Tag Archives: presenting

Sometimes you won’t feel like talking about “IT” and it’s OK – by Carolyn Graham

As a PhD student, one of the things you will find out quickly is that you repeatedly have to tell people what you are doing, what you are “looking” at. In formal and informal gatherings, at workshops, seminars, conferences and other types of training, university and non-university encounters; either as part of the introduction or in conversations over coffee, a pint or at dinner. It doesn’t matter if you are one day or 4 years into the programme, the FAQs of a PhD student’s life remain the same: What are you looking at? How is it going? What is your topic? What is your theoretical framework? How are you going to collect data? When are you going to be finished? etc., etc. Some think it’s glamourous. “Oh the student life!” they exclaim. “You get to sleep late and work when you want.” If only they knew! IT will become your identity.SNV30975

Your response to these questions invariably begins with, “I am looking at…”

It is beneficial to speak about one’s research. Verbalization is good for formulating thoughts, to try out your ideas on others, to find persons of similar interest, to discover if you are making progress with your understanding of what you are doing, to get assistance, to get assurance, to practice for the times when you cannot avoid talking about IT and many more. Talking about your work is also good training for public speaking, in being concise, in breaking down complex ideas and for the Viva!

A tactic that I have found useful is to ask myself these same questions and write short responses to them or think up responses on the spot. I also practice varying my responses so that I don’t bore myself with my own replay. Recall that different persons are asking you so it will sound fresh and new to them, but not to you. I would recommend attending the 3-minute thesis competition, or even entering, if you are so inclined as it will allow you to develop the skill of being succinct yet thorough, while learning to put your work in a language that non-experts may understand.

Don’t forget however, depending on the situation, you can politely ask for a reprieve from talking about IT, and it is OK. The PhD life is like new parents whom everyone asks about the baby and forgets the parents, sometimes to their dismay. “What about me?” Is the silent lamentation. “I need some attention too!” At some point you feel like screaming. “Hey, I’m not my PhD, I have a life, an identity outside of my PhD. I am multi-dimensional!” Particularly if you are at a frustrating phase, just had a not-so-good supervision and you just want to forget the PhD, even for the two hours you are in a pub gathering some strength to get back to IT. You don’t always have the resolve to speak about IT. The first stages, when there is only a chaos of literature and ideas and you are struggling to put the pieces together yourself, can be a particularly dubious time. The imposter syndrome sets in and it is not made any better when asked “so, what are you looking at?” The writing up phase as well seem to be another daunting time. I am not there yet, but I have heard the tales of woe from others.

Sometimes when asked “what are you looking at?” it’s like a bombshell. The moment immediately becomes surreal, you hear the question but you are not sure what it means. When you, in slow motion, grasp the notion, your brain takes a scramble to put together something coherent and interesting. Of course, all this takes less than 10 sec11759033_958990500818475_1651712378_nonds, but for you it’s an eternity. I don’t know the full psychology, but added to the imposter syndrome is fear of sounding stupid, of not sounding intelligent enough, that your research sounds lame relative to others (all of us think everybody else’s research is more interesting) and even fear of public speaking, or speaking to strangers.

There are also those of us who, having passed through the valley of chaos and began to make sense of our work, have repeated the response so often that it becomes dreary. We have to then think of more creative, and interesting ways to answer the same question, which is itself a challenge. This is where practice helps. We also realize that, depending on who asks, we have to approach the response from different angles, and sometimes we are not sure at what level to pitch the response, ensuring the person understands but we are not patronizing.

Responding to questions about your work is a balancing act and it depends on who, when and where the question is asked. One can politely say, “wow, my brain is a bit tired now I just want to relax.” I have done that. Alternatively, you can beat the question to the punch and ask first. If you realize you are speaking to someone who likes talking about their work (and there are those who do), you continue asking them questions and this should save you. Sensitivity is important here however, people may be in a similar position to you and may really not wish to speak. In that case, it is OK to suggest a different line of conversation, such as “both of us seems to be tired of talking about our PhDs, so where are you from?”, or something similar.

10259561_723480654369462_1859309068_nThe bottom line is, like many other experiences, each person’s experience of the PhD, although there are broad similarities, is different. Personality, support, whether one is an international or local student, culture, language, and so on, all come together to influence the experience. Be reflective, know your strengths and weaknesses, and don’t be afraid to take a step back if your mind and body ask for reprieve. It is ok if at times you do not wish to speak about your PhD and it is also ok to say so; but you shouldn’t make a habit of it – discussion will benefit your ideas in the long run.

Carolyn Graham

A day of positives

I’m not sure many people actually enjoy speaking in public. As with many things in life, the more you do it, the better you get. But actually enjoying it?? Seems unlikely. So knowing that my name isn’t on that programme list gives me a nice warm feeling inside. I can just sit back, relax, and listen to what other people have to say. However, listen and understand are two very different things, and if I said I understood every part of every presentation during the 2012 PGR symposium I’d be lying. Some of the ideas were far too complex for my tiny, first year PhD brain to comprehend. At times I felt the look of confusion and bewilderment creep across my face that I see so often when one of my friends or family asks me about my ‘course’. Therefore I would never attempt to relay the information from each presentation in this blog entry (which I “volunteered” to write…and which had nothing to do with any coercion applied by Dominic or Katie!).

However, what struck me was the passion and enthusiasm that these people had for their subject. Each of the PGR students spoke with such pride that they had been able to nurture the smallest nugget of an idea into a substantial and original piece of research, regardless of how near (or far) they were to completion. It’s hard to imagine that these people, these researchers, were in the same position as me not that long ago. While I’m still battling with the dreaded ‘imposter syndrome’ and trying to concentrate on what I’m doing, while out of the corner of my eye looking at the door, waiting for security to escort me out of the building because my supervisors have realised they picked the wrong person, these people are well on their way to being called “Doctor”. The realisation that with a lot of hard work and support I can be in their place one day is incredibly reassuring.

Of course those who were not speaking did not get off the hook completely, as many of the attendees had submitted posters describing their research. While it was clear that everyone had put a great deal of work into their posters, a special mention should be given to Laura Goodwin and Abdulrahman (David) Aldawood (oh, and myself) who were chosen by Professor Gareth Williams as the top three. Our reward? An I.O.U. from Katie for an Amazon voucher…which of course we will only use to buy books and other educational materials!

So by any measure, today was a day of positives. The only negative…realising that sooner or later I’ll be one of those up there speaking!

I Won!!!!!

I received information recently from Mina Kerai (who is the research administration support assistant at SONMS) sent on behalf of Dr. Katie Featherstone. She has informed all the second year research students about our Annual PGR Symposium, which will be held on Tuesday 13th November 2012. We are required to attend this event and to give a 25 minute presentation outlining some of our preliminary findings from our data analysis.

Last year, when we celebrated the SONMS Annual PGR Symposium at our University, all research students attended and presented information about their research project in the form of a poster or a presentation. I was so excited at that time, but I was not sure whether I would have enough time to do my research poster due to my busy schedule. But I decided to spend all my free time at the weekend and made a research poster.

This was my first experience of producing a research poster. However, I got some ideas from Jessica and Catherine (my office mates) and from their posters that are placed on our office wall, as well as some ideas from both my supervisors. I designed several sections including the background of the study, study aims, methodology and research impact (outcome continuum and expected outcomes). You can see the results of my work below.

Although making a research poster was a challenging task – presenting my project on a single sheet of paper – in general I found that this task helped me to focus more my ideas about my project. I stood next to my poster during the lunch break on the day of the symposium and answered some questions of each delegate and other visitors. At the end of the symposium day, the Dean and Head of School announced me as the winner of the poster presentation that I had titled “Teaching self-care behaviour to adolescents with type 1 diabetes in Saudi Arabia’’.

Yes! I Did !!  🙂

I won first prize and a voucher for simply presenting my research poster at the SONMS Annual Postgraduate Symposium 2011.  I can hardly believe it. The competition took place as a part of the celebration of SONMS annual post graduate research symposium day. The decision was based on quality of content and design. So, the committee judged my poster as excellent. Incredible!!!  In addition, I was also very happy to talk to people about my research project. I think it can be really inspiring to see that people are really interested in your research. For me it is even more inspiring to see the impact that my research can have on people. After that I also presented my research poster two more times at Graduate School activities in 2012 – Spotlight on Social Sciences and The Voice of Humanities Conference.

I have new good news about my research poster. I had submitted an abstract to the Annual Meeting of the International Society for Paediatric and Adolescent Diabetes (ISPAD). The abstract review committee has informed me that my research poster has been accepted as a poster presentation :))

So soon I’ll be presenting my research poster again at the 38th Annual Meeting of ISPAD, to be held in Istanbul, Turkey from October 10th –13th, 2012. I look forward to it!!!