Top five annoying questions at scientific meetings

5. Question: “You know, our group has been working on this for a long time, and we found that…”

Really means: “How come you got invited to talk about this and not I?”

4. Question:  “Have you tried using Y instead of X?”

Really means: “We are doing the same thing using Y, since we can’t afford to use X on our budget. But we haven’t had results in the past two years, and you totally scooped us. Is there any way we can actually get results using Y?”

3. Question: “So where do you think this work is going?”

Really means: “I was just scratching my head, and the microphone runner thought I was raising my hand and handed me the mike.  Now that I actually have the mike, I might as well ask something”.

2. Question:  “You know, I was just talking about this recently with Bigshot1 and Bigshot2, and they said that…”

Really means:  “Hey, look at me!  I’m important enough to have engaged both Bigshot1 and Bigshot2 together in a conference. (They couldn’t get away because it was the conference dinner with free booze).”

1. Question:  “It seems that this whole field of…. is filled with very exciting prospects. We have been looking into…. and Bigshot3 has recently published in Science….(3-4 minutes more in the same vein)  so my question is: what are your thoughts?”

Really means: “Muahahaha. By hijacking Q&A time, I got to present at this conference even though I was not invited to. Sucks to the Program Committee”

Attendees at the CXXXVII Symposium on Whatever

Attendees at the CXXXVII Symposium on Whatever

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4 Responses to “Top five annoying questions at scientific meetings”

  1. Paul Gardner says:

    Very nice. I’ve had a “What was that all about again?” before. It definitely irritated the hell out of me.
    Really means: I wasn’t listening to your talk but just realised you may have talked about something interesting.

  2. Sean says:

    So funny – here is my lame attempt:

    Question: “Have you ever tried XXX with YYY over the ABC in the XYZ? (unbelievably ridiculous experiment that would take 20 years, 80 employees and 50 million dollars)?”

    Really means: “Look, how I can come up with these amazingly complicated ideas about someone else’s work that they have not even tried”.

  3. chris says:

    There was a regular attendee at a major genomics meeting in the mid-00’s who was a particularly annoying exponent of Q1. His schtick never varied: “I have two questions: [long, tenuously connected ramble 1], random question 1; [long, tenuously connected ramble 2], random question 2”. He became something of a joke: people would rub their hands in anticipation whenever his rather accented voice began with “I have 2 questions”. Still, he got noticed and eventually got a job out of it.

  4. Iddo says:


    Now I am very, very curious…