The main idea of Brown Bag seminars is to have a forum where one can “informally” present new papers or articles, papers in progress, or ideas for papers and get a valuable feedback on them. Brown Bag seminars is a tradition that comes from american universities. They are organized at lunch time, and often meals are provided by organizers. Many attendees still bring their own take-away food, which is typically packed in brown paper bags. This gives the name to the event.
In a more general sense, brown bag seminars serve the purpose of transferring knowledge, building trust, establishing social or networking links, social learning, problem solving or brain storming. It allows people to socialize and get to know each other in a relaxed situation. All this provides a stimulating research environment in which high quality research is promoted through the open exchange of ideas among participants.
An important aspect of brown bag seminars is that a presenter is not under the pressure of competition, which is often the case during official seminars. During official seminars, a presenter is expected to know the topic perfectly and the audience takes this into account while asking questions and giving comments. On the contrary, during the brown bag seminar you can present just your initial ideas or preliminary results, and can expect that the audience knows the field better than you do. Peer feedback may be of invaluable help before putting pen on paper.
Another point to note is that giving a brown bag seminar is a good opportunity for a young researcher to start building his or her reputation and revealing social and scientific activity. It serves as a signaling device about your knowledge and abilities. The seminar allows you to discuss the ideas not only with the colleges of your cohort, but also with more experienced researchers.
One useful tip for making your brown bag seminar successful is to ensure that you do not use up more than 60% of the available time (which is 45 minutes for brown bag seminars at CERGE-EI). This will allow you to discuss mostly important aspects of your research with the audience, and to learn about alternative approaches to addressing and solving your problem.
Remember to give a seminar at the stage when it is mostly helpful. This stage would be different for researchers working in different fields. This time, we will provide an example from the field of experimental economics. In this field, the most crucial element of success is a proper experimental design. Experimental economists always run a series of pilot sessions to see what features of their experimental design work well and what features do not. Doing this is important because money spent on running experimental sessions will be just a waste if the experiment is not well designed.
A complementary way to ensure that your experimental design will help answering your research question is to share it with your peers. Lasha Lanchava, a 3rd year CERGE-EI student, took an advantage of presenting his experimental design at the Brown Bag seminar series at CERGE-EI. Lasha got many really useful comments and suggestions for his experiment on intra-family interactions. This allowed him to improve the experimental design even before spending money on pilot sessions.
In addition to improving the quality of research, brown bag seminars give researchers an opportunity to sharpen their presentation skills and to get prepared for upcoming conferences, workshops, job talks or dissertation defense in front of a friendly audience.
To present your research at the Brown Bag seminar series at CERGE-EI, just email Jan Novotny, agree on the date, and make your lunch break truly powerful!
Tetyana Holets, 2nd year CERGE-EI student