Brown Bag Sessions: Food for Thought

We have been contemplating the concept of having a Brown Bag session once in two weeks in our department for quite a while now, and we set the ball rolling today with an attendance much healthier than I personally would have foretold.

In the US, brown bag sessions are a common affair where, usually, over the lunch hour, an academic personality leads a discussion on his research area or on a topic of his specialization. We decided to put a spin on it. The objectives were to:

  • Create an informal forum for the exchange of ideas, and indulge in the exercise of thinking on one’s feet
  • Discuss and debate issues where there are ethical, medical, legal or philosophically differing schools of thought in order to create awareness about these issues
  • Bring together the department members, not just the residents and the faculty members, under an informal umbrella for an exchange of ideas
  • Encourage a sense of camaraderie between the teacher and the taught

The initiative was taken by our Residency Director, Prof. A. K. Sharma, who first raised the idea during one of the intra-departmental teaching seminars. And I was, as usual, enamored by it, since it provided a platform to indulge in lateral thinking, and learning from the faculty and seniors in a non-structured, yet, organic method.

Today, the brown bag sessions kicked off with the topic of: Euthanasia: A good death or the key to legalizing murder?”

Honestly, since this was the first time I was organizing such a meet, I was at a bit of a loss about how to go about doing it. Bringing some structure was an obvious need, but I never really worked on it, because I thought that having a moderator might impede the free flow of ideas. But in order to prevent it from becoming a melee of thought-jumping (which happened quite a bit today despite Prof. Sharma being forced into the Moderator’s chair today!) cavil, some structure is needed.

I came away with the following learning points about the running of the Brown Bag Sessions from the experience of organizing the first one today:

  • Free wheeling discussions are difficult in reality, though they seem pretty viable in theory. In order to get the ball rolling, it is absolutely essential to have some senior faculty members who can take charge of the issue and then let it diffuse into the students. Prof. Bhasin and Prof. Sharma today did that of their own accord, but the need of a moderating faculty member is essential.
  • A student or faculty member who moderates the session. He needs to be at least slightly aware about the issue so that he can steer the conversations, debates and discussions in a proper direction. The moderator also needs to be impartial while making a call during the course of the discussion. They need to watch out for digression from the main topic, keeping to the time limit, and of course, give everyone a fair chance to speak their part.
  • It would be a good idea to provide the interested members with a 300-word brief about the topic so that they can at least have some thoughts incubating at the back of their brains about the issue, thus making the discussions more mature and profitable.
  • There should be a proper dissemination of news about the event. I made the critical mistake of waiting too long to inform everyone about the event (thinking that in the hustle and bustle of World AIDS Day activities, the news would drown out) and ended up not informing everyone. The internet connection in the college building had conked out and most of the faculty members came to know about the event only by word-of-mouth from the clutch of residents who were stationed in the department. Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to text-spam everyone, so that word at least got around. Next time, we need to make a prominent splash about a week in advance!
  • Now it shall be overly optimistic of me to expect to do a short write-up of every brown bag meet, but it would be cool to have some sort of documentary note of what transpired in course of the brainstorming (and who brought the most delicious of victuals!).

In hindsight, I did make a major hash of it, and I was extremely nervous when the event started off, 15 minutes later than I had actually intentioned it to be, but in the end, several Professors, and almost 50% of the residents turned up for the session, which is, in my book, a tremendous response rate! If things keep snowballing, the idea is to provide some token lunch materials at the event as well. My idea is that, if the participation swells to 22-25 people, with minor contributions from everyone, a pizza-session might easily be worked out!

The next session, hopefully, shall be better run, since we already have a moderator: Dr, Raghavendra, 3rd year resident, and a topic: Prostitution. The exact wording of the topic shall be decided at the discretion of the moderator.

So, before the next session, which is due to be held on 17th of December, at 1:00 PM at the Seminar room (or the Demonstration room, if the Seminar room is not available, as it was today, due to PhD Thesis presentations and World AIDS Day video displays), in the Department of Community Medicine, we need to do the following stuff:

  1. Come up with a flyer template to advertise the news of the event beforehand on the Department Notice Board.
  2. Prepare a position statement of about 300 words which can act as a nidus for the discussion to crystallize around. I was thinking that since a lot of our teaching-learning exercises have become power-point based, it would be a good excuse to go the old chalk-and-talk way for this 2-5 minute intro! It would give us Gen Tech peeps a good exposure to working on the boards as well!
  3. Inform the faculty members and residents in time so that they can actually turn up for the event in time.
  4. Maintain an online log of the activities of the sessions (maybe I can do that on the Community Medicine Education Blog)

The journey has started, now let us hope that the juggernaut keeps rolling on!

A special note of thanks to Prof A.T. Kannan, Prof S. K.Bhasin, Prof P. Chhabra and Prof. A. K. Sharma for being there at the event and sharing their thoughts and ideas with us. One can only hope that the future meets shall have more food, more brains, and more food for the brains!

brown bag special

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