Welcome to 'The Art of Scientific Presentations' for Spring '14 !


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At some point, all of us are faced with the challenge of talking about our research in public. Whether we're speaking to our colleagues, an audience at a professional conference or even our family and friends, it can be a struggle to get across the results of months (or years!) of work in only a few minutes.

In this seminar, we'll talk about ways to improve scientific or professional communication. More importantly, students will have the chance to experiment with several different presentation methods and see what method works best for them. By the end of the semester, I hope that we'll be better equipped to discuss our research with both experts and non-specialists. I also expect that students will have put together a set of visual aids that they'll be able to use later in conference presentations, job interviews or public outreach.

As a 'pre-work' assignment, I'd like you to read two articles on presentations and professional communication.

The first article is called 'Let there be stoning' [PDF] and was published by the journal Groundwater in the mid 1980s. The tone of the article is pretty aggressive but it makes several good points about problems that you often see at professional conferences.

Second, have a look at 'The cognitive style of PowerPoint' [PDF] by Edward Tufte. Tufte is an Emeritus Professor at Yale University who is widely respected for his writing on information design.

Please read both articles before next week's class; they should provide a sneak-peek of some of the themes we'll discuss over the next few weeks and help you decide if this course is right for you.

See you Thursday morning, Room R-370 in the IonE Building (St. Paul Campus).


Hi, I am Pieter, and I am a Masters student within the Mechanical Engineering Department.

One of the best (technical) talks I've seen was by a member of my research group. We both work for an organization called the CCEFP, and he had to present the progress of one of our main test beds to our 'Industrial Advisory Board' during their last visit. He did an excellent job of conveying the complex nature of his work despite having to present to people with a wide variety of backgrounds, and the reactions within the audience clearly demonstrated comprehension. Lastly, and most importantly, he made the entire presentation in a very enthusiastic and conversation tone. He wasn't reading his slides so much as telling a story.

I am Jon and I am a Ph.D. student in the Department of Civil Engineering at the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory.

One of the best scientific talks that I have seen would have to be a recent presentation given this past December at the American Geophysical Union's Fall Meeting in San Francisco. It was the last presentation on the last day of the conference. The presenter discussed two different approaches to river restoration as if they were two religious dogmas. Throughout the talk he referenced this theme, which made for a very entertaining presentation. Everyone in the room was interested in what was going to be said next, capturing their attention on the last day and slot of a long week.

I'm Masanori and I'm currently a Ph.D. student in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics at UofM.

One of the best scientific talk I have been to would be a seminar talk given at Harvey Mudd College by Steven Strogatz from Cornell. He was able to convey the key points of his research without getting bogged down by mathematical details.

I'm Jim, a PhD student in the Remote Sensing and Geospatial Analysis Lab in NRSM.

I can't narrow it down to the best scientific talk I've seen, but I have found the majority of talks by Neil deGrasse Tyson are excellent. He takes very complicated subject matter and presents it in a way that is exciting and understandable to audiences of people with a wide range of scientific literacy and a wide age range. I think his enthusiasm and his avoidance of talking down to people are his strong points.

Hi! I am Yixuan. I'm a PhD student in aerospace engineering.

The best scientific talk I have ever seen is a invited lecture on reactive flow given by Prof. Oran in the APS DFD meeting in 2013.

One thing impressive about that lecture is her Powerpoint layout. It is quite creative but a little risky, I would say. She has some figures as backgrounds instead of the common layout. Another thing is that she really emphasizes her points by her tone and those fascinating movies, and knows how to grab the audience's attention.

Hi, I'm Ali. I'm finishing up my PhD in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior.

I'm honestly not sure what the best talk is that I've seen. I vaguely recall a talk Jon Foley (here at the U) gave a few years back being fantastic -- elegant visuals, clear and streamlined storyline that really drove home his big picture points without losing the audience in details.

Hi. I'm Keith, a PhD student in the Remote Sensing and Geospatial Analysis Lab in the Dept of Forest Resources.

Several TED Talks are great examples of communicating science including a presentation entitled “Ecology from the air” by Dr Greg Asner. Dr Asner used imagery and videos to describe his research and data collection techniques with limited text or visual cues. His words provided guidance to specific areas on each image and often referenced prior slides to add context (and scale) to subsequent images. His cartographic approach was minimalist such that his discussion provided the necessary information for interpreting each map. He finished the talk with a blank screen (no visual distractions) while verbally drawing the audience back to his opening example and sending them off with his take home message.

I'm Beth, a PhD student in the Department of Soil, Water, and Climate and Land and Atmospheric Science grad program.

One of the best scientific presentations I've heard was by Mark Tercek, the president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. He gave a talk last spring at IonE and the talk was very engaging and left me wanting more. I am a very visual learner, and although he did not use slides, I remember many of the stories (case studies) from his talk.

Apologies for my tardiness on this introduction. I am Carl, the guy who is terrible at drawing airplanes and nations on a whiteboard. I am a PhD student in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior.

The best scientific talk I have ever seen was by Barrett Klein, a scientist and artist who studies why animals sleep. His visuals were incredible and he was a fantastic presenter. His energy was sky high, but in a totally natural way. It was clear that he was really excited about his research and wanted everyone to understand it and be excited about it as well.

I'm probably the last one to introduce myself, I guess better late than never! I'm Anand, a PhD student in the department of Aerospace Engineering.

I've often liked the presentations that my advisor gives. He has a clean presentation with not too much stuff (i mean mathematical equations and things that go over the head) on it, yet informative enough for the talk. I do, like many others, enjoy the TED talks for ability to capture the attention of the audience. I like it because they make it simple, light and interesting.

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This page contains a single entry by Scott St. George published on January 16, 2014 11:37 AM.

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