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I am currently a first-year Ph.D. student, before that (as I have posted about before) I was forced to leave my Ph.D. program after one year because of a bullying supervisor. Previously, I made a good relationship with other researchers in my field and other scientific volunteering activities.

Now, there is a workshop at a highly ranked conference, and I asked about the possibility of sending a paper for the workshop. They don't solicit papers, however, I have a good relationship with the professor who is the main organizer of the workshop, and they voluntarily asked me to be a speaker in the workshop for 30 minutes.

The other speakers are the most well-established researchers in my field, I felt excited but afraid in the same time. I don't have yet any publications concerning the current research. I don't know if I should apologize, maybe the professor does not know that I have been kicked out from the earlier program. I don't know what I should do, all the speakers are the elite and I think I am not deserving to be among them as I don't have the same experience.

Should I try or would this be counterproductive to my future career?

EDIT 1

Thanks for answers encouraging me to try, while there are pragmatic answers that I don't have to waste the audience time, honestly, I have self low esteem since all peers have papers published in top journals and conferences, I don't know why the organizers listed me as a speaker, I am not doing great as other students or there is no indication in the right moment that I am doing fantastic research.

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    In addition to Allure answer, avoid apologise. Apologise for what? Of course I do assume you will do your best and have enough to speak for a half an hour. Do not say things like "I am sorry.... " out of a normal use, audiences do not like that. – Alchimista Jun 20 at 11:06
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    You should discuss with your current advisor, especially consider your current workload ie what you should be concentrating on and discussing any possible consequences. – Solar Mike Jun 20 at 12:18
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    Congratulations! Clearly you must be well thought of in your field, and your work must be valued! Well done :) – Sam T Jun 22 at 20:26
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    Do you actually have results? – lalala Jun 23 at 12:11

10 Answers 10

63

Let's flip this question around and imagine that you, as a first year anthropology PhD student, are now visiting your high school. One of the students asked your former teachers if you would be interested in a local, anthropology-related research project they were doing (e.g., they could be investigating the attitudes of people towards those who are HIV positive, and contrasting how that varies between countries). The teacher promptly arranged for them to give a talk on their results while you were there.

The student feels excited but afraid at having to give this talk. She knows she doesn't have the pedigree you have, she doesn't know if she should apologize, maybe you don't know she flunked her latest exam, and she thinks she is not deserving to be giving the talk because she doesn't have as much experience as you. Should she go ahead and give the talk or would it be counterproductive to her future career?

I'm pretty confident you will say she should go ahead, and the same applies to you. These well-established researchers probably know (or can tell) you're a PhD student, and will not demand that you have done groundbreaking work on par with theirs. Instead of focusing on all the things that could go wrong, think of all the things that could go right: you get to present your work to a well-established audience. They're the people you most want to know your results. You get to network with them. You get to practice skills that you'll undoubtedly need later in your career. What's the worst that can happen anyway? Even if you give a truly atrocious talk they'll probably all have forgotten about it by next year.

tl; dr: stop worrying and do it.

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  1. The conference organizer thought you had enough snap to run a presentation to this august body. Given that you have a previous and good relationship with the organizer I discount that you are being set up for failure.
  2. You had planned to submit a paper. Your paper was going to be among papers of the elite. This is nerves. At the worst while speaking folks will just check their email and converse in low whispers EXACTLY like they will do to some of the most well-established researchers in your field.
  3. (Actual advice) Go back to the organizer and express both your desire at the opportunity and your concerns. They are the organizer and it's their job to balance these things. The feedback will be valuable and should help in whatever decision you make.
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Go ahead and present (the whole point of conferences and workshops is to give and receive criticism on your and others' research)

Academia should be about ideas and research, not "status". If you have good ideas and are producing good research (NB: I say "producing", which is not necessarily the same thing as "publishing"), you should not feel embarrassed. Of course, it is often difficult to ascertain how good your own work is, which is precisely why we convene things called "workshops", "colloquia", "round tables", and, for that matter, conferences. Go ahead and present on your work, and go with an open mind that is receptive to what others have to say about it (although that does not mean you have to agree). You should trust the convenor's judgement in having invited you to present (and besides, if the convenor made a mistake, this is your opportunity to make a big break, just like Monet did when he was mistaken for Manet!).

Part of the remit of these fora is to encourage intergenerational dialogue on work-in-progress. And, by the way, the quantity of publications do not necessarily correlate to the researcher's ability. You should spend less time thinking about "keeping up with Jones's publication record" and more time thinking about your research.

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Other answers make excellent points, but one more that hasn’t been mentioned yet as far as I can see:

Talks from junior and inexperienced researchers are very common. However eminent some of the audience members are, they’ve all seen plenty of other talks from inexperienced researchers, and they probably remember giving their own first few talks when they were getting going. They will be sympathetic to the fact that junior speakers may be nervous, inexperienced, and have less of a body of work to present. None of those things are unusual or surprising; they’re just what it’s like for almost everyone first starting to give talks.

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If you think you can give a good talk, do it. If not, don't.

I would lean towards don't based on the no papers and you not brimming with comments about your results within this question.

The issue is not your rank or your social confidence. Just that you don't have significant things to say in real content.

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    I'd change the "If not, don't" to "If not, practice and prepare." – WBT Jun 20 at 13:20
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    It’s fairly common for researchers to present material/results not yet published. The only difference here is that the OP hasn’t published prior, but that shouldn’t speak to the quality of their currently unpublished work. The fact that the OP has been invited to speak tells me that they do have significant things to say in real content. – Santana Afton Jun 20 at 13:49
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    I'm well aware of that. It's why I also mentioned she is not burbling with touted prepub remarks in question either. Other data points are her being first year and a transfer with some hiccups. Likelihood is high, bayesian assessment, that she has low results. In any case I STILL left it open that what matters is what she has to say, what results. So in the possibility she does, that is covered. – Guest Jun 20 at 14:16
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    WBT, you missed my point. If she has results your advice is great. Otherwise it's like putting yourself in the advanced ski class as a beginner. You waste other peoples time as well as your own. Part of growing up and being a non emo whiner is to consider others. Not just tender bullied you. – Guest Jun 20 at 14:20
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    The issue I am raising is not presentation skills but accomplishment. – Guest Jun 20 at 23:07
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Any practice you can get at doing presentations is good practice.

No one expects a first year PhD student to know particularly much nor to make good presentations.

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Some of the most interesting and up-to-date talks at conferences are from postgrads, and for good reasons. A bit of enthusiasm always helps, but mainly it's because it's actually a talk about your research. Many of the senior people end up, despite their paper title, summarising their group's work (only slightly updated from the same conference last year and several in between) before finally getting to the interesting bit near the end.

Nerves are normal. Some people (not me) even think they help when giving a talk. They generally don't show from the audience, and if they did most people would be sympathetic.

Concentrate on giving a coherent presentation of your work. Giving sufficient context and background takes a fair bit of time anyway, so you often need less material than you think. And practice in front of an audience or two. Your research group should give you at least one chance to practice properly in front of them, with questions and comments. Your peers from other groups in the department can be the best audience of all, as they're not experts in your exact work but in related fields (you would, of course, return the favour). Once you've given your talk a couple of times (and dealt with any issues your audiences find), you'll feel much more ready to present.

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What is the very worst that can happen? 30 minutes feels like a long talk, but it is pretty short in the grand scheme of things. Even if it's a real yawner, at worst people will use the opportunity to take a bit of a break. More likely, some people will find that it relates to what they're working on and some people won't, but that's what you always get.

Skip anything about your past or any apologies, just stick with a basic introduction and then get on to your work. The most respectful thing you can do is spend plenty of time preparing so that you give a clear, well-organized talk.

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I recently had the same experience. DO IT! I was invited to speak at a very prestigious international conference - by layman standard these scientists were brilliant (Spectrums of Harvard, Hopkins, Columbia, Duke faculty...) As a senior undergraduate still, they were, to say the least, intimidating to me. But what helped me the most was this:

  1. Believe that indeed, if you were selected, you deserve to be there.
  2. I spent a FAIR amount of time adding "novelty," updating my talk with research that *just came out in 2019, hoping to establish solid ground.
  3. Most of all, I straight up said, "I'm new to the field, but I am extremely happy and honored to be here. I believe I can offer some fresh perspectives and insight!"

I echo what has already been said! Hope that helps quell the nerves!

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In the future, merely having a record of the paper you can list on your resume' / CV will be very useful.

Also, the talk is likely to go very well for you. In the unlikely event it doesn't, almost no one will remember. But the citation on your resume' will still help!

I had a talk that was considered a failure, but it didn't impact my career.

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