A quick update for all our readers – Cristina and I (Atif) will be in beautiful Gainesville, Florida this week for the National Association of Science Writers/Council for the Advancement of Science Writers annual conference!
Scientists know science. And they’re good at getting science news. Know who’s not? Non-scientists. Yet non-scientists outnumber scientists, and their attitudes, believes, intellects (or not) and their votes help determine science policies, from funding for stem cells to what’s taught in school. The near-extinction of science reporters at local news outlets has created a gap in a steady stream of legitimate, dependable science news. Yet today there are more ways than ever to reach the general public. This session is about expanding your audience beyond the science in crowd. We’ll talk with two young scientists who are passionate about finding new ways to reach new audiences and we’ll explore ideas for how PIOs, freelancers, staff reporters and even scientists themselves can take a lesson from the universe and expand.
If you see either of us around, be sure to say hi! We’ll be at most of the events, and would love to meet you!
You’ve spent the last month working on a manuscript/paper, have fleshed out your ideas, spent countless late nights editing and making things sound *just* right, and you’ve finally sent it in to your supervisor. This will be the draft. This will be the one that they read and go “Wow! Good job! Submit this to Nature immediately!” And it’ll be accepted within a week, and you’ll be flown to Washington to present the paper to President Barack Obama himself, and, while you’re there, BB King will show up and you’ll jam together in the oval office, and, just when you think you’re about to finish your Epic Blues Jam Session, Bill Clinton will come by and play the saxophone.
But then, your supervisor sends you your paper back, and it’s either covered in red ink or there are 714 comments in Microsoft’s Track Changes.
One of the major reasons you’re in grad school is to learn from these experiences. There is a reason your supervisor is the Canada Research Chair of Awesomeness, or is internationally known for their work. It’s because they’re very good at what they do, and part of what they do is write, and write well. Your goal is to learn everything you can from them, and in that process, improve your skills. And writing is just one part of this process – your ideas will need refinement, your writing will need work, your teaching will need improvement, all of these are skills you can work on during your graduate education. However, in order to improve, you need to deal with feedback, which can come from a wide range of sources including your supervisor, your students (via TA/TF evaluations) and people at conferences.
1: Take a break.
The first thing I tell all the students I work with when they get back corrections is to read it, then leave it. Skim over the comments, get that initial “THIS IS THE WORST NEWS EVAR!” feeling out, and then go for a walk. Once that initial visceral response has passed, you can start dealing with the comments themselves. As this 99u article says:
Don’t react defensively – or aggressively – no matter how hurt, disappointed, or annoyed you feel. Start by taking a deep breath and reminding yourself of your goal.
2: Remove emotion from the equation.
As silly as it sounds, you do get emotionally attached to your writing over time. You’ve spent countless hours tweaking everything, making it sound *just right* before sending it in. You’ve read and reread sentences again and again to make sure they’re clear. Your supervisor then rewrites many of those sentences, and may suggest that some are unclear and need work. At a conference, someone might be less diplomatic, and call your work all kinds of names. You need to take emotion out of the equation as you hear those comments, and decide what comments have merit and require further thought. One thing you should not do is take criticism of you to be a personal attack. Negative feedback isn’t personal. By removing any emotional responses from the comments, you can evaluate comments on their own merit, and decide how to deal with them.
3: Triage comments
In an emergency room, patients are triaged. Those with life-threatening conditions are identified as high priorities, while those who do not need immediate attention will be waiting for beds to open up. Similarly, you need to identify which comments are important, and need to be addressed immediately, and which are stylistic and you can let slide. Pick your battles.
4: Identify constructive criticism
We’re now thinking of comments outside of those that your supervisor would give you – we’re into the realm of feedback from students, audience members at presentations, and others. Listen to the comments, and understand why the feedback is being given and what you can do to improve. What you really need to do here is identify what is constructive and helpful, and where the comment is coming from so you know how to fix it. Use the comments to help you, and be objective about whether or not it is useful – even if you don’t like the comment.
5: Ignore personal attacks
One of the best pieces of advice I got as a Masters student was to listen to all comments and evaluate them all, even the ones you don’t agree with, but to always ignore personal attacks. And you will get personal attacks – students will write mean comments in TA evaluations, people will attack you at conferences, and, especially if you put your ideas out on the internet, you will get called all kinds of names. It’s very easy to dwell on those comments: don’t. You know you’re good at what you do, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
6: Don’t listen to everyone
And thus we get to the final point: don’t listen to everyone. Everyone will have advice, everyone will have an opinion. Take the points that you like, synthesize them, and use your own judgement to decide what works for you and fits your project/worldview (that includes this article). Don’t accept everything blindly. Decide what you stand for, and if someone is arguing with you about it, plant your feet firmly and don’t budge.
Friend of the blog Sharday Mosurinjohn recently interviewed me for a profile on the Queen’s University School of Graduate Studies website. The first paragraph of her (very flattering) interview is below, and follow the link provided for the whole thing.
Kukaswadia moved to Canada in 2002 with his family from the UK. He started his undergraduate degree in Biology at Carleton University, where he focused on ecology and studied caterpillars, butterflies and mud shrimp. The thing Kukaswadia most enjoyed about ecology was how “everything was interconnected – you never study one squirrel in isolation. You study the whole environment and how elements of the environment interact.”
While he enjoyed Ecology, he realized that studying butterflies and caterpillars wasn’t for him. So he started a second degree in Health Psychology. Using his background in ecology, he began looking at humans the same way he had been trained to look at non-human animals and, specifically, at how the environment affects humans. This combination of interests led him to Queen’s, and the Department of Public Health Sciences.
Fall is in the air. The frosh are back on campus, chanting, screaming, causing general havoc and every so often it’s like you’re crossing the Bruinen, and next thing you know, you’ve been swept up and now you’re suddenly climbing up a football upright covered in grease and surrounded by engineers when you just were trying to head home.
Note: This is a factual representation of how frosh groups move.
In the spirit of Frosh week, I thought I’d share some facts with you. Since this will be the Class of 2017, here are 17 things that happened the year the frosh were born – 1995!
1. The Prime Minister of Canada was Jean Chrétien
2. TLC released their most successful single: Waterfalls. It spent seven weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was their second #1 hit following 1994’s Creep. It still remains very sound advice for life, especially if you’re a salmon.
3. Daniel Alfredsson played his first season with the Ottawa Senators, winning the Calder for the 95-96 season and scoring 61 points in 82 games. He went on to play 1178 games with Ottawa over 17 seasons, 14 of those as Captain, making him the longest serving European captain in NHL history. He then retired. Yes. He didn’t sign with another team in the same division. He retired.
4. Deep Blue Something release “Breakfast at Tiffany’s!” The song is now known as the thing everyone says when asked “What do you want to do for breakfast?”
5. Oasis releases their most recognizable hit, Wonderwall in 1995. By 1996, every guy ever has learnt how to play it on guitar, and now if you’re ever in a group of more than 4 guys and a guitar, The Oasis Law ™ states that at least one will try and play Wonderwall and encourage you all to join in.
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!
Just a short note today – I (Atif) will be heading to the Canadian Public Health Association Conference next week, which is being held in my home town of Ottawa, Ontario. I’ve never been to the CPHA Conference, so I’m looking forward to it.
I’ll be tweeting findings from the conference using the #CPHA13 hashtag, and I’m hoping others will be too. There are a wide range of presentations this year, and I’m excited to hear about all the research that people are doing, as well as the vision that CPHA has for themselves and for their role in promoting public health in Canada.
I’m going to presenting a poster on one of the studies from my PhD titled “A Cross-sectional Analysis of Immigrant Status and Its Relation to Physical Activity Among Canadian Youth.” I’ll be by my poster for the breaks, so drop by Canada Hall 2 to learn all about it.
If you’re attending the conference, leave a comment with details of your own presentation so that other readers can attend your talks. And if you see me at the conference, be sure to say hi!
Science has an awkward relationship with the public. There’s a perception that we exist in an ivory tower, and the common media perception (as is evident by shows like The Big Bang Theory) is that we’re somewhat socially inept, with a lack of people skills and an inability to talk about our work in a way that others can understand.
So I was thrilled when #overlyhonestmethods became a thing. There have been many little science in-jokes floating around the twittersphere; one of my favourite was the hashtag #middleearthpublichealth which came out right before The Hobbit released in theatres. Tweets like “Craving the ‘Precious’: Gollum, a case study of the public health impact of severe ring addiction, Lancet 2010” abounded, and they illustrated public health rather nicely (for more, check out Brett Keller’s blogpost). However, they only catered to a niche audience: public health professionals, and public health professionals who got the Lord of the Rings references.
In a nutshell, I think science is awesome. But I also think that science is suffering a public relations crisis at the moment, with people having a hard time understanding what it is we do, and more important why scientific research matters. That idea is what fuelled my TEDx talk above.
For those wondering, TEDxQueens was a great experience. There were a range of people there, including fellow PhD candidate Heidi Penning, who spoke about her experiences raising a child with autism in her talk entitled “Discovering what lies beyond the bend.” I’d definitely recommend attending next year if this is the kind of thing you enjoy – and definitely audition if you have an idea worth spreading!
Thanks again to the TEDxQueensu team for such a great opportunity and for putting on such an awesome event.
When I was in undergrad, we would photocopy articles down in the basement of MacOdrum library at my alma mater, Carleton University. You’d have to find the call number of the journal, head down into the basement, find the right row, then bookshelf, and finally discover someone had already taken the journal to photocopy it. I learned quickly to check the photocopy room first to see if someone already had the article rather than looking for it first.
But now we’ve moved into a world where everything is done electronically. Through the power of PubMed, Google Scholar and numerous others, you can obtain PDFs of many articles via your institution. And now, many of those articles are available under Open Access rules – so anyone can access them, regardless of academic affiliation.