Please, please, please, know your research

Please, please, please, know your research. I know I’ve talked about this before. And really, it wasn’t that long ago (I only started blogging in January). But I just can’t emphasize this enough. It’s really important to know your research. To not be put on the spot when someone asks you about it. If you need to turn to your supervisor or other research group members when someone asks you a question about your research, then you have a problem.

As you can probably guess, this week I had an unfortunate experience with this. A member of my research group was giving a demo on his own work to a visitor. He went to show a particular part of it, and our supervisor asked him a question about it. This is for work he’s using in an upcoming study. This is work he should know inside out and upside down. And he couldn’t answer it. This doesn’t just make him look bad, it makes our entire research team look bad. I was also very embarrassed, and if I was embarrassed, I wonder how he felt.

Being shy is not a good enough excuse. And, at least, being shy is obvious. It’s very different from the way someone acts when they just don’t know. It’s one thing to be asked a question related to your research – but not on your exact research – and to say that you’ll need to look into it or think about it and you’ll get back to them later (and do get back to them). It’s so very different when it’s our research. It makes you look bad when you can’t explain what your working on.

Presenting to others is a vital skill that all grad students need to develop. If you’re not great at it, then take steps to get better. Look into joining clubs or taking classes. Practice at every moment. If you are given a heads up that a presentation is coming up, prepare for it. Even if you have no warning, you should have short presentations to fall back on. The 30 second, 5 or 10 minute type speeches.

The best thing you can do, for both yourself, and anyone you work with, is to become confident in talking about your research. You are, and should be, the expert on what you’re doing. So, talk with confidence – but don’t make stuff up if you don’t know.

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