Wednesday, November 12, 2008

my thoughts on presentations

Something that PhD's must be able to do is stand up in front of a group of other scientists and talk about their research. Now, this is a somewhat scary thing to do, I will honestly say that I do not feel I have had enough practice at doing this. I was fortunate enough to take a class on post-translational modifications in which we each had to give two presentations: one on a book chapter and one on literature about a different chapter. And neither could be about our own research. What I learned from that class was helpful for setting up presentations. Because the audience was fellow students, the prospect of talking in front of people was not quite so scary, plus everyone had to do this and couldn't talk about their own research, so, everyone was equally clueless (or equally knowledgable) about the topic.

The most important thing I learned is: WHY DO WE CARE?
Sounds simple, doesn't it? The conferences I've been to in which professors are chosen to give talks, a few post docs and graduate students, but mostly professors, and I spend most of the time I'm listening to presentation wondering, "why do I care?" It is so obvious that these people like their research and care very much about advancing the area, but why do I care. You crystallized a protein, big whoop? Why that protein, what does that mean??

I will be presenting my thesis soon (January is coming up super fast!). I could jump right into the research. But then no one cares. Instead, I will talk about mandibuloacral dysplasia and restrictive dermopathy, hutchinson-guilford progeria syndrome, and hiv-related lipodystrophy. Diseases are very helpful for pointing out why we should care. So what if the protein is less active with a certain mutation, why do we care about that mutation? because it causes mandibuloacral dysplasia. Now my concern is going to be, will 'mandibuloacral dysplasia' turn into a tounge twister during my defense and will I then be unable to talk?

Tonight I went to a talk about Interviewing. We have a Women in Science group here at school and different people are invited to speak. A math prof gave a talk tonight about interviewing in academia. She read off her powerpoint slides, she had almost no inflection in her voice, and I was going nuts sitting my seat wishing I was doing experiments instead of sitting through that load of crap. The second speaker was much better, so my feeling of time being wasted was saved a little bit. This is why I don't often go to these meetings, even though there is free food.

So, first things first, why do we care? if you cannot answer that question by slide #2, redo your presentation
a picture says a thousand words. and then you don't read off the slide.
don't read off the slide.
practice practice practice. and breathe. and don't put the audience to sleep by turning into a monotone monster.
hopefully i'll remember this when i defend my thesis. rah rah rah

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