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I am currently in the second semester of my Master's and will be graduating in about a year. I submitted an abstract a few months ago for a conference in my field, and recently found out it has been accepted for an Oral Presentation session. I am new to my field (I did not major in it in undergrad) and have only attended one conference in my first semester.

This other conference, which I have never attended, is in about two and a half months and while I am excited and happy to be presenting, I am terrified. My research is not at the point I want it to be and while I will do my best to work on it as much as I can until the conference, I am worried that my presentation will not be fleshed out enough to be of interest. My PI asked me to submit the abstract so I know they are expecting me to present and work hard until the deadline, which I will do.

I was hoping to use this as a jumping off point and get a lot of good feedback from experts in this field, as this work is going to be my Master's thesis. But I am not sure what the norm or etiquette is for oral presentations. Is it common for Master's students to have oral presentations at conferences? Should I talk to the session head about my research progress? Also, do you have any advice for presenting an in-progress project with limited results? Thank you in advance, just hoping some fellow academics can offer some words of encouragement.

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    If you have any opportunity to listen to a lot of presentations before you present, I'd try to take advantage of those opportunities. You don't have to assume everyone presenting who is more senior than you necessarily is a good presenter, but you'll get an impression of what works and if you go to enough talks you'll definitely find some that discuss work in progress.
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 29 at 20:18

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First, I'll assume that you were accepted with the committee knowing that the work is unfinished. In some conferences there are special sections specifically for such things. People talk about what they are doing and why. They talk about the current state of it and what needs to be done. They even ask for advice and ideas, though these often come in between sessions.

The advice is to be honest about where the research stands. Even mention things that you know need work.

And the advice about the presentation is not to be overly pedantic or use overly dense slides.

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Yes, Masters students can and do have oral presentations at conferences. The fact that your presentation proposal was accepted is a sign that it is of interest to meeting attendees and beat out other submissions to get accepted. So bravo on that.

Do get advice from your advisors and any experts in your field who are available to help you about what to present. Many people present work in progress. Don't undermine your presentation by being overly apologetic that the work is not complete or better or whatever. The conference reviewers think it is good enough to present orally, so you should value the work similarly!

In your presentation, do ask for input on aspects you would like input on and leave time for audience members to give you the input!

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I was hoping to use this as a jumping off point and get a lot of good feedback from experts in this field, as this work is going to be my Master's thesis.

Yes that can certainly happen, it's a reasonable aspiration.

But that should not be written in big letters on your first slide.

First of all, make a note of who the session chairperson will be. They will (hopefully) be your friend during your presentation, and might help if you get confused or struggle, or chime in with a question if nobody else asks.

Before the session begins, find them near the front of the room and introduce yourself and if you like, mention you are presenting incomplete work. But I don't think that's necessary.

Your talk should have the form of a regular presentation;

  • Title, name, date, affiliation (1 slide)
  • a little back ground on the topic (1 slide)
  • a little background on your group and/or it's work (1 slide)
  • a description of the problem/question (1 slide)
  • previous attempts by others (if any) to address the problem/question (1 slide)
  • your approach and how it's different/better/unique or otherwise distinguished from others' approach (2 slides)
  • anticipated technical challenges to overcome, experimental, data reduction, ambiguities, noise, etc. and how you plan to address those (2 slides)
  • "Thank You" and your, and your group members' names and maybe a nice photo of you all

...and you have already passed the 12 minute timer buzzing. You now have 3 minutes for questions - look carefully at everyone with their hand raised, make eye contact, say out loud you'll stay around at the end of the session for further questions or suggestions.

Make sure to:

  • practice, practice, practice, and time yourself. try to write the main point of each slide as it's title, or in a few SHORT bullets. The audience has only 60 seconds to listen to you and take in the slide, make it easy for everyone by making the words on the slide very similar to what you are saying, so that either one is informative. It also helps you remember what to say without delay.
  • make sure there's a slide number displayed in the same place on each slide, so that if there's a question it can begin "On slide 7 you show..." and no time is lost trying to figure out what they are talking about.
  • make sure your contact information is available on the first and again last slide (if you want to)
  • practice, practice, practice some more
  • Even consider making that on your last slide "Questions? Helpful suggestions? I'll be available at the end of the session for further discussion":

 Even consider making that on your last slide "Questions? Helpful suggestions? I'll be available at the end of the session for further discussion"

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