The Sassy Scientist – Conference Call Candids

The Sassy Scientist – Conference Call Candids

Now more than ever, Kaito is using conference calls to stay in touch (scientifically and otherwise) but is frustrated about the (lack of) etiquette. He ponders:

What is the best way to set up a conference call?

Dear Kaito,

I suppose you like conference calls as much as I do. Not. I don’t know how many times I’ve thought to simply quit a call due to the inherent chaos that at some point ensued. To ease the chaos, you have some thinking to do beforehand. These things have been staring you in the face for quite a while. Whilst you’ve been looking away ’till now, the time has come for a stare-down.

When you’re setting up communication, such as a conference call, first thing is knowing which service you’ll be using, and whether you’ll only need voice, or also video. The list of conference call services is endless, with Skype™, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Whereby, Slack, Cisco Webex and WhatsApp as my most-used ones. But do you really need it? Can’t you simply use a chat-room? Or write a clear email, pdf or forum post? Maybe include a figure or screenshot? At this point, simply rambling away has become too time consuming and a combination of clarity and brevity is paramount. The inclusion of a video feed remains a risk as broadband is finite and not quite as stable everywhere, and people are using the internet on a massive scale. The greatest non-etiquette-related pain is a freeze-frame and/or discontinuous voice stream. The one thing to avoid at all cost! And you have to leave some of that precious broadband to those catching up on their favorite tv shows as they sit at home unemployed. That’s the social thing to do.

So, what to do when you (or others) think it’s unavoidable to take that video conference call? Be patient!!! Very … very patient. Shut up, and listen to the person talking. Write stuff down in case you have comments on specific things but don’t start interrupting; this is pointless and irritates everyone involved. Do not keep talking continuously throughout your speaker time, give some time for people to catch up on the ideas put forward. Factor in additional time for questions and talk more calmly than usual; not everybody will follow your train of thought exactly, especially when you keep a high pace. Of course, this is challenging in a discussion setting, but I prefer people to be angry about the comment I’ve just made to prove their mistake rather than them being angry over not understanding/hearing/following the argument. But that’s just me. Maybe you like chaos.

You need to remember that conference calls do not follow the same social cues as face-to-face conversations. The inherent, but also apparent, distance elicits loss of attention. Therefore preparation is everything. Know how your service works – I don’t want to wait another ten minutes until you’ve found the share screen button and then need to close five windows of inappropriate material -, have figures or papers ready – I will leave the conversation after a minute when you take ten minutes to search for a figure we’re talking about – and reside in a quiet, undistracting environment – I don’t care that your neighbor has a dog. Be on time and pay attention, I will not have this conversation again.

Yours truly,

The Sassy Scientist

PS: This post was written as a response to the wonders of conference calls.

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I am currently employed at a first tier research institute where I am continuously working with the greatest minds to further our understanding of the solid Earth system. Whether it is mantle or lithosphere structure and dynamics, solid Earth rheology parameters, earthquake processes, integrating observations with model predictions or inversions: you have read a paper of mine. Even if you are working on a topic I haven’t mentioned here, I still know everything about it. Do you have any problems in your research career? I have already experienced them. Do you struggle with your work-life balance? Been there, done that. Nowadays, I have only one hobby: helping you out by answering the most poignant questions in geodynamics, research and life. I am waiting for you right here. Get inspired.

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