Reading reflections and presentations

In this class, you will be reading a number of academic papers. To facilitate our in-class discussions, you are required to complete the following assignment in preparation for each one.

The assignment is required for all papers not listed as optional in the course calendar.


The written portion of the assignment is due at 11:15 AM the day the reading will be discussed in class.


Reading assignments should be completed individually. However, if two people are assigned to the same reading role (see below), they can collaborate on the presentation.


Read the paper

First, read the paper closely. Here are some suggestions for how to approach this.

Written reflection

In writing, answer the following questions:

  • What are the paper’s main contributions?
    • Note that this is different from a summary of what the researchers did. What new knowledge did the researchers obtain? What do we know about the world, thanks to this paper, that we didn’t know before?
    • Your answer should be approximately a paragraph — not much longer, but also no shorter.
  • If we had the authors of the paper visit us, what would you want them to talk about? What questions would you ask them?
  • (Optional) What’s something about the paper that you don’t understand even after a close reading?

Additionally, your write-up will include the written portion of the role-based assignment (described below).

LLMs are really good at summarizing. You should be too!

I’m mindful that, these days, it’s trivial to get an LLM to produce summaries (or answers to questions) that look legitimate and might even be correct. I’m nevertheless asking you to do your own writing. Even if you check an LLM’s response for correctness, evaluating an answer and finding one on your own are different skills. I think it’s very important to be able to extract the essence — separate the wheat from the chaff — of academic writing. Since you’re taking this class to learn, I hope you agree that the extra effort is worthwhile. Also keep in mind the course policy on the use of artificial intelligence.

In-class discussion

For our in-class discussions, each student will be assigned a role they will adopt when discussing the paper.

This concept, the roles, and their descriptions are borrowed from Alec Jacobson and Colin Raffel, though some have been modified from the original.

The roles

  • 👩🏽‍🔬 Scientific Peer Reviewer
    • The paper has not been published yet and is currently submitted to a top conference where you’ve been assigned as a peer reviewer. Complete a full review of the paper answering all prompts in the provided review form. This includes recommending whether to accept or reject the paper.
  • 🏺 Archaeologist
    • This paper was found buried under ground in the desert. You’re an archeologist who must determine where this paper sits in the context of previous and subsequent work. Find and report on one older paper cited within the current paper that substantially influenced the current paper and one newer paper that cites this current paper.
  • 🍜 Academic Researcher
    • You’re a researcher who is working on a new project in this area. Propose an imaginary follow-up project not just based on the current but only possible due to the existence and success of the current paper.
  • 💰 Industry Practitioner
    • You work at a company or organization developing an application or product of your choice. Discuss how you would use the findings of the paper at your organization. Describe at least one positive and negative consequence of the changes you are proposing to make.
  • 👾 Hacker
    • You’re a hacker/social engineer who wants to gain access to the private data of an organization or individuals. Describe how you’d use what you learned from this paper to make your job easier.
  • 🕵️ Private Investigator
    • You are a detective who needs to run a background check on one of the paper’s authors. Where have they worked? What did they study? What previous projects might have led to working on this one? What motivated them to work on this project?
  • 🌎 Social Impact Assessor
    • Identify how this paper self-assesses its (likely positive) impact on the world. Have any additional positive social impacts left out? What are possible negative social impacts that were overlooked or omitted?
  • 🧑‍🏫 Teacher
    • Your job is to explain the paper and its main contributions to the class. Address the following questions:
      1. Who are the authors? What were their position and roles when this research was carried out? What are they doing now?
      2. What real-world problem was the paper trying to address?
      3. What methods did the authors choose? What alternatives might they have considered, and what do you see as the advantages of the chosen methods?
      4. What are the main findings of the paper?
      5. What are the implications of the findings, according to the authors?
      6. What remaining open questions did the authors list (if any)?

To see your assigned role for the week, see this spreadsheet.

Write up your role’s perspective

First, write up the answer to the prompt for your assigned role (above). This does not have to be overly formal or detailed, but you should address all questions listed. Feel free to add anything other information that you think would be relevant to your assigned role.

Skip the first write-up

You can skip this step for our first paper, Why Johnny Can’t Encrypt, due Monday, January 29.

Include your write-up together with your written reflection (described above).

Prepare slides for class discussion

In the shared slide deck for the given week, add one or more slides to help you share your assigned role’s perspective with the class.

As with any presentation, reading from your slides is never a good idea, so don’t just put the text of your answer there — only key points or illustrations.

In class

Be prepared to discuss your role’s perspectives, compare notes with others, discuss, and debate.

What to submit

Submit your write-up (the reflection + role notes) to Canvas in the form of a PDF generated by LaTeX.

Add your slides for the class presentation to the shared slide deck for the given week.

Late policy

No late reading assignments will be accepted. However, you may skip up to 3 readings/presentations. If you are skipping your role for this week, you must put SKIP in your cell for that week in the shared role spreadsheet at least 3 hours before class starts, otherwise it will be a considered a no-show. If you know in advance you’ll be missing a day, enter your skip as early as you can to ensure more fair role distribution.