Presenting at DSAC: Honing Presentation Skills Close to Home

DSAC 2018 Covercropped.jpg

By Christy Kinney,  Genetics and Molecular Biology, ‘15

Edited by Brianna Jeanne Bixler, Genetics and Molecular Biology, 17

Learning to effectively communicate our research is one of the toughest challenges a young scientist faces in graduate school. Being able to communicate our science to a range of audiences is not only challenging, but it is also incredibly important. We need to be able to speak clearly and concisely but also be able to tailor our presentations across a wide range of audiences, whether that be to promote the support of science through science policy, explaining science to the average consumer who may have been misled by falsehoods on the internet, or just talking to someone who is kind enough to listen to what we are so passionate about. The Annual Division Student Advisory Council (DSAC) Research Symposium affords students an excellent opportunity each year to showcase their research and to practice communicating with a wide variety of scientists. The DSAC symposium celebrated its fifteenth anniversary on January 23rd of this year. Students had the opportunity to present their research as an oral or poster presentation, as well as being able to submit beautifully captured scientific images. Winners in each of the three categories were selected, and I reached out to these winners to discuss how they prepare for presentations. Oral presentation winners Elizabeth Kline (Neuroscience), Becky Pollack (GMB), and Jessica Shartouny (IMP) provided tips on preparation, as well as quelling nerves before their presentations. Poster presentation winners Dillon Patterson (GMB), Madeline Price (IMP), and Madelyn Houser (IMP) also provided tips and tricks to make getting through a presentation more streamlined and enjoyable.

  From left to right, Madelyn Houser, Jessica Shartouny, Madeline Price with their certificates.

From left to right, Madelyn Houser, Jessica Shartouny, Madeline Price with their certificates.

Elizabeth Kline, who won first place for her oral presentation “Synergy Between Common Genetic Variants in Antigen Presentation Capacity and Pyrethroid Exposure Affects Peripheral Immunophenotype and Nigrostriatal Pathway Vulnerability”, candidly provided advice on confidently getting through a talk. She stated, “Practice your talk out loud. Call your friends and give your talk over the phone. Convince yourself that nothing matters and that you’re very small relative to the universe so it doesn’t matter if you do a bad job, in the scheme of things. (Of course it matters very much, because science communication is vital, but that’s my trick to calm myself.)”

Second and third place winners for the oral presentation, Becky Pollack and Jessica Shartouny, both stated they enjoy giving talks and don’t get particularly nervous beforehand. Becky says that reminding herself that she’s confident in what she knows helps her present talks. Jessica says, “I don't usually get nervous before a presentation, especially when I'm presenting about my research. It's a subject that I love and that I know better than anyone else, so I'm excited to share it with others.” Often times, it is easy to forget that we really are the experts on our projects. Reminding yourself of that from time to time and working hard to kick that nagging imposter syndrome out the door are vital skills to develop in graduate school. Talking in front of a large audience can be intimidating, but remembering that they want to learn from you and help you improve your science in any possible way, is reassuring.

Dillon Patterson and Madeline Price, both third year graduate students in Jerry Boss’s lab, tied for first place for poster presentations. Both emphasized the importance of practice for giving a good presentation. Dillon says, “Knowing the key points you want to make ahead of time for each figure or slide helps formulate the rest of the presentation.” Madeline emphasizes the importance of familiarity and confidence with the beginning of a presentation: “Make sure you’re very familiar with what you want to say. The first few minutes are especially important for me. If I’m comfortable and well-rehearsed for the start, the rest seems to flow more naturally.”

   Madelyn Houser pictured next to her winning poster.

Madelyn Houser pictured next to her winning poster.

Third place winner for the poster presentations, Madelyn Houser, admits to having some nervousness before, but she offers useful advice on how to overcome these nerves. She says, “There is always nervousness before a presentation for me, but I control it by focusing on what I'm going to be presenting - in this case, my science. I think about how worthwhile it could be for people to hear about it and understand it and how important it is for me to communicate it effectively. That puts my focus on the message and not on me.”

Kyle Gerber, a fifth-year MSP student in the Hepler lab, was the first place ICI image contest winner (see accompanying picture). He described it as “3D projection of z-stacks taken on a confocal scope of the F-actin cytoskeleton of a dissociated hippocampal mouse neuron in culture visualized using transiently transfected LifeAct-Ruby”. Images like this help visually display the high-quality work being produced at Emory.

   Kyle Gerber’s winning image.

Kyle Gerber’s winning image.

  Dr. Nael McCarty discussing posters with students.

Dr. Nael McCarty discussing posters with students.

Winners spoke positively of their experiences at the symposium and encouraged other students to get involved and present. Jessica enjoyed the enthusiasm of participants, as well as the useful feedback she received on her project. Becky and Madeline both emphasized the opportunity to learn what peers are working on through the symposium. DSAC provides students the ability to build their CV and hone their presentation skills in an intimate environment without leaving campus. For more information regarding this symposium, please visit http://biomed.emory.edu/news-events/events/dsac-research-symposium.html.

Poster Award Winners:
1st: Dillon Patterson (GMB) & Madeline Price (IMP)
2nd: Madelyn Houser (IMP)
3rd: Erin King (NS)
 
Oral Presentation Award Winners:
1st: Elizabeth Kline (NS)
2nd: Rebecca Pollak (GMB)
3rd: Jessica Shartouny (IMP)
 
ICI Image Awardees:
1st: Kyle Gerber (MSP)
2nd: Rebecca Dillard (MMG)
3rd: Brian Pedro (CB)
Honorable mentions:   
Stephanie Pollitt (NS)
Cara Schiavon (CB)
Emily Summerbell (CB)