Last week I gave my departmental seminar. Im pretty sure every school does this– while you are getting your PhD, every so often you have to stand up in front of everyone and tell everyone what you are doing, and why, and what it means. A lot of being a scientist is knowing how to present your data, so as terrifying as it is (well, at least for me, even after all these years) it really is an excellent learning experience.
You would think that since I have done this so many times before, and since I have gotten extra practice speaking about science to the general public, that this would be a piece of cake for me. But I still have a lot to learn. I tend to use my hands to make gestures that could be interpreted as ‘terrifying’, I slide into colloquialisms, and sometimes I say what is in my head, rather than stating things in a more professional manner (I bet you all have a hard time believing this, LOL!).
I normally get pummeled with questions during these seminars. First, Ive done some pretty neat stuff, and people want to know more details. And, my lab is pretty much the lone virology group among lots and lots of bacteriologists, immunologists, etc, so I get lots of practical and more basic questions, or suggestions for how to do things from a different angle. And then this year I was the first to go, so the professors had a summers worth of inquisitiveness they were itching to let loose (it was actually really fun!).
The Q&A is normally what scares presenters the most. You arent in control over what is going on anymore. Nothing is set up on a slide. Nothing is scripted. You just have to roll with it.
And this is where I think I have gained the most from speaking to the general public about science. What I have learned from the audience– I LOVE Q&A. LOVE IT. I dont view it as a scary thing– I have a very positive view of everyone who raises their hand to ask something, because in all of my presentations (even the ‘debates’ with Creationists) there are always fantastic questions from excited, curious people. Its gotten to the point where I would just as soon make a shorter presentation, make sure everyone goes home with a new nugget of information, and I spend the rest of the time answering questions. LOVE IT.
So when I give seminars, Im not scared of questions. I dont think anyone is out to trip me up. I dont think anyone is asking something ‘stupid’. I think ‘This person actually listened to my talk, something I said got them thinking, excited, and they had the guts to raise their hand to ask for more information. Thats COOL!!’
So I just wanted to make a post to officially thank all the folks who have ever asked me a Q at a presentation (and everyone who has asked me a Q here or via email, though I suck at responding to those in a timely manner… just keep bugging me!). Youve made my life less stressful, youve made me a better scientist.