Laura Adamovicz is hard at work saving the world — one turtle at a time. Last year Laura, a PhD candidate in Comparative Biosciences, won first place in Research Live! — a competition that challenges graduate students to describe their work in three minutes or less. In her talk, titled “Turtles in Trouble: Applications of Health Assessment for Conservation,” Laura explained how her work combines math, science, and medicine to study the impact of the environment and infectious diseases on several box turtle populations, with the ultimate goal of improving conservation efforts in animal species.
We checked in with Laura (who will serve as a judge at this year’s competition) to hear about why she decided to participate in Research Live! and to see where her research and fieldwork has taken her this past year.
What inspired you to participate in Research Live!?
Prior to attending veterinary school and grad school, I was a zookeeper performing educational presentations for park guests. This experience taught me that conservation efforts work best when you can effectively communicate their importance to the general public. As a veterinarian, clear communication also enabled me to serve as the best possible advocate for my patients. My ultimate goal to support wildlife health and save species is completely dependent upon my ability to persuade people that they should care about conservation. Research Live! provided a great platform to connect with local people who can directly and indirectly promote wildlife wellness through their actions and choices. It’s hard to ignore an opportunity like that!
What was the most important thing you learned from your Research Live! experience?
First, it was pretty awesome to hear about the diversity of research going on at Illinois, and to watch some excellently structured presentations! I did not anticipate how challenging it would be to give a lay presentation in such a short time, without the benefit of many visual aids. This experience really pushes you to condense your research down into the most salient points, while still clearly demonstrating the importance and validity of your approach. Effective communication in science can be difficult, but extremely rewarding!
Can you give us an update on your research?
My research involves performing comprehensive veterinary health assessments in multiple populations of turtles and salamanders over the course of several years, then using that data to build epidemiologic models that help identify the most important predictors of good health, and the most clinically useful diagnostic tests for health assessment. This approach will hopefully allow us to tailor management and monitoring recommendations specifically towards the needs of my study species. I have just completed my final year of data collection, including over 1000 physical examinations and diagnostic tests, and am in the process of model construction and validation. I expect to finalize my results within the next few months.
Do you have any long-term plans/goals after finishing your PhD?
My ultimate goal is to continue performing practical and useful research that promotes the conservation of wild animals, and advances veterinary management strategies. I could pursue this goal at a veterinary school, a university, a large zoo, or an NGO.
What advice would you give graduate students who want to improve their communication skills?
Practice is the best way to build good communication skills. Take all the opportunities you can to create and give presentations, and get feedback on each one to learn what works well. I have found courses in public speaking, interpersonal communication, and group work to be useful in honing my own presentation skills. Studying good presenters and their visual aids is another useful strategy. Effective communication is also highly dependent on understanding your audience and their motivations, so you really have to think about the audience every time you plan a presentation.
Would you encourage other graduate students to participate in Research Live! and, if so, why?
Absolutely! Scientists need to get better at communicating the purpose and significance of our work with general audiences. Despite the importance of this goal, we have very few opportunities to practice. Research Live! is a great chance to break out of our typical, technical presentations and speak directly to people who may benefit from our research. It is a challenging, but fun opportunity to grow.
If you are interested in watching finalists from previous Research Live! competitions, check out Media Space, and don't miss the Research Live! finals during Graduate Student Appreciation Week. If you are preparing to give a talk about your research, you can read some tips on our Communication Skills page.
This interview was conducted by Emily Wuchner, who is the Associate Director for Student Experience at the Graduate College. She holds a PhD in musicology from the University of Illinois, and her work focuses on music and social welfare in eighteenth-century Austria. In her free time, she enjoys boxing, reading, and knitting and crochet.