Preparing to Lead a Seminar

It is very likely that at some point during your PhD coursework, you will have to lead a seminar. Professors usually let the senior students do it first so that the junior students can see them in action.

In order to prepare to lead a seminar, you need to do the following:

ONE: Read all of the papers assigned

And I actually mean read them – not the quick and dirty way. It is very likely that some of your classmates are assigned to read the paper, so connect with them and discuss each paper before class.

Prepare summaries of each paper.

TWO: Prepare the materials for class

You will be leading a discussion of at least 5 papers. You need to help the class understand what is the central theme and why are they all assigned together.

Document to Open the Discussion

For the beginning of class, prepare a document with an overall model integrated framework to think about all the readings. Furthermore, you should:

  • Discuss the central problem or question covered by all the papers.
  • State the central theory or framework that is proposed.
  • Define key concepts (constructs or variables).
  • How are these concepts related or compared in the framework or theory?
  • Hand out your model framework to the class, or write it on the board.
    • Usually, the model describes the problem, the antecedents, and the consequences.

Document to End the Discussion

For the end of class, you should hand out to your classmates and professors a spreadsheet like the one I describe in Organizing What you Learn.

THREE: Lead the Class!

Begin by discussing the overall theme of the papers. Discuss the key concepts and write out (or hand out) the overall model.

Ask each of your classmates to present their papers. This is usually done by chronological order of published papers.

As each of your classmates discusses the paper, make sure they cover the following:

  • Research question
  • Central theme or main argument of the study
  • IVs and DVs
  • Central finding, key takeaway, important conclusions, or what’s interesting
  • Limitations or what’s missing

If they do not cover all of these things, be prepared to add a comment or two.

At the end of class, summarize the evidence that supports (or that is against) the overall theory or framework:

  • State the key assumptions, propositions, and conclusions.
  • Summarize the major conclusions drawn from the research.
  • How would the theory/framework be falsified?

And last, offer a constructive perspective on the theory/framework:

  • Identify the strengths/weaknesses of its logical structure and research methods.
  • How would you correct these weaknesses and build on these strengths?
  • Suggest ways to relate this perspective to others you have discussed in your the course.

FOUR: Enjoy a job well done!

Do you drink? Have a drink! If not, have a yummy snack! You deserve it 🙂


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