Choosing Keynote Speakers

A couple of graduate students are seeking advice on how to select keynote speakers for a conference they’re organizing.

They’re seeking advice about a decision procedure for the choice and were wondering how faculty and other graduate students at other departments went about it.

They write:

We considered just polling our fellow graduate students. But this could be problematic. Here is one reason why. It seems plausible that when picking a speaker us graduate students should keep an eye to the needs of those particular graduate students on or near the job market. In particular, it seems plausible that a speaker should be someone who works in the area of the graduate students near or on the job market. For if we got a speaker with similar interests, then that would be a great networking opportunity for them. Yet if the majority of graduate students are still in coursework and do not share the interests of the grad students on or near the market, then the speaker will not work in the area students looking for jobs. So, those students will lose some valuable, in-area networking.

I think that when it comes to criteria for selecting a keynote speaker, how good a networking opportunity they provide is itself not all that important, because, first, the effects of such networking are likely to be negligible, and second, there are other more important factors in the decision, such as, “does this person give lively talks about interesting stuff?” and “do enough of us know enough about what this person is interested in to make their visit worthwhile?”

I think reflection on those questions and asking around about the quality of the talks given by the philosophers under consideration should be part of the process.

Do you have further advice for these students about how to make their choices?

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