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In our PhD class, we have to present a paper. However, just 24 hours before the day I present a paper, the professor gave me a new version of the paper. This new version has a similar motivation but is different in methodology and results – so pretty much they are different things. He asked me to present the next day.

What can I do in this situation? Should I write an email to the dean? He is not even my advisor.

Update: Thanks everyone for your answers. The presentation went well since I spent a lot of time preparing for it. But before that I sent a super aggressive email to the professor. I think the email somewhat helped. This is a professor who has a reputation of exploiting students (asking them to do stuff for him like checking for typo in his papers/lecture notes).

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 30, 2022 at 16:20
  • 11
    I’m surprised to hear that sending a ‘super aggressive’ email helped.
    – user438383
    Dec 2, 2022 at 7:58

3 Answers 3

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I am trying to look at this from the perspective of your professor. Here is a benign interpretation of what happened from his side (I can obviously only guess here, so you have to be the judge to what extent it applies):

Your professor happened to notice a new version of the paper you were going to talk about. He did not have time to check how much was actually changed, but assumed it wasn’t much (which is reasonable for many papers). Knowing that you are about to speak about the paper, he sent the new version to you, so you can update your talk where appropriate, assuming that it wouldn’t be much and you would have the capacity for it.

With that in mind, here is how I suggest you approach the situation:

  • Finish preparing the talk, as if you never received your professor’s e-mail.

  • Treat everything involving the new version of the paper as bonus. This is probably how your professor sees it as well. Practically, only consider some small additions to your talk if it’s finished otherwise.

  • Inform the professor that the differences of the paper are substantial – assuming that this is news to him. You don’t have to do that now, but can do that at the talk.

  • Also state that you were occupied with other things on the day before your talk and thus did not have much or any time to handle the new version. Being a good student, you worked ahead and had already mostly finished the talk when you got the new version. (This is probably not even a lie. You don’t need to say that it was anxiety due to the e-mail that occupied you.)

    When you are given, e.g., two weeks to work on this talk, it is your freedom and responsibility to allocate your work on the talk within these two weeks as you like. You cannot be expected to be fully available in the 24 hours before your talk.

  • Should this fail and you are still incapacitated by anxiety, try to postpone the talk due to sickness (which is accurate). If an additional selling point is needed, mention that you can use the time to incorporate the new version of the paper. (Details really depend on the context here, e.g., whether you can or need to obtain a sick note, etc.)

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You have your old presentation. You can present that with minimal modifcations I will now explain. In the introductory part, you can say "this is the presentation I prepared in the past months, but we decided to include a comparison with some of the very latest developments" and then you go on presenting the old method and the new method and then the old results and the new results.

Finally, present a qualitative comparison of the old and new method (qualitative: it can be also just switching back and forth the two groups of results slides).

It probably looks bad to your eyes, but all alternatives you presented are worse, so enjoy the stormy sailing in the exam, there will be calm sea afterwards.

Good luck!

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Unless you ask for some kinds of extension*, in my opinion, what you should do in this situation is to read the paper as soon as possible.

I don't know why you are so stressed about giving a bad presentation, but (1) it does not have to be perfect. It is not even worth it, in my opinion. Perfection is (my) productivity killer, and (2) maybe you will not even do a perfect presentation, but you can always avoid giving a bad one. Your task is to give a decent (or detailed - take more time) summary of relevant information from the paper. And that is what you should do. You can do it.

Also, please take a rest. Start working when you are ready. Your mental health is important.

*which is also a good decision, but I only do it when I do have no other choice.

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  • Thank you for the answer! Thing is I am kind of having a panic attack. I cannot even eat or sleep. Maybe I should try to get some sleep and then when I wake up I will be in better condition. Sorry if I am being incomprehensible.
    – FARRAF
    Nov 30, 2022 at 8:45
  • Go to sleep. Don't drink coffee while having panic attack by the way. When you wake up, start working, but please do not worry about it.
    – Neuchâtel
    Nov 30, 2022 at 8:48
  • I have classes tomorrow. In total I have maybe 2 hours to prepare haha
    – FARRAF
    Nov 30, 2022 at 8:58
  • Don't worry. I used to prepare for a presentation in 30 minutes before my turn. Just do it. When you finish (by finish, i mean your preparation has decent information to be present), move on and don't even look back. Now just go to get some rest
    – Neuchâtel
    Nov 30, 2022 at 9:01

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