Each year, the Graduate College hosts the event Research Live!, which gives graduate students a chance to share their work with the campus and community and to practice their communication skills. The catch? Contestants only have 3 minutes to describe their work and it needs to be accessible to a generalist audience. Last year, a number of students took the challenge. We interviewed four about their experience and got some of their tips for public speaking.
1. Why did you choose to participate in Research Live!?
Gabriel Piqué (Music): Last fall I took the course “Music in Higher Education,” where we learned about the importance of being able to talk about what we do as musicians. As a final project, the professor required everyone give a presentation geared toward a general audience explaining our own projects and research. He also told us that the music program has been historically underrepresented in Research Live! and encouraged everyone in the class to apply.
Parinaz Fathi (Bioengineering): I wanted to participate for two reasons: 1) I thought it would be a fun challenge to try to summarize many years of research in such a short time, and 2) I think it's important to make research accessible to a general audience.
Junghwan Kim (Geography): I always enjoy communicating my thoughts and research with other people, and I thought Research Live would be a good chance for me to share my master's thesis research with other members of the campus. Moreover, as an ESL person, I thought participating would be a good opportunity for me to polish my English-speaking skills.
Kelly Clary (Social Work): I chose to participate after attending a summer workshop on talking about your research. After learning about the competition, I set a goal to compete and place! I absolutely love public speaking and always enjoy a challenge, so it seemed like a great opportunity.
2. What did you enjoy the most about preparing for Research Live!? What did you find challenging (and how did you overcome it)?
Gabriel: I enjoyed how similar it was to practicing my instrument. The whole process felt incredibly familiar and comfortable, just with speaking instead of playing. I find the moments immediately preceding being on stage to be the most terrifying. When you’re sitting there in the audience, watching the people go before you, it’s important to not compare yourself to others. Deep, relaxed breaths can help slow your heartrate, and reminding yourself that the competition isn’t between you and the people on stage, but rather with you and your previous self is something that always helps me realize how much I have progressed.
Parinaz: It was really fun to hear other students' presentations—I got to learn a lot about research in other fields that I never would have learned about otherwise. Putting together my presentation was a bit challenging. I usually incorporate animations into my presentations to allow the audience to see information piece by piece, so it was a bit difficult to put together such a short presentation without any animations. I ended up reducing the contents of my slides so it wouldn't be overwhelming for the audience.
Junghwan: Experiencing the wholehearted support from my department was the most exciting thing while preparing for Research Live. The challenging thing is to condense my thoughts to a 3 minute talk, which is much shorter than I expected. Another challenging thing was to try not to use jargon that is widely used only in my field.
Kelly: I enjoyed receiving feedback from a lot of people! Since I was constantly practicing and sharing my research with others, it was fun to connect with people who did not know about my research plans. They offered great feedback about my speaking style and the information I should focus on.
3. What is one piece of advice you would give to other students who are preparing research talks or thinking about participating in Research Live!?
Gabriel: PRACTICE. Don’t think you can walk on stage and wing it. Practice in front of people too. You don’t want your first time giving a speech to be in front of a crowd holding a microphone. Recording yourself is also one of the most helpful ways to realize how many filler words you use, how dumb your facial expressions are, and how awkward your hands look.
Parinaz: I would advise students to always consider their audience when preparing research talks. Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in explaining the details of our work and we miss out on telling people why our research is important. Research Live! is a great opportunity for us to think about why we're doing what we're doing, and how we can convey the importance of our work to others.
Junghwan: I think that properly situating your presentation is the most important thing. Unlike many situations in academia when you typically present your research to people in your field, in Research Live!, audiences come from various backgrounds. Therefore, you will want to try not to use jargon and to focus on showing audiences that your research topic matters to them.
Kelly: One piece of advice I would give to others is to practice your talk as much as you can! I recorded myself, did it in front of the mirror, and rehearsed with my dogs and husband probably a million times!
4. What was the most important thing you learned from participating in Research Live!? Moving forward, how do you plan to use the skills you developed?
Gabriel: The most important thing I learned from Research Live! is how difficult it is to talk about what we do. We spend all day surrounded by people who understand us and our research, but in order to explain what we do to someone who never even knew our field existed is a whole other ballpark.
Parinaz: One thing I learned is the importance of explaining concepts and tools, even if you think they're very simple. I remember one of the judges from the preliminary round commented positively about my explanation of 3D printing. That's something I wouldn't have explained if I were presenting to an audience of engineers, but I needed to explain it for a more diverse audience. I'm involved in STEM outreach (specifically through ENVISION, a graduate RSO), and I think the experience from Research Live! has made me more aware of how to present to general audiences, which can help me make science and engineering more accessible to kids.
Junghwan: I learned that I should keep thinking about how I can effectively communicate my research with broader audiences who are outside of my department. I plan to keep polishing the skills that I learned while participating in Research Live! by actively presenting my work to other people.
Kelly: The most important thing I learned from Research Live! is to be confident. I sometimes struggle with the Imposter Syndrome as a PhD student, but I try to remind myself that I know my specific research area the best! If I want others to know how meaningful my work is, I must be confident when sharing.
5. You’ve completed a research talk in three minutes or less, which is an impressive feat! What is something equally impressive that you can do in three minutes?
Gabriel: I can make a mean quesadilla in 3 minutes.
Parinaz: Some of the nano/micro-particles I make for my research can be made pretty quickly, so I guess I can make a batch of particles in three minutes. I also used to do Tae Kwon Do, and many of our forms could be done in three minutes or less.
Junghwan: I like playing the piano in my spare time. Since fall 2016, I have been playing jazz piano in the Piano Laboratory Program on campus. Every semester, I prepare a jazz piano piece, which is about 3 minutes long, and play it in a recital.
Kelly: I can fall asleep in 3 minutes or less just about anywhere including the beach, the pool, and airplanes!
Are you interested in participating in Research Live!? Check out our website for more information and visit Media Space for videos of past competitors.
Are you interested in developing your communication skills? Visit our Communications Skills page for resources to help you and the Graduate College calendar will have upcoming workshops and events you might be interested in.
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.