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Mr Epidemiology

No, I'm not a skin doctor

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July 2013

Star Wars: Identities, or “Learn psychology, you will. Hrmmmm.”

The exhibit features concept art, costumes, props and many other pieces from the movies. Pictured here is Anakin Skywalker's Podracer from The Phantom Menace | Photo credit: Atif Kukaswadia
The exhibit features concept art, costumes, props and many other pieces from the movies. Pictured here is Anakin Skywalker’s Podracer from The Phantom Menace | Photo credit: Atif Kukaswadia

Anyone who has been following my posts knows that I have a huge weakness for sci-fi and science, and if someone was to marry the two of those together, I’d be there immediately. Especially if it involved Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars or Middle Earth.

Well, it happened.

The Canada Aviation and Space Museum is currently hosting Star Wars: Identities. Star Wars: Identities is a travelling exhibit that highlights human development using the mythos of the Star Wars universe. I had been keeping an eye on this exhibit as a few years ago I had been to the Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology exhibit in Montreal, which was excellent, and the same organization (X3 Productions) was responsible for this one. And when I found out they were using Star Wars to teach people about psychology, I knew I had to go.

You see, we all have questions about how and why people turn out the way they do. Even people raised under the same roof can have wildly disparate personalities, and can view the world through very different lenses. The exhibit highlights the difference between Anakin and Luke Skywalker, and how, despite coming from the same planet and having (similar) genetic makeup, their lives take two very different trajectories based on their experiences and the environments they are exposed to.

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When is a wedding speech like an academic talk? 5 Tips to supercharge your next Powerpoint presentation

Former President Bill Clinton can adlib a speech. I highly recommend that you do not.

Public speaking is something that terrifies many people, and is one of the most common fears people have. The combination of nervousness, wondering if people will understand you and finally just having everyone focused on you is not a relaxing experience.

As adults who have passed their early twenties, there are two places you’ll be invited to speak: At a wedding, or at conferences. Both are high stress situations. In both cases, you’ve been selected to talk to a group of people you’re unfamiliar with. But, despite their superficial differences, they have a lot in common. To aid you with your next wedding toast/academic presentation, I’ve come up with the following five tips.

Wedding/Presentation Tip #1: Be brief
How much time do you have? 10 minutes? Cut off two minutes. Always aim to be shorter rather than longer. Three key reasons why: 1) This gives you a few minutes as a cushion in case you lose your train of thought/start crying, 2 ) if the moderator holds up signs when you have 2 minutes to go, you know that you’ll be done before then (wedding analogue: when the MC starts edging towards you slowly) and 3) you’re less likely to lose people’s attention if you’re short. Keep things short, keep things precise. Get up, make your point, sit down.

Wedding/Presentation Tip #2: Be prepared
I once heard that the best public speakers aren’t naturally gifted; they’re the best prepared. Run through your talk multiple times before to ensure that you have your timing down. Be comfortable with your talk. Present to your friends and get them to critique you – does your talk make sense? Is the pacing okay? Read it out loud to yourself to see how it flows. These are all structural problems that can be fixed before your talk and will help you wow your audience.

Now, there are exceptions to this. Bill Clinton adlibbed a large chunk of his speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, and it was well recieved. However, not only is he a talented speaker, he has also spent years perfecting this skill. Your best friend’s wedding is not the place to practice. Practice takes time and effort. You may have to start working on your presentation further in advance to ensure you have it done and have enough time to rehearse. No more last minute presentations. But that’s the difference between the presenter who gets up there and looks professional, in control, and organized and the presenter who gets up there and says “Oh. I didn’t know this slide was coming up next.”

Wedding/Presentation Tip #3: Know your audience
If your talking at a wedding and you know the in-laws are very conservative/religious, you have to tone down your jokes to be appropriate. Similarly, if you’re giving a talk to a room full of students, or researchers in your field, or the general public, you have to change your talk accordingly. Know your audience and what their background is when preparing your talk. For weddings this means introduce yourself and your relationship with the couple as not everyone knows you and ensuring you add enough backstory to your speech so that you don’t lose your audience. For academic presentations, take a step back and start by explaining your research in broad terms, rather than jumping directly into the nuts and bolts of what you’re doing.

Wedding/Presentation Tip #4: Inside jokes/Jargon
One of the worst things to hear at a wedding is 10 minutes of insides jokes that no one else in understands. No one wants to hear you drone on about that one time you guys had a burrito at 3am. Analogously, no one wants to hear a sentence full of acronyms at a presentation. However, this does play into point #3 – if the audience is one that knows the jargon in your field (at which it’s no longer jargon), then you’re fine. But if the audience is not, then avoid any unnecessary technical language, or if you do use it, make sure you define it clearly up front. KISS. Keep It Simple Stupid.

Wedding/Presentation Tip #5: Enjoy yourself
Have fun with it! If you know what you’re going to say, and if you have practiced that will go a long way to alleviating any stress you might be feeling leading up to the big day. Being prepared will allow you to have a presentation that feels comfortable and one that is true to you, and that confidence will come through in your demeanor, approach and body language. This isn’t something that will improve overnight, but with every talk you give, you’ll get better.

Good luck to you, and here’s hoping the lucky couple/your supervisors love your talk!

 

This entry was posted simultaneously on Gradifying

Public-Private Partnerships: A contentious issue that demands discussion

An issue that keeps coming up at conferences I’ve been at lately has been the role of industry in public health. It’s an interesting question, as funding for prevention requires a level of political will and foresight that will not lend immediate dividends, and may not for 10, 20 or even 30 years. Given how many politicians now exist in a perpetual election cycle where any misstep is captured and covered ad nauseum, not having immediate payoffs are a risky proposition. Add to this an aging population that requires immediate and tangible medical care, and (in those countries that have public healthcare) there is a tough decision that has to be made: immediate and tangible dividends, or long term goals that you may not be around to enjoy.

As a result, groups have turned to other partners to acquire funding for public health interventions. These range from other public health groups, NGOs/NPOs as well as industry. While there isn’t much controversy surrounding the first two groups, the third raises no shortage of concerns among both public health people and the public. The basic question is this: Can we partner with industry, and if so, how can we partner with them in a way that keeps both sides happy?

I’ve been mulling this post over for a while now, as there isn’t an easy answer to the above question. As mentioned above, this is an issue that keeps coming up – especially in the obesity area (which comprises one of the focuses of my PhD dissertation). It culminated in an event organized by the Canadian Obesity Network – Student and New Professionals National Executive where they invited 4 speakers to speak on the issue – ranging from those who were profoundly against partnership, to those who were all for partnership, and even those in between. I’m not going to go into whether or not you *should* partner with industry, as both sides of this debate have been covered very well by Dr Arya Sharma and Dr Yoni Freedhoff in their respective blog posts on the topic.

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