Feedback culture

How do we support a constructive feedback culture?

24 November 2022

Paper presentations in the sections, at seminars or workshops are among the most important institutions at the department. When they work best, the presenter receives multiple quality reviews of the presented paper, something no international conference can compete with, and participants learn about colleagues’ research and attend academic debates of the highest quality. Guests at the department often comment very positively on the engaged, high-quality feedback they receive when presenting. This is an institution that we should go a long way to preserve. However, it is also an institution that we should give ongoing attention in order to keep it strong and giving.

However, this institution has potential downsides that we should be aware of, and everyone in general, section chairs and others in charge of presentations have a responsibility to support that presentations are rewarding and contribute to scientific progress, as intended. Presentations at the department should be experienced as a safe environment where also weaknesses and challenges can be discussed constructively.

This document lists some ideas and suggestions that are intended to stimulate discussions about how we do presentations, and how we behave when we take part in presentations. The sections vary considerably in size and composition, which means that the relevance of the ideas and suggestions may vary across sections. All sections are encouraged to discuss format, practices and purposes of their paper presentations on a regular basis.

This is relevant for all colleagues, and particularly relevant for colleagues who are new to the department and perhaps presenting for the first time. It makes a difference whether the audience is people you have known for decades and maybe are your good friends, or whether they are colleagues you have only met recently. Also, the sheer number of people attending in some sections may seem intimidating.

To underpin that presenting is a positive experience that supports scientific progress, sections and section chairs may consider the format as well as the debate structure to promote a critical and constructive dialogue in a safe environment. Overall, the department follows AU’s freedom of speech declaration supporting a free exchange of ideas and thoughts in open and respectful debate.

To promote and support the strong institution of paper presentations, section members and chairs may consider format as well as behavior when running section meetings:


  1. Most section presentations are simply discussion of papers that everyone has read in advance. For new colleagues, this might not feel like the ideal way to present one’s research to the section for the first time. In that case, a presentation of research agendas or ideas without a paper might be a better first presentation. Some sections have already introduced this, also for more experienced colleagues, to promote discussions of research at an earlier stage.
  2. Consider that the first presentation by a postdoc is a paper co-authored with the project PI.
  3. Circulation of papers prior to section meetings could include descriptions of challenges on which the authors would especially welcome comments.
  4. Group discussion of papers prior to plenary rounds of comments could be a way to streamline comments and avoid repetition. The presenter moves in and out of groups as preferred.
  5. Section meetings vary in length. Some presentations last 1.5 hours, which is a long time to receive even constructive feedback and may be overwhelming. Other presentations are conducted in two sessions to limit the number of participants and promote a more dialogue- based debate.
  6. Discuss the role of the chair in your section. Can the chair interfere with the order of comments? Should junior people sometimes go before senior people? How do you organize comments: one comment at a time, theme-based, two-finger follow-up comments?


  1. Presentations may serve different purposes. Some presenters look for input to develop new research ideas, including data collection. Some presenters look for input to present the current work as precisely as possible. Taking these premises into account as participant will assist colleagues most.
  2. At the department, we use different research approaches and methods. As a participant, please avoid generic comments that mainly reflect your general view of certain types of research or methods rather than being a specific comment on the presented paper.
  3. In any interaction with colleagues, including paper presentations, be aware of the tone of the debate. It is fine and even welcome to be critical, but it should be done in a respectful manner. This includes:
    a. Be aware that sarcasm and irony during discussions may contribute to insecurity.
    b. Think about the length of comments and repetition of other people’s comments. Some sections use multiple one-comment rounds to allow everyone to participate.
  4. Consider the position of the presenter. If junior colleagues are presenting, supervisors or mentors should be advised to participate and arrange debriefings to interpret and structure the comments
  5. Think about making your comments as precise as possible – also when you praise the work presented.