Ten Lessons from Gian-Carlo Rota – 1

This is old, Ten Lessons I wish I had been Taught, and GEEKPRESS just brought it back to my attention. I’ll try & put up bits & pieces of it from time to time.

Lesson 1: Lecturing   

a. Every lecture should make only one main point ….  If students or audience come away with one point, count yourself lucky.

b. Never run overtime. I have never understood the arrogance of people who think what they say MUST be more important than anything else the audience has to do. Rota points out that von Neumann used to call 50 minutes  “one microcentury”. A friend of mine in anthropology used to say that he had never been to a talk that was too simple and too short.

c. Relate to your audience. Rota’s suggestion “As you enter the lecture hall, try to spot someone in the audience with whose work you have some familiarity. Quickly rearrange your presentation so as to manage to mention some of that person’s work. In this way, you will guarantee that at least one person will follow with rapt attention, and you will make a friend to boot.” Almost as good is find someone who is listening and watch and talk to them – they will give you signals as to how you are being received. The first time I taught a big medical school class, there was a former flight attendant in the class. She taught me more about teaching than anyone else – she smiled when she got it, and looked puzzled when she didn’t. The day she nodded off I knew I was in trouble.

d. Give them something to take home. This can be physical (a handout, be it electronic or dead tree) or a story that sticks. I once stepped in the give a lecture on hearing (not my area). I remembered a story from when I took anatomy about why we get the twirlies when we are drunk – its amusing and involves deuterium. It went over well. Since, I have found reason to include it in other lectures. As Rota points iout, people remembered his jokes. When I run into former students they all remember that story.



2 thoughts on “Ten Lessons from Gian-Carlo Rota – 1

  1. On alcohol: Are you 100% sure it really works like that? In the original deuterium paper (Money Myles 1974; yes, I’ve googled it based on your hints) they used positional alcohol nystagmus, and rather high alcohol concentrations (1 or 2 g / kg). In Wikipedia they claim that in humans the effect becomes noticeable at 0.4% blood acohol content. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positional_alcohol_nystagmus
    But that’s a lot! That’s like more than 10 glasses of wine even for a tiny person! It would be twice as more for me; I can not even imagine drinking that much!

    I don’t doubt the effect per se, but it just seems unbelievable that “twirlies we get” (stress on the diminutive suffix and the word “we”) have anything to do with this effect. Especially considering how much stronger the substance affects our neurons, compared to the physics of the cupula…

  2. Pingback: Rota #3 – ouch – republishing your work | Mistress of the Animals

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