Discussion Group Program
YPFP's Discussion Groups are peer-led communities within YPFP that offer selected members an opportunity to connect with other young professionals who share a depth of experience in a particular region or subject. Each Discussion Group (DG) serves as a focal point within YPFP to promote thoughtful engagement through monthly private meetings and occasional public activities. Members present original research for internal critique, host guest speakers, analyze current events, and host dinners at each others’ homes. Equal parts academic symposium and coffee shop debate, members set the agenda, drive the conversation, and address the issues that matter to them most.
For information on membership and general DG questions, please contact Ryan P. Nelson, Director of the Discussion Group Program. If you have an idea for a discussion group that is not listed below, we would love to hear from you! At this time Discussion Groups are offered only in Washington, DC.
Interested in joining a Discussion Group?
Working Group Initiative
Entering its inaugural year, the Working Group Initiative seeks to harness the expertise, experience, and cohesiveness of YPFP’s Discussion Groups to produce incisive analysis. Within the Initiative, some Discussion Groups produce content as Working Groups, with the approval and support of the Working Group Editorial Staff. The Initiative is a component of the broader Discussion Group Program, and content is showcased on the respective Discussion Group webpages (see below). During the 2017 pilot phase, publications were released by the Combating Terrorism and Middle East Discussion Groups.
For information or questions about the Working Group Initiative, please contact Zach Dickens, Managing Editor of the Working Group Initiative.
The YPFP Africa Discussion Group brings together a diverse group of young professionals who work on Africa-related issues or have a strong interest in the region. The group provides a platform for members to go beyond the headlines and connect with the issues that matter most. Our speaker events provide an opportunity to learn from and engage with speakers who are working to provide insight on new and ongoing political, economic, and security trends in African states, and shaping current U.S. and international policy in the region.
Key Areas of Focus:
Upcoming Elections in 2016
Trade and Investment
Conflict & Security Challenges
Press Freedom and Civic Space
U.S. Foreign Policy in Africa
The discussion group is only open to YPFP members. Due to high-demand and limited space, the Africa Discussion Group requires an application for membership. Ideal candidates will present a current or prior academic or professional background on Africa-related issues or an otherwise demonstrated interest in the continent. Candidates must also demonstrate a strong commitment to being an active member of the group and willingness to attend monthly meetings, to collaborate with group members on blogs or newsletters if the group decides, or other activities as necessary. Failure to attend three consecutive monthly meetings will lead to termination of Discussion Group membership.
The Arabic Language Discussion group explores various topics and trends related to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in Arabic. The aim is to offer fellow Arabic speakers the opportunity to maintain and improve their Arabic Language skills through regular meetings. Group topics revolve around developments in the region such as the ongoing Syria conflict, the crisis in Yemen, and the Iranian nuclear deal as well as exploring topics such as Arab literature and poetry and regional economic development.
Occasionally watch Arab films and attend events in D.C., these are optional and separate from the regular meetings
- Demonstrated proficiency speaking, listening, and reading the Arabic language (Intermediate- Advanced levels)
- Ability to communicate comfortably in the language (all dialects accepted)
- Successful completion of the Arabic language test
- Experience living or working in the region (can be substituted for extensive Arabic language study)
- Commitment to attending meetings on a regular basis
- Ability to discuss sensitive topics in a civil manner
- Willingness to engage in group discussions with participants of varying levels
Chairs: Blaine Johnson
Do you work on--or are you interested in working on--issues related to the Chinese-speaking world? Are you looking to practice your professional Chinese with other advanced students of the language? YPFP's Chinese Language Discussion Group is a group of young Chinese-speaking professionals who are doing just that!
We hold our two monthly meetings in Mandarin Chinese: one weekday study session and one weekend lunch at an area Chinese restaurant. Our study sessions began as a support group for those of us trying to follow syllabi from the American Mandarin Society's China Syllabi Project on our own: Each month we prepare several readings, from Chinese government documents to English analysis/ commentary, and our group members sign up in advance to act as discussants. During the session, we present in Chinese on what we read, share new vocabulary, refine our arguments, and learn from one another. Topics include China's foreign policy, economy and more!
Our 中文桌子 focus on seeking out good Chinese food across the DMV--and of course, eating it while speaking Chinese together. Welcome you to join us and/ or suggest new places to explore!
- Professional or near-professional proficiency speaking, listening and reading Mandarin Chinese (recommend HSK 6, college-level or professional experience with the language)
- Ability to communicate in the language on a range of abstract topics
- Commitment to attending meetings on a regular basis
- Ability to contribute to discussion of sensitive topics in a civil manner
In early 2017, the Combating Terrorism Discussion Group (CTDG) became the first group to pilot the Working Group Initiative, in order to better facilitate the development of future counterterrorism leaders and policymakers. The central goals of the CTDG are to increase NextGen engagement through policy paper production, focused discussion meetings, and YPFP membership-wide events. The CTDG explores and assesses methods that the United States and our allies can use to effectively respond to and proactively prepare for emerging and evolving terrorist threats. The working group leverages cross disciplinary approaches in order to create holistic solutions to fight terrorism.
Key Areas of Focus:
In addition to assessing current events that directly and indirectly relate to counterterrorism efforts and international security, in the past we’ve discussed:
• The pros and cons of counter-radicalization/de-radicalization programs
• The relationship between counterterrorism, privacy, and civil liberties
• The assessed contributions or failures of existing counterterrorism strategies in various regions
• The use of advanced technology (specifically Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) to track and eliminate terrorist threats
• Demonstrated interest in counterterrorism strategies and policies
• Professional or academic experience in the field of national security, counterterrorism, or related fields
• Commitment to attending monthly meetings on a regular basis
• Desire to engage in counterterrorism policy through the publishing of papers and participation in CTWG events
• Willingness to keep up with current events related to national security and terrorist threats
• Firm understanding that candid and valuable discussions require respect for different viewpoints and perspectives
Publications (click to view):
Chair: Alan Carroll
As more information and human activities are integrated into the digital world, the security of cyberspace is becoming more and more critical – for the country’s national security, innovation, and privacy. Recent developments in this field have catapulted cybersecurity into the spotlight of media and national security policy discussion. Despite growing attention, cybersecurity still remains a nascent policy area where much work needs to be done.
YPFP’s Cybersecurity Policy & Technology Discussion Group is a valuable professional, intellectual, and personal resource for those interested in cybersecurity. The group will address a host of dynamic security issues in the cyber domain: cyber offense/defense, internet governance, privacy and civil liberties, international cooperation, legislative efforts, and grand cyber strategy. Group members are invited to share their individual expertise and knowledge, and are strongly encouraged to keep up with current events. The group strives to bring together a diverse group of young professionals from across public and private sectors with various levels of experiences related to cybersecurity.
- Current or prior professional or educational background in cybersecurity
- Demonstrated interest in the topic and firm grasp of current events in the field
- Ability to participate in virtual activity between meetings (a group discussion board or email conversations)
- Committed to attending monthly meetings and being an active member
- A positive attitude, sense of humor, and desire to get to know other members
Chair: Jacob Breach
The Defense Discussion Group provides members with the opportunity to discuss topics of recent and enduring importance to the defense and national security field. Due to the complexity of this field, discussions will be wide-ranging, covering the full spectrum of conflict and competition among states and between states and non-state actors.
Topic areas may include regional, institutional, and conceptual issues such as:
- Regional security and security cooperation;
- The defense budget and authorities;
- The defense industrial base;
- Technology and the future of warfare;
- Irregular warfare, counterinsurgency, and stability operations;
- And many more.
- Current or prior academic or professional involvement in the defense field.
- Interest in and knowledge of a variety of defense and national security topics.
- Commitment to regularly attend monthly meetings.
- Maintenance of familiarity with current events in defense and national security issues.
- Applicants are considered based on qualifications with additional regard given to diversity of perspectives and relevant professions
This group aims to be holistic and forward thinking in its discussions, so group members are expected to keep up with current events and come to meetings prepared to discuss the planned topic.
The East Asia discussion group will focus on a variety of political, economic, military, and social trends that are shaping East Asia from the Kamchatka to the Malay peninsulas. We hope to share and discuss current events with an eye toward policy relevance and what's next. Initial topics will include China's impact in international relations, the evolving role of ASEAN, Japan's normalization, and the US role in the region.
- Trends & Change in East Asian Domestic Politics
- Congressional Politics on East Asia
- Challenges in East Asia for the Next Administration
- How the US Can Meet the Challenges in East Asia
- East Asia in Washington
- An active interest in Asian Politics, from Northeast Asia extending to India/Pakistan
- Academic, volunteer, or professional background tangentially related to Asia
- Dedicated to being an active member of the group
- Willing to take on periodic leadership responsibilities. We have a rotating steering committee.
- A sense of humor
- We don't care if you are in a policy shop, a gubbie, or in private industry, we are actively seeking members from all sectors
Economy, Elizabeth. The River Runs Black. Cornell University Press, 2005.
Shambaugh, David. China's Communist Party: Atrophy & Adaptation. University of California, 2008.
Tellis, Ashley J. and Wills, Michael. Strategic Asia 2006-07: Trade, Interdependence, and Security. National Bureau of Asian Research, 2006.
Suettinger, Robert. Beyond Tiananmen: The Politics of US-China Relations 1989-2000. University of California, 2002.
Pyle, Kenneth. Japan Rising: The Resurgence of Japanese Power & Purpose. Public Affairs, 2008.
Samuels, Richard. Securing Japan: Tokyo's Grand Strategy and the Future of East Asia. Cornell University Press, 2008.
Weatherbee, Donald. International Relations in Southeast Asia: The Struggle for Autonomy. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2005.
Chair: Jim Robertson
The Energy and Environment Discussion Group meets monthly to discuss the most pressing, challenging, and often the most controversial issues in the environmental and energy policy spheres. Our diverse members stem from public, private, and non-profit sectors and have the opportunity to discuss and debate country or regional specific issues, as well as broader thematic issues that shape international dialogue.
Conversations are interdisciplinary, including geopolitical, economic, and security factors as well as domestic political and societal elements. We also deep-dive into specifics with renewable energy portfolios, carbon tax policies, fracking techniques, ocean acidification, nuclear safety, and biotechnology.
Solving complex issues requires a diverse skill-set, so we look for group members who represent the full spectrum of private, government, and nonprofit sectors.
- Geopolitical Impacts of China's Environmental Policies
- Global Food Security and Water Scarcity
- African Agricultural Development
- Climate Change and US National Security
- Carbon Finance and REDD
- Smartgrids and Energy Infrastructure
- Natural Gas and Fracking
- The Keystone Pipeline
- Nuclear Iran
- Interest in environmental security, energy policy or finance, emissions trading, clean tech, or global environmental issues
- Commitment to being an active and regular contributor to the group - we meet monthly with other ad-hoc events interspersed
- A positive attitude and desire to meet other great people who work with in the field
- Critical thinking skills and a willingness to actively contribute respectful and thoughtful comments to discussions and debates
- Specific background in environmental security, energy policy or finance, emissions trading, clean tech, or global environmental issues
- Willingness to take on additional responsibilities such as planning discussions and events, writing blog posts, and contributing to occasional group publications
Chair: Jonathan Meza
The aim of the Europe & Eurasia Discussion Group is to stimulate a robust and substantial dialogue among DG members on a topic of particular importance to YPFP. The group will discuss and analyze the important transatlantic issues of the day and seek solutions to long-term strategic challenges posed to the transatlantic relationship. Group members will be encouraged to contribute not only through their personal work and experiences but also through social media, blog posts, op-eds, and related projects, as applicable. The long-term goal for the group is ultimately to become a “known commodity” within the transatlantic community in Washington, DC and Brussels.
The Europe & Eurasia Discussion Group will focus on those issues at the heart of European and transatlantic affairs, including but not limited to, NATO, transatlantic trade and economic policy, institutions of the European Union, the Economic and Monetary Union, the future of the Euro, European Security and Defense policy, and EU-Eurasia relations. Of additional interest to this group will be the future of the European Union and its relations with its immediate neighbors, especially Russia, Turkey, and the FSU states. As the most integrated and important bilateral relationship in the world, a key component of EU – U.S. relations will be to address common areas of concern vis a vis third-countries, such as China, India, Brazil, and Turkey. This theme will be examined especially as the U.S. Administration continues its so-called Pivot towards Asia.
Europe & Eurasia Discussion Group members should currently be working and/or studying within the aforementioned topics. All members should contribute in a meaningful fashion, not only by attending as many meetings as possible but also by remaining active and engaged through discussion, questions, suggested topics and guest speakers, format, and improvements to the DG.
Co-Chair: Justin Margolis
The French Language Discussion group explores various topics and trends related to current in French. The aim is to offer fellow French speakers the opportunity to maintain and improve their French language skills through regular discussion meetings. Discussion topics are not limited to any particular thematic area but will focus on permitting members to expand their French language competency in a wide variety of subject matter areas (politics, culture, international development, etc.). Members will be encouraged to propose discussion topics, and discussions may be based off of written or music/video material which will be provided to the group participants.
The group will, from time to time, organize meetings around various French Embassy, Alliance Français, Fête de la Francophonie, and African and European Film Festival events.
- Demonstrated proficiency speaking, listening, and reading the French language (Intermediate- Advanced levels)
- Ability to communicate comfortably in the language
- Experience living or working in the region (can be substituted for extensive French language study)
- Commitment to attending meetings on a regular basis
- Willingness to engage in group discussions with participants of varying levels
Chair: Gabrielle Gould
Studies now show that gender inequality is a predictor of armed conflict between and within states, and that gender equality is actually a better predictor of a state’s peacefulness than GDP or democracy. Engagement by both women and men is crucial in national security, conflict resolution, economic development, and political movements, yet significant gaps still remain in terms of equal participation in these areas.
The aim of the Gender in Foreign Policy discussion group is to examine the gender considerations that should be integrated into any foreign policy if it is to be effective and the ongoing efforts by men and women to promote foreign policy work that is more inclusive.
All genders welcome: the discussion group is open to anyone interested in exploring these topics and there is no requirement to have experience working specifically in this field. The group meets once a month to discuss the role and status of women and gender in the context of foreign policy, history, and current global events.
- Women and countering terrorism and violent extremism
- Women’s political participation & engagement in state-building
- Civil society and LGBT rights
- UN and global efforts on women, peace, and security
- Gender and the military
- Women in conflict resolution and transitional justice
- Gender-based violence
- Gender issues in the economy and workforce
- Reproductive health and HIV/AIDS
- Professional or academic experience in any foreign policy field
- Interest in considering foreign policy issues through a gender lens and making foreign policy more inclusive and effective
- Willingness to commit to attend at least 8 of 12 monthly meetings
Chair: Michael Tint
The U.S. Grand Strategy Discussion Group is a roundtable meeting of professionals interested in the big picture and long view of U.S. strategic thought. Drawing on theories of international relations, participants will explore and debate prevailing traditions and values of American strategy. Topics include long-term American security goals, the strategies that purport to achieve them, and the foreign policies that result. Guest speakers will include prominent thinkers in U.S. strategy and policy makers responsible for translating grand concepts into practical decisions.
- "U.S. Grand Strategy and International Crime"
- "Budget Priorities of U.S. Grand Strategy"
- "Public Perceptions of U.S. Grand Strategy"
- "A U.S. Strategic Narrative"
- "U.S. Energy Strategy"
- "How Does Grand Strategy Drive Our Approach to Current Events in Libya and the Middle East?"
- "U.S. Grand Strategy to Global Economic Integration in the Age of Austerity"
- "U.S. Grand Strategy and Civil Unrest (Foreign and Domestic)"
- The Grand Strategy discussion group's members come from a variety of personal and professional backgrounds. Members don't have to work in grand strategy professionally or have specific academic experience in grand strategy.
- Any good strategy needs different viewpoints, and the Grand Strategy discussion group seeks diverse experiences and sectors represented in the group.
- Potential members need to demonstrate professional or academic interest in international issues, a willingness to listen to other perspectives, and a sense of humor.
The Human Rights DG seeks to provide a forum for discussing and analyzing human rights challenges in the developed and developing world, with the purpose of better understanding these abuses and generating innovative strategies to overcome them. We will focus on conflict rights, multilateral options, global social norms, and human rights advocacy strategies, while building on group discussions through blog posts, op-eds, and policy documents.
The Human Rights DG will discuss threats to social, political, and civil rights around the world, including issues that are still unfolding, such as the denigration of human rights in Iraq and Syria and Beijing's crackdown on assembly rights in Hong Kong, as well as chronic problems such as LGBT issues in Africa and European abuses against immigrants. While specific discussion topics will be tailored to members' interests and expertise, below are several broad themes that will be tackled by the Human Rights DG:
- Crimes against humanity
- Use of torture and indefinite detention
- Use of the death penalty
- Indigenous, migrant and refugee rights
- Multilateral approaches to human rights solutions
- Corporate governance of human rights in the developing world
- Gender rights
- Religious and cultural rights
- Divergent cultural interpretations of human rights
- The role of human rights in economic and political negotiations
Human Rights DG members should be working or studying within the aforementioned topics, or else have a demonstratable interest in the field of human rights. Members should be prepared to contribute to group discussions and projects in a meaningful fashion. Attendance at a minimum of 8 of every 12 meetings is required, while group members are encouraged to contribute to Human Rights DG blog posts, policy documents, and op-eds. All DG members must be YPFP members, but non-members are free to test out a discussion prior to applying for membership.
Chair: Kevin Truitte
The YPFP Intelligence and Information Warfare Discussion Group provides an open forum for the discussion of the collection, reading, and analysis of information, and how this product fits into the broader vision of foreign policy. The discussion group will examine these topics through both historical and current events, methods, and policies. It will also seek to broaden members’ knowledge on a variety of related topics.
- Individuals need not have an academic or professional background, but must have a strong interest in the topic.
- An open mind and a desire to learn more. Diverse viewpoints and ideas encouraged!
- Must come prepared to participate in a group discussion.
- Due to the sensitivity of topics we ask that individuals maintain a level of discretion and confidentiality on the topics discussed.
- Willingness to attend meetings once a month.
Chair: David Bartholomew
International Development brings many disciplines and actors together in the resolution of complex global challenges. A development practitioner cannot, for instance, execute a plan for waste-water management in India without at once being familiar with urban planning, local custom, and legal procedure. At the same time, larger institutions implementing development agendas, from individual countries to multilateral entities must coordinate their efforts across borders, financial institutions, and stakeholders.
Within this complex system of actors, scales, and goals, the International Development Discussion Group seeks to build a deeper understanding of the field for the purpose of fostering sustainable, positive changes in the lives of people around the world. This will be accomplished through the examination of diverse topics and through conversations with industry leaders, practitioners, and experts.
In fostering constructive dialogue among future International Development leaders, this discussion group complements YPFP’s overarching mission. If you seek to share knowledge with your peers by engaging in critical discourse, for the purpose of increasing the general--global--welfare, we welcome you to apply.
- Gender and International development
- Differences in field implementation and development project planning
- Bottom-of-the-pyramid economics
- Micro______(finance, loans, et cetera)
- The role of China in International development
- International development as foreign policy
- Mobile technology and ICT in International Development
- Various regional topics (Western aid in Africa, Structural adjustment in Latin America & the “Lost Decade,” etc.)
- Further topics to be determined based on member interests and expertise!
- Non-member guests are welcome to participate in the group with advance notice, and provided there is enough space to accommodate them
- Willingness to commit to at least 8 out of 12 monthly meetings
- Critical thinker, willing to actively contribute thoughtful arguments to discussions and debates
- Able to demonstrate a relationship between professional/personal interests in international development (but educational background and professional expertise in the topic is not required)
- Dues-paying membership with YPFP
As the world economy increases in its complexity, it is more important than ever to understand the myriad of factors that are shaping economic ties between countries. The Trade and Finance Discussion Group will host productive discussions about a variety of topics and current events related to international economics and international business. The aim of this discussion group is to foster a community of young professionals with interest and experience in international economics, along with providing members opportunities to learn from each other and enhance their understanding of current issues. Discussion topics will largely be driven by the interest of members.
- Is the World Trade Organization losing its relevance?
- Dynamics of U.S-China economic relations
- The role of trade policy and trade facilitation in developing economies
- The future of the Euro Zone
- Doing business with emerging markets
- An interest in international trade, finance, or business
- Academic and/or professional experience in international economics
- Knowledge of current trends and issues in international economics
- Commitment to attend the DG’s discussions, speaker events, and social activities
Chair: Sarah Tralins
The Latin America discussion group covers the many political, economic, and cultural issues that are shaping the region. The members have the opportunity to discuss country specific topics as well as subjects pertaining to regional integration and the U.S.-Latin America relationship. Member input, interests, and expertise will largely shape the discussion areas.
Chair: Scott Weiner
The YPFP Middle East Discussion Group focuses on political, security, sociological, and cultural trends in the contemporary Middle East and North Africa as well as the United States' relationship with and role in the region.
- Close professional or academic contact with the region.
- Experience living or working in the region.
- A basic grasp of the history of the region.
- Ability to engage in a civil manner with those holding drastically opposed viewpoints to one's own.
Publications (click to view):
The group's latest report discusses the next generation of leadership in the Middle East. Looking across the region, it identifies key challenges including economic insecurity, political conflict, and social unrest. It identifies who in the region is most likely to take on these challenges and how.
In an increasingly competitive international security environment, the perceived utility of nuclear weapons is becoming more salient. However, the United States has paid relatively little attention to nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War. This mismatch creates a dangerous gap for U.S. policymakers. This groups seeks to explore those challenges, bringing together individuals interested in nuclear policy and strategy.
Participants have the opportunity to discuss a wide set of contemporary issues ranging from the role of U.S. nuclear forces and arms control to the strategies and doctrines of other nuclear-armed states. Group discussions, guest speakers, and events such as table top exercises allow participants learn more about an under-studied aspect of U.S. security policy.
- Arms control and deterrence
- The role of nuclear weapons in U.S. foreign policy
- Potential adversary nuclear doctrine and strategy
- Extended nuclear deterrence
- Nuclear modernization
- Demonstrated interest in nuclear weapons policy (broadly speaking)
- Professional or academic experience in U.S. nuclear weapons policy, national security, foreign policy, or related fields
- Commitment to attend monthly meetings on a regular basis
- Willingness to stay informed and keep up with current nuclear weapons issues
- Respect for different viewpoints and a willingness to learn from others
Welcome to the Russian Language Discussion Group! The Group is geared towards upper-intermediate and advanced Russian speakers who seek to maintain and enhance their Russian language skills. The discussions cover a broad arrange of political, social, economic, and cultural issues in Russia and the region and explore Russian media’s perspective on the world events. The Group will also try to delve into various episodes of Russia’s history and see how historical events inform current political decisions and attitudes of Russian leaders and general population. The members are encouraged to suggest other topics that might be of interest to the Group. Discussions will typically be based on articles/TV programs/podcasts and other materials that will be shared with the Group prior to each meeting.
The Group will participate in Russia-related cultural events in DC (e.g., film screenings and concerts at the Embassy of Russian Federation).
- Demonstrated proficiency speaking and reading in Russian (intermediate / advanced level)
- Ability to communicate comfortably in Russian
- Experience living in the region or extensive academic background in the Russian language
- Ability to discuss sensitive topics and keep an open mind during discussions with participants holding opposing opinions
- Regular attendance of group meetings and active participation in discussions
Chair: Ambar Hajariya
The South Asia Discussion Group focuses on political, economic and military trends in the in the countries of the region, (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka) as well as American policies and interests in South Asia.
- The rise of India and its relations with its neighbors
- US Counterterrorism and Counterinsurgency Policy in Pakistan
- Progress in the War in Afghanistan
- Prospects for South Asian Regional Cooperation
- General interest and experience in South Asia politics, economics, defense/security issues;
- Work in a foreign policy-related post concerned with South Asia, or graduate student with a South Asia-related focus;
- Commitment of making one DG meeting per month
The Spanish Language Discussion Group is meant to explore a wide range of topics pertaining to the Americas, as well as make analytical comparisons on how international phenomena develop in other regions. The group will seek to talk about current issues (e.g Peace process in Colombia, implications of the Zika virus in the Americas, what international organizations can do better and how key stakeholders can improve communication flow, cooperation and partnerships in order to tackle common issues, etc.)
Academic & Cultural Events
Occasional talks, topical discussions and workshops in Spanish, as well as cultural event invitations (such as theater plays or concerts) will be facilitated to members. Some informal meetings with experienced speakers on specific areas will also be arranged, providing the opportunity to exchange views and ask questions in Spanish.
- Ability to communicate (both orally and in writing, reading and listening) comfortably in Spanish
- Some experience or familiarity with the Latin American region
- Commitment to attend at least two meetings a month
- Willingness to engage in group discussions with participants of varying levels