Giving talks

  • This has become our largest and most active forum because the physics GRE is just one aspect of getting accepted into a graduate physics program.
  • There are applications, personal statements, letters of recommendation, visiting schools, anxiety of waiting for acceptances, deciding between schools, finding out where others are going, etc.

mhazelm
Posts: 193
Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2008 3:33 pm

Giving talks

Postby mhazelm » Fri Mar 13, 2009 3:15 pm

So, we've all done it, right? Gone to a conference and presented research? well, here's my story.

I've done a lot of these presentation things. BUT, thus far they've almost always been presentations to mostly student audiences, or poster presentations with faculty... only once or twice have I given talks on my research that were just to people with PhDs. And never to just professors in my field.

I'm kind of freaking out because in about 2 weeks I'll be speaking at a conference in my field, and there are some very reputable physicists attending - you know, the ones whose textbooks many of us have, and who have wikipedia pages and stuff. I'm very, very nervous (even though I'm not nervous at all about public speaking when it's other students or faculty at my current school). Since I'm not used to being so nervous I thought I'd ask all you what you do to feel less nervous when there are 80 pairs of eyes staring at you (and each pair corresponds to a PhD level of expertise on what you're talking about)... what do you do? imagine people in their underwear, faint, breathe into paper bag?

User avatar
coreycwgriffin
Posts: 249
Joined: Fri Nov 07, 2008 1:28 am

Re: Giving talks

Postby coreycwgriffin » Fri Mar 13, 2009 5:25 pm

mhazelm wrote:So, we've all done it, right? Gone to a conference and presented research? well, here's my story.

I've done a lot of these presentation things. BUT, thus far they've almost always been presentations to mostly student audiences, or poster presentations with faculty... only once or twice have I given talks on my research that were just to people with PhDs. And never to just professors in my field.

I'm kind of freaking out because in about 2 weeks I'll be speaking at a conference in my field, and there are some very reputable physicists attending - you know, the ones whose textbooks many of us have, and who have wikipedia pages and stuff. I'm very, very nervous (even though I'm not nervous at all about public speaking when it's other students or faculty at my current school). Since I'm not used to being so nervous I thought I'd ask all you what you do to feel less nervous when there are 80 pairs of eyes staring at you (and each pair corresponds to a PhD level of expertise on what you're talking about)... what do you do? imagine people in their underwear, faint, breathe into paper bag?


If you're going to a big conference, aren't there always multiple presentations going on at the same time? I'm not saying your presentation won't be good or relevant, but what are the chances that these famous people are going to be attending your talk?

mhazelm
Posts: 193
Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2008 3:33 pm

Re: Giving talks

Postby mhazelm » Fri Mar 13, 2009 6:05 pm

That's a good question. Last I looked though, there are only a few talks. It's hard to say. I guess I shouldn't be so nervous. But I think I'm the only undergraduate going...

YF17A
Posts: 94
Joined: Sat Aug 30, 2008 4:42 am

Re: Giving talks

Postby YF17A » Fri Mar 13, 2009 7:17 pm

I've given a couple of these (I just gave one today, actually). The most important thing is ANTICIPATE AS MANY QUESTIONS AS YOU CAN. These are very smart people you're talking to, and being arrogant physicists, some of them will take pleasure in interrupting your presentation in the middle and asking a question designed to throw you completely off balance (and make them look smart). Don't let this happen, and you'll be fine. Also, best not to advertise the fact that you're an undergrad - this will make the questions tougher, but it will also prevent the "Aww, look, an undergrad!" response.

babazula
Posts: 55
Joined: Fri Feb 06, 2009 6:59 pm

Re: Giving talks

Postby babazula » Fri Mar 13, 2009 7:36 pm

Check this out!

How to Make Sure Your Talk Doesn't Suck - http://www.damtp.cam.ac.uk/user/tong/talks/talk.pdf

surjective
Posts: 39
Joined: Thu Jan 17, 2008 1:16 am

Re: Giving talks

Postby surjective » Fri Mar 13, 2009 11:39 pm

I have given a few such talks, to mostly PhD-having audiences. The first time I was pretty nervous, but it went really well. This is my strategy:

1) remember that *you* are the expert on your topic. That is why smart, knowledgeable people are coming to listen to you.

2) prepare your talk so that you have all the technical details covered. Anticipate potential questions in advance, and be prepared to answer them.

3) it helps to write out your talk and rehearse it ahead of time. That way you can be less nervous, since you have something to focus on (deliver this talk you prepared). Note that it helps if you can rehearse several times, so that giving your talk seems like second nature. It also helps to give the talk in front of your advisor and/or other senior scientists from your school, so they can let you know of any obvious flaws (and their questions after will help you deal with number 2)

4) have fun. I really like telling people about my work. In an audience, when you hear someone speak who is super excited about their work, you feel more interested: enthusiasm is contagious. So try to remember that this is supposed to be fun, and people will respond better to your talk if you enjoy giving it.

5) try to generate some fun animations and/or graphics for your work. A lot of physicists are visual learners, so this improves your data transfer effectiveness.

Best of luck!

excel
Posts: 257
Joined: Tue Feb 19, 2008 2:33 am

Re: Giving talks

Postby excel » Fri Mar 13, 2009 11:51 pm

YF17A wrote:The most important thing is ANTICIPATE AS MANY QUESTIONS AS YOU CAN. These are very smart people you're talking to, and being arrogant physicists, some of them will take pleasure in interrupting your presentation in the middle and asking a question designed to throw you completely off balance (and make them look smart). Don't let this happen, and you'll be fine. Also, best not to advertise the fact that you're an undergrad - this will make the questions tougher, but it will also prevent the "Aww, look, an undergrad!" response.


I think this piece of advice is spot on. The first time I gave such a talk, I could not handle all the questions well because I could not think on my feet on all the questions, but the next time, I anticipated as many questions as I could, and the presentation went very well.

""Aww, look, an undergrad!" response ": :mrgreen:

User avatar
WontonBurritoMeals
Posts: 103
Joined: Sat Feb 23, 2008 9:43 pm

Re: Giving talks

Postby WontonBurritoMeals » Sat Mar 14, 2009 4:01 pm

Here's the best not-completely-obvious advice I have.

First: Realise that physics talks are uniformly bad. Mermin has an article of IMHO great advice: http://ntserv.fys.ku.dk/vinter01/Mermin.htm

So you don't need to be nervous. Student talks are probably better average than grad/professor talks, if only because they explain from the beginning.

Second: I don't see how you can "anticpiate questions". That sounds like bullshit. If it's a question that you know people will ask, you should include it in your presentation, obviously. People will not usually ask difficult questions for you to answer if you understand the research. The most embaressing questions are ones like this:

You explain the intricate mathematics on how internal motion inside a complex molecule can affect its trajectory. Some people don't realise that this is the case. If you have a box full of screws, it will fly a different way than an empty box even if they have the same center of mass.

Then, at the end of your 15 minute presentation, someone is like: "Wait. You mean that internal vibrations can affect the global movement of a molecule?"

This has happened many times at all of the conferences that I've been to. (Except MURI, which is a specialist conference).

There have also been a few times where undergrads couldn't answer pretty basic questions about their research, which is probably not that big of a deal IMHO. Hell. I even screwed up something idiotically simple. I was asked what the angular sensitivity of our aparatus was. The scientist was like: ".1 degrees or something?" The right answer is like 10^-8 radians but since the question was phrased like that, I doubted myself and completely froze and had to be rescued by my advisor (generally the worst thing).

Third: The only people who will remember your talk, if it's bad, will be you and any people in your group also at the conference. There are waaay too many talks for big people to keep track of. It is impossible for it to affect your admissions in a negative way. Talks are, by tradition, so bad that a bad talk just isn't memerable.

It's possible that your research will peak the interest of a bunch of people who hound you with questions, but this is probably a good thing.

Talks aren't as bad as poster presentations in my experience anyway. At a poster, you can be grilled by anyone (my roomate got grilled by Steve Chu for example) for as long as they want. At a talk, you only have to answer like 4 questions, three of which will be retarded.

May the wind be always at your back,
-WontonBurritoMeals

User avatar
grae313
Posts: 2297
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 8:46 pm

Re: Giving talks

Postby grae313 » Sat Mar 14, 2009 8:06 pm

WontonBurritoMeals wrote:It's possible that your research will pique the interest of a bunch of people who hound you with questions, but this is probably a good thing.

Sorry, i'm a jerk

I always get a bit nervous, but for me it's just pre-game jitters. It always goes away once I start.

User avatar
WontonBurritoMeals
Posts: 103
Joined: Sat Feb 23, 2008 9:43 pm

Re: Giving talks

Postby WontonBurritoMeals » Sat Mar 14, 2009 10:07 pm

lol. thnx

It's been a few months, and I'm close to breaking your freecell record...

May the wind be always at your back,
-WontonBurritoMeals

tokamak
Posts: 25
Joined: Sat Nov 17, 2007 4:40 pm

Re: Giving talks

Postby tokamak » Sat Mar 14, 2009 11:34 pm

excel wrote:
YF17A wrote:The most important thing is ANTICIPATE AS MANY QUESTIONS AS YOU CAN. These are very smart people you're talking to, and being arrogant physicists, some of them will take pleasure in interrupting your presentation in the middle and asking a question designed to throw you completely off balance (and make them look smart). Don't let this happen, and you'll be fine. Also, best not to advertise the fact that you're an undergrad - this will make the questions tougher, but it will also prevent the "Aww, look, an undergrad!" response.


I think this piece of advice is spot on. The first time I gave such a talk, I could not handle all the questions well because I could not think on my feet on all the questions, but the next time, I anticipated as many questions as I could, and the presentation went very well.

""Aww, look, an undergrad!" response ": :mrgreen:



this is utter nonsense....most of the time physicists don't know what other physicists are doing or talking about specially if your work is really on the forefront of the subject and this holds even when they are in the same broader field....if your work is mediocre or has been done by many others then you will be bombarded with questions....i presented my work in front of more than a dozen distinguish people from famous research centre in europe and only one guy from UCLA managed to ask me a question and it was a stupid question for his standard....

YF17A
Posts: 94
Joined: Sat Aug 30, 2008 4:42 am

Re: Giving talks

Postby YF17A » Sun Mar 15, 2009 12:26 am

It depends on your audience. In my experience giving theory talks, theorists tend to be both very good at (a) quickly picking up the new and unusual points of your research, and (b) latching onto any potential weaknesses in your argument. The smarter your audience, the faster and more vicious they will be in this regard. mhazelm's comment about textbook authors being there, and her background working in gravitational theory, suggests that preparing for these kinds of questions is exactly the right thing to do.

I should also add that getting good questions is a sign that you gave a good talk and described your research clearly and effectively. If no one manages to ask a good question, it means that your talk was probably either uninteresting or lacked sufficient introductory material.

cato88
Posts: 420
Joined: Wed Sep 03, 2008 12:46 am

Re: Giving talks

Postby cato88 » Sun Mar 15, 2009 1:26 am

you just called experimentalists dumber

YF17A
Posts: 94
Joined: Sat Aug 30, 2008 4:42 am

Re: Giving talks

Postby YF17A » Sun Mar 15, 2009 1:57 am

No, I just referred to my experience giving theory talks to theorists. In one case, though, it was actually an experimentalist who asked the sharpest and most perceptive questions. I don't have experience talking to large groups of experimentalists, but if I had to guess I would say they're less interested in tearing apart the speaker and making them look stupid than theorists, who tend to do so as a matter of culture.

cato88
Posts: 420
Joined: Wed Sep 03, 2008 12:46 am

Re: Giving talks

Postby cato88 » Sun Mar 15, 2009 2:27 am

Thats probably due to the increased competition for funding.




Return to “Prospective Physics Graduate Student Topics”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Bing [Bot] and 2 guests