some slides with many individuals, using initials can save space.

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