Group Meetings - Guidelines for Oral
In our research group, we have weekly
group meetings; unfortunately, during the academic year, these usually fall
outside of the "usual" 8-5 time slot, due to the conflicting schedules
of eight students (and the Research Director!). Most typically, they
are held at 5:00pm on either Monday or
Wednesday - this is
convenient for the chemistry majors, since these times immediately
follow the Departmental seminar slots. (One of the many great
things about summer research is picking a meeting time we all like!)
The content of the meetings varies
between two main themes: students discuss either theirresearch project or a paper
from a very recent chemistry journal. Specific pointers for each type of talk will follow,
but there are some general guidelines concerning the presentation of
scientific work; these apply to all such talks.
Students who have been in the group (or in any THB
classes, for that matter) will tell you what a great believer I am in
giving students every opportunity to speak and write about chemical
subjects. One of my favorite tried & true phrases is this:
may be the best, smartest, most creative chemist the world has ever
known, BUT, if you can't WRITE or TALK about your work,
your greatness will be your own little secret!
absolutely imperative that you develop both speaking and writing skills
as a scientist, which is why you get feedback on your semester reports
before the final copy is due, and why you (will) do so much speaking in
front of the group. This Handbook already has a page dealing with your
written reports; we'll now deal with oral presentations.
point out, parenthetically, that very
few group meeting presentations in the past couple of years have
been what I would consider to be well done. Graduate, medical, pharmacy, and other schools always
ask about oral skills, and it is primarily from group meeting
talks that I derive my information to answer this question. So, if only
for purely pragmatic, shockingly self-serving reasons, you should
strive to do a really excellent job in your group talks. It is NOT DIFFICULT to
do a SUPER JOB on a 25-35 minute talk which you only have to do once
on to the talks. An Italian university has a great, somewhat humorous site concerning scientific presentations; you
should definitely check it out. Also, the ACS publishes a Handbook for Speakers, with sections on both
formal (podium) and poster presentations. This guide is comprehensive,
with tips on not only how to deliver your talk, but also the
preparation of visual aids and other ancillary items. These two guides
have all the information you need to present a great talk. For the
chemistry majors in the group, you hear at least one, and usually two,
seminars per week (btw, we welcome biology types to all of our
seminars); you should start listening to these critically, and see if
you can identify some very good things you want to remember, as well as
some terrible features that you'll want to avoid like the plague.
are the characteristics of a great 20min talk on a literature article:
Well-organized - one idea flows
seamlessly to the next, as if the person is having a conversation,
telling you a story that s/he thinks is pretty slick.
Intro - you learn what problem existed prior to the
work being described, and how the project was designed to fill that
void in chemical knowledge.
Handout - which contains all of the ideas in outline
and/or table form, which keeps the speaker from engaging in that most
annoying practice, silent board drawing.
the High Points - no distracting discussions of
irrelevant things, just the core concepts or results.
Her/His Stuff!!! - does not do that even more annoying
thing: looking through the paper they're discussing, as if it's the
first time they saw it. [Actually, this will stop of its own
accord, because starting now, speakers in group meetings will only be
able to refer to the handout they supply to the group.
- Concise Conclusion - re-states the
original problem, and summarizes, in a couple of sentences, how the
work described int he paper adderssed - and hopefully solved - the
characteristics of a great 20min talk on your own research are pretty much the same, except that the level of understanding should be much deeper,
may not refer to any notes
whatsoever - except for the handout you
this is only to point something out to someone, not to refresh your
memory. If you can't talk for 15-20 minutes about the research
project you're working on in the lab (especially during the summer!),
then we have problems much deeper
than adequate preparation of a short talk to your own research group.
several common elements in talks that are sub-par, both in our past
group presentations and in the Departmental seminar course; I present
them here for your edification and avoidance, in approximate order of
nonexistent) introduction - almost
NO speakers set the stage properly, so that the audience knows why the
research was undertaken! Without this, the talks seem directionless,
and have ZERO suspense factor or sense of rooting for the
researcher(s). If you're talking about your own research, there's
zero excuse for not being able to do this extemporaneously, since, if you
don't know why your research project is important or
what gap in scientific information it's designed to fill, then you are
functioning just as a pair of hands that does exactly what they're told
without thinking - bad for you, bad for me, bad for the group.
Blackboard Drawing - there are few things more boring, or
giving the impression that the speaker is trying to use up time, than
watching someone draw on the board in total, absolute, agonizing,
you'd-hear-a-pin-drop silence. It is much easier than you think to
carry on a dialog while you draw; the key is (guess what) preparation!
attitude - if a speaker gives the clear impression that s/he
doesn't give a damn about the subject, you can bet that the audience
won't, either. If your attitude conveys the message that you don't care
about your own work, and that you spent *maybe* a
half-hour on the talk's preparation, it has several effects, none of
which serve you at all well:
It will seem obvious that you're
not invested in your
work, and I start thinking about the
students I turned down to let you into the group, wondering if
one of them might be just a bit more serious....
You'll look like you're trying
to project an air of
having this organic chemistry stuff down so cold that you
can slide right in and whip off a short talk with essentially no
preparation, showing how smart and slick you are. In reality, you
just look silly. This description is very detailed and exact because
I've seen too much of it, and finally decided
that it's got to stop.
You'll look very disorganized, AND
unwilling to put in the time to do a GOOD job, since, hell,
it's ONLY a talk to your research group! Remember, these talks usually
form an important part of my letter to wherever you're going next, and
got a long memory.
will impact the "professionalism" part of your grade, and it
won't be a positive one.
***Effective immediately, whenever
someone presents a talk to the group that is clearly below our
standards, they'll be asked to do it again, the following week, on
either the exact same topic or a different one, depending on a number
of factors, including the phase of the moon and my current pain levels.