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The Virtues of Getting Shredded

I just finished participating in and presenting at the two-day “Cyberlaw Colloquium,” an annual mid-Atlanticish conference devoted to cyberlaw scholarship (with some bleeding into IP). This year it was hosted by Madisonian’s own Greg Lastowka at Rutgers – Camden, with other Madisonians Mike Madison and Mike Carroll participating.

An hour was devoted to each paper, and several more people attend/ comment than present. The price of admission is reading each paper, and very little time is spent by the author presenting each paper. I spoke for maybe 5 minutes before we got rolling with a “This is great and all that, but what’s your point…” type comment.  I think one presenter got three sentences in.

That’s really the benefit of a conference like this – it is hard to get the focused minds of 10 or more senior scholars on your problem. But that’s also the scary part – it occurred to me that I was one of very few untenured participants and I was presenting an early draft of a paper that I knew was outside my comfort zone. But that’s precisely why I needed to present.

Some people advise junior scholars to refrain from showing work that’s unpolished to senior scholars who might gossip about how dumb you are. To that, I say, “hogwash.” Sure, it’s better to have complete sentences and best to have complete thoughts, but sometimes you need a group of smart and experienced people to figure out why you aren’t making your point the way you wanted to.

You just can’t get that kind of help at a big conference where no one has read the paper and you get 8 minutes to present with another 10 minutes of comments. I don’t even think you can usually get that kind of help at your average faculty workshop, where you spend a lot of the time presenting your idea (and where your oral presentation might clarify some of the shortcomings of the paper so that you never get the right critical comment).

So, I got shredded, but in a good way, and the final paper that results will reflect that – I hope.

2 thoughts on “The Virtues of Getting Shredded”

  1. We instituted a series of summer scholarship workshops at my school last year very much in this format. Many of us found it to be a very useful and productive alternative to the standard faculty workshop format where you spend 20 minutes presenting your paper to people who haven’t generally had time to read it.

  2. I benefited a lot from harsh input at various stages of my career and still do. One of the great things about our subject area is that so many people care enough to actually read others’ papers and give constructive (if sometimes critical) feedback. Great post.

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