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I got invited for a PhD interview to the University of Edinburgh. I was asked in the email to prepare a 10 mins presentation on a recent research I was involved in. I did a sandwich placement year and it just so happened that this week I just gave a presentation about my placement project. I was given 30mins, which was still barely enough to cover everything. Now with 10mins, I might struggle to convey everything. What's more, what should I focus on in such presentation? I believe it's not to manage to show everything possible within the given (I don't want to try to squeeze too much data and speak ridiculously fast), but is it perhaps to show that I can present in scientific way? That's what my university tutor has told me. What exactly does it mean? Should I show that I fully understand what I present (which I believe I do), explain well my graphs etc? Any tips? What are they looking for in this short presentation?

I struggle a lot with presenting/public speaking, which is why I might worry too much over it but then again, I need to prepare twice as much as a person who is good at presenting.

Many, many thanks for help!

Edit: I realise that I'm still a bit stuck in the format of presentations I have given at the university and I wanted to ask what I should change to make this 10mins presentation as good as possible.

The format that I usually follow is:

introduction to the topic --> should I make it as short and simple as possible?

aims/objectives

methods/materials --> I wonder if I should skip it or make it very short?

results --> I believe I need to select most relevant ones

discussion --> this part usually takes some time in presentations, maybe I could combine it with conclusion to prevent repetitions maybe?

conclusion

further experiments

acknowledgement

references

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    Why do you think you are supposed to cover everything? I wouldn't be able to cover everything even if I had an hour. – Bitwise Jan 30 '16 at 0:46
  • Yes, you are right. I guess I'm still stuck in the format of presentations I have given at the university where I got plenty of time to cover well, pretty much everything. I do realise that for this presentation, it's way different. – HoldenDK Feb 1 '16 at 21:19
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Definitely don't try to cover everything. This is certainly not expected, and as you noted, is just not possible in a limited amount of time. What they likely would want to see is if you can explain the main points of your research in a succint way. Trying to cover too much will force you to rush trhough the material, making it difficult to follow. You can still show that you master a subject without getting into all the technical details. Indeed, it takes a good understanding of a research problem/project to be able to place it into perspective, to explain the main motivations and the most important results.

So what should be in the presentation? Different people will give different advice, but I think the following guidelines are sensible. First of all, you should identify the one or two main results of your research. Make sure that you have enough time to cover them, for example by addressing the main points in the beginning of your talk. You can go into the details (such as the methods you used) later on. Another important item is the motivation behind the research. Why did you research this particular problem, and why should people care about it? This might also be a good point to briefly mention the state of the art of the field, and explain how your work extends this. Towards the end of your talk you could go more into the technical details, but take into account that most of your audience may not be an expert on your topic.

And finally, make sure you practice your talk a few times. Ask a few more experienced people whom you trust (and can give good feedback) to attend a practice talk to give suggestions on how your presentation can be improved. Don't worry if it seems like you would have to redo the entire thing: this will only make it better.

  • Even an audience of rubber ducks or teddy bears will do for the first (or three) rounds. – vonbrand Jan 30 '16 at 0:14
  • Thank you. Yes, definitely, I will practise my presentation few times and I asked my university tutor to attend my practise talk. – HoldenDK Feb 1 '16 at 21:20
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First, you should choose the most significant research project you worked on. This is probably frustrating as you are likely to have done some other stuff you'd like to present, but put it aside. Focus on the selected project, and present it. Do not try to present every detail of it! Aim about one slide per minute, and one idea per slide. Adapt your presentation to whom you'll present (if they are not specialised, don't go too deep into the details and try to make something interesting). You can say that you managed to show that [blahblah] even if you don't have time to explain how. Keep in mind that often, judges might be sleepy, will not have read preliminary reports, etc. So be very clear. You can of course use graphs, but use them well.

From my experience, the most important tip is to question, for each slide, what do I want to say/show with this slide? and check that everything on this slide serves the objective (title, graphs, text, etc.). And do not write all what you are going to say, this is very boring! Only write the main ideas.

Edit Regarding your last paragraph: a lot of people give very bad presentations; questionning about how to present shows you are trying to improve, and that's very positive. You are probably a beginner; making and giving good presentations is a difficult task, and that's the right time to get on the right track. Moreover, making some efforts proves some respect to the listeners and avoid them loosing their time. So don't focus on the fact that others are more gifted at presenting, what matters is what you do and how you can improve your skills. I've seen people making quite poor presentations tremondously improving within one month.

  • Thanks a lot. I'm aware that I struggle a lot with presentations/oral speeches but I will keep practising. I already do better than I did last year but I aim to get even better. – HoldenDK Feb 1 '16 at 21:21
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As a PhD candidate in my group I was sometimes asked to join a committee that was interviewing a candidate for an open position. For the preparation of the presentation you already got some good tips in the other answers.

You are also asking about the intention of this presentation. It is not only about your presentation skills. That is a skill that you need to develop during your PhD as well. Much more important is the discussion afterwards. Especially if it is for a small committee, they will take plenty of time to discuss details of your research. That is the moment that they can evaluate you as a researcher. You should be able to defend choices you made, or suggest routes for future research. I think that the discussion is more important than the presentation (which you obviously still should prepare well).

The discussion is a lot more difficult to prepare. It is wise to read the thesis again, and think of the details that lead to specific conclusions. Especially if the research was executed a bit longer ago, some of the details may have faded.

  • Thank you. For my industrial placement project, it was often referred to the previous project and in presentation I had to explain quite a lot how it was linked to what was previously done. And I wonder if I skip that part, it might be confusing why we have conducted this research and why this pathway specifically. – HoldenDK Feb 1 '16 at 21:29

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