Thursday, 3 March 2011

Presenting Research

Looking back on the last few weeks, I am aware of how much time I spent thinking about my future. I haven't actually sat down to think about it or talk to anyone about it at any length. Just little glimmers of thought coming up in my mind, only staying there for a couple of seconds at a time.

So what have I been doing in the past few weeks?

Well, I spent a lot of my time helping to organise the Rebellion Conference. At the same time, I was putting in huge amounts of effort to produce quality results for my second chapter, which I was planning to present at the Rebellion. Then, I put a lot of time and energy into preparing the talk, and I've just finished preparing my poster for the SCCS Conference, also presenting the same results. They are good results =)

I remember going to one of my first weekly Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Conservation (CEEC) seminars, and listened to Luke Parry talk. He was in his final year at the time, now of course Dr Luke, researching the people of the Brazilian Amazon: where they live, how they sustain themselves, their rural-to-urban movement and the implications on forest conservation. Anyway, I remember being blown away by the quality of his talk. It was the best talk I'd ever seen/listened to! And nearly every other one of the talks by advanced PhD students at these seminars was (and still is) of the same awesome standard.

I feel I've come such a long way with presenting talks and posters since I was first exposed to them in my Undergrad years. And even my Masters year, during which we had to give a number of assessed talks. I used to consistently go over my allocated talk time, I used to talk too fast, my slides were average at best, with too many words, and disjointed themes. All my old posters had the same problems: too many words, trying to get accross too much information, and lacking clear theme and flow.
The Tyndall Centre Climate Change Garden
at the Chelsea Flower Show

Some time in my first year, we dedicated one of our weekly research group meetings to helping Johanna Forster (also now a Dr) practice her talk about the award-winning Climate Change Garden she helped design for the Royal Chelsea Flower Show. Her talk got some amazing constructive criticism by the research group. And I'm sure was an even better talk for it. This is where I learned about ungrouping graphs and clever use of animation. "Break it down" was the message.

When I was going to give my first seminar talk, my supervisor looked through my slides and completely changed the presentation structure, got rid of most of the words, and introduced me to the concept of "less is more". I'd been told this before, of course, in the various "How to give good presentations" lectures I'd had in the past. But I'd never had anyone put it into practice on one of my presentations. After giving the seminar, one suggestion that Dr Jenny Gill made was to start every slide with a question. Get people thinking before you give them the answer. I've just recently seen her talk at the Rebellion, and I can verify from the audience side: it works. It engages the audience and it carves the path for the talk. Ingenious device.

At one point I was subjected to the brilliant force that is the research group's constructive citicism. I was preparing a talk to present to a mixed audience about my methodology (at the workshop mentionned in this post). This is quite a technical subject (as far as ecological fieldwork goes anyway!) and I had to somehow make it understandable and useful to non-specialists but not dumb it down and maintain interested in the specialists who were also going to be in the audience. I never thought that having my presentation ripped apart like that could be a pleasant experience. I loved it!

I had the exactly opposite reaction, however, when I was trying to prepare my first PhD poster. It turned out all for the better though! I talk about that here, I won't repeat myself. My next poster, for the British Ecological Society Annual Meeting, I actually enjoyed preparing (mentionned here - check it out, I finally added a picture of it). I mentionned at the beginning of this post that I've just finished preparing another poster. And it is my best yet! I'm really proud of it, but no one gets to see it until its had its unveiling at the SCCS.

Caught in action during my Rebellion talk
I feel the same way about my Rebellion talk too! It went brilliantly. There were scarcely any words on my slides, lots of mouthwateringly gorgeous pictures (thank you wonderful Creative Commons photographers on the web!), simple graphics animated for flow and informativeness (I checked the dictionary; that is a word), I didn't talk too fast, and I finished leaving plenty of time of questions from the audience, which I tackled without getting flustered. It was like a dream.

Of course there's always room for improvement, and I can't wait to discover it!

So what's all this got to do with glimpses of my potential future? Well... event organising, science communication... We'll see I guess!



Anna Roberts said...

Supervisor are the go-to personnel when your Research group won’t work or your Talk won’t open. As the head of the IT department, I triage the operations of an organization’s technical network, and they’re a growing.
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Gail Georgiana said...

This brilliant must-read article provides the key to the Research group, Talk, Luke Parry talk & Course Dr Luke. Christina Ieronymidou you raise a powerful antidote to today’s malaise and pessimism.
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