Heated research group meetings

Having difficult discussions is the topic that resonated the most to me in the readings related to inclusive pedagogy. I firmly believe that to safely execute a difficult conversation by de-escalating the unexpected landmine moments that are beneficial for knowledge exchange is a quintessential skill that every teacher should possess. An essential point that I noted in the reading is that the discussion in an academic setting should never be about the people and that it should always be about ideas that they are exchanging.

I’m interested in applying the tips & strategies for difficult discussions, which are tailored for a classroom setup, to research group meetings (RGMs). RGMs are a lot like a classroom but are also very different. In a typical RGM, students present their work, and each presentation is often followed by a thorough discussion involving peer students (colleagues) and a principal investigator (PI) – the teacher. More than usual, the conversation can become heated as the presenter and audience might not share the same level of understanding of the presenter’s work or might disagree with the assumptions made and (or) conclusions drawn by the presenter. It is particularly important to enforce inclusive pedagogy and maintain a healthy relationship in RGM as the students often work together for a considerable amount of time (more than a semester), which is not always the case in a classroom setup.

As suggested in the reading material, I think the PI should set up ground rules of exercising an RGM and enforce them whenever needed for constructive intellectual dialogue. Since it is not possible to anticipate the needs of every student, the PI should be willing to make changes to the rules if needed. It is also beneficial for the PI to know about potential hot-buttons of individual students so the PI can intervene if they’re triggered in a discussion. More importantly, the PI should know his/her hot-buttons and have a plan to make sure that the debate is not compromised. Bluntness is often confused with rudeness and is a potential cause for individuals getting offended, which results in a heated discussion. It is desired that the PI should be mindful of this behavior and bring the focus back to the ideas. On a final remark, I believe that a rude comment by a student might be a sign of something more complicated happening in the student’s life. Therefore, I think the PI should have a confidential meeting and direct the student to helpful resources available at the university.