PhD life: presenting science

When doing research, it can take months or even years before a result is obtained that can be published. Both I and Silvia Proietti mentioned this as one of the major challenges of working in science. This might seem to be in contrast with the idea behind this site: doing science should not be about publishing, so getting a publication only once every few years should not be a big deal. However,  behind this challenge is a bigger problem: apart from published papers, there are not many achievements we can measure our progress with. We cannot count the number of breads we baked, patients we treated or houses we helped build. We can measure the time we spent in the lab, or think of the result that might give a hint to a mechanism. Apart from that, it is almost only the number of papers that can tell us that we are doing okay.

I say ‘almost’ on purpose: there is one more thing. Apart from our papers, we can count the number of (poster) presentations we give. Being selected to give a presentation is an achievement in itself, and giving a good one is an extra achievement on top of that. During a presentation the most promising results gathered so far are combined and presented to others. Doing that in itself is already very rewarding, since it allows you to present you work proudly, instead of critically, as you would do during lab meetings. Positive feedback afterwards is kind of like the breads, patients and houses of bakers, nurses and carpenters.

Last week, I got to give my first ‘real’ presentation so far. Real in the sense that it was not a poster pitch of three minutes – although I harbor proud and happy feelings about that one – or a longer presentation, but for my own lab, PhD students in my graduate school or companies involved in my project. No, this was an eight minute presentation in front of about 100 PhD students, postdocs and professors that work in the field of life sciences in Utrecht. In contrast to ‘normal’ presentations, I was pretty nervous beforehand and felt strangely rushed when sitting back down at the end of it.

However, when I walked out of the room for coffee time, I could start to count my ‘breads’: ‘that was excellent!’ (an American professor), ‘you were the most calm presenter of the group’ (a labmember), ‘that went very well’ (my professor), and the one I like best: ‘during you presentation I realized that your project is awesome!’ (a PhD student from a neighboring group). After this, I can handle some time again without breads to count. My project is awesome, the absence of papers is not going to change that any time soon.

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