Department Presentations

Most departments are constantly hosting visitors. These can be visiting profs, post-docs, and grad students. They may also include people who work in industry. And most departments ask these visitors to give a presentation to the department either on their research or something else they are specifically involved with.

In my department, the are three categories of visitors. There are those who give pretty research area specific presentations. This means, they’ll give a presentation tailored for a specific group of professors and students – like on Artificial Intelligence, Human Computer Interaction, Databases or Robotics. These presentations may or may not be advertised to the entire department. These presentations may be difficult to follow if it’s not within your research area.

The second category of presenters are asked to tailor their presentations such that the presentation is accessible to the entire department. This does not mean that they dumb down the presentation. Instead they usually give a high level overview or focus on a side project.

The third category are job candidates. These presentations are different, in that each candidate will give a teaching presentation and a research one. The presentations are also being judged as to how well the possible candidate will fit into the department.

This week we have a couple of these presentations happening. Luckily, one of the topics this week interests me and I actually want to go. Even when these presentations are designed for everyone, I find they are often on topics I have no interest in or know little to nothing about. When I have little interest in the topic, I can find it particularly difficult to motivate myself to go. Sitting through an hour to an hour and a half on something that bores me can be very frustrating. When it’s on something I know little about, I have the same problem, but this is partly because I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep up with the topic.

However, it’s important to make yourself go to as many of these presentations as you can. Whether you completely understand the topic or it bores you to tears, you can always learn from the presentations. Below I have three suggestions for things to do during each presentation.

Things to try to do during each presentation:

  1. Take the time to watch how the person presents. Not everyone is a great presenter. But both good and bad presenters can teach us about how to present ourselves. If you find yourself particularly engaged in the presentation, see if you can determine why. If it’s driving you nuts, what is it about the presentation that you find distracting or frustrating.
  2. See if you can write down one question. This can be really difficult to do, especially when you’re starting out. I find I still have trouble doing so. I feel intimidated by the others watching the presentations – specifically all the professors and/or very opinionated/outgoing students who always seem to be able to come up with intelligent questions. If you’re having trouble, focus on something you didn’t understand. Or something that you’d like more details about. You may also be able to create a question based on something someone else asks. The more of these presentations you attend, and the more questions you form, the better you will get at asking the intelligent questions.
  3. Ask your question. This is one area I have a lot of trouble with. Like I mentioned above, I usually feel intimidated by the others in the room. However, the best thing you can do is start putting your hand up and asking your question. The more you ask, the more comfortable you will be with asking questions in the future. And you’ll learn how best to phrase your questions.

And one thing to avoid: Do not bring your laptop with you. It’s so tempting to have it in front of you. But if it’s there, you’ll be tempted to work on your own research, surf the internet, check email or play games. You’ll be a distraction to everyone behind you who can see your screen. And it’s very disrespectful to the speaker to see people sitting in front of a sea of screens and not actually paying attention to them. The same goes for iPads and phones.

On the other hand, paper and a pen gives a very different impression. Now it looks like you’re taking notes and paying attention even if you’re doodling or making random lists.  And it’s not nearly as distracting to others. Of course, you can quickly ruin that if you start sliding the paper back and forth between your neighbour and you.

Do you usually go to the presentations at your school? Why or why not?


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