Saturday, November 21, 2009

The talk at MRU part 1

I haven't worked in such a focused manner in a long time. There was a month of dissertation writing where I was like a laser, and this was the same but only for 2 1/2 days. As I was prepping for the talk, I always felt like I was in triage mode. As a matter of fact there were a few stray lines on my PowerPoints, but I made sure not to point them out to anyone. No one mentioned it either.

The evening before the talk I e-mailed my presentation to myself and the Hub. Then I put it on a thumb drive. I called it finished and hit a "peace" because I knew that even though it wasn't 100% perfect (what I expect of myself in a job talk), it was 92%. The remaining 8% I let go of emotionally because 1. the effort to complete the rest was not worth the rewards 2. I just didn't have the time, anyway.

I did spend my last evening working on a convincing slide for the question I KNEW was coming: But is it relevant???? That was time well spent.

The trip worked perfectly (thanks Lord, for answered prayers). Students were on time, car was easily obtained from the pool, no traffic. Arrived early enough for a doughnut stop (student's ideas).

As the talk time approached, I grew a bit nervous, but put on my game face. Then the room filled and the intro began. The talk consisted of half of what I did in my post-doc (complex, innovative), and half of what I'm doing with my undergrads (thorough, but not innovative).

As I started my first paragraphs, I could hear my voice quaver from nervousness, and it took less than 2 minutes before a hand shot up from the back of the room. The question was in a curious tone, but worded as a challenge: "Wait that shows the OPPOSITE of what you are claiming" I panicked, took a sip of my water, and realized what he was saying. "No, no, look at it this way...." He: "Oh, ok, I see". About 1 minute later another hand, from the woman I had been warned about, was also challenging me. My chest tightened. She asked her question, and I couldn't understand it. It was posed clearly, and voiced loudly, but it was the temporary oatmeal between my ears and understanding that forced me to ask her to repeat the question. I sipped again, until the oatmeal cleared. This answer was more pragmatic... "This component of the system we assume to be functioning normally. We aren't tracking it, but we do see activation of the other component, its partner, the one we are interested in. Let me show you my data... " And then I did.

On thing I really appreciate about being a teaching scientist is that it is very important to me that all understand. I was sensitive to furrowed brows and lost looks. The data and systems were rather complex, but I was pleased with my ability to explain them thoroughly. I started to relax as I got non-verbal feedback such as nods. Then I started to sound more like myself.

When I reached the end of the complex stuff, I feel like I had the audience with me. Even the challengers. I even asked at the end of the first part: OK?

Then I began on my current stuff. I had pictures of all the students and in a brief sentence explained where they are now (med school, finishing up, etc). I did this due to PLS's suggestion to emphasize that it was undergrad research, and the pictures were funny. I could see that I was losing their interest. It dawned on me that they were really interested in the first half because at least for one group it was directly applicable to their less-reductionistic system. But as I moved down on the reductionism scale I lost their interest. I realized this as I was talking and ended up presenting 2 slides with a sentence or two fewer than I had rehearsed.

The questions were peppered throughout, and all good ones. There was one question where I could not come up with a very common word, and talked around it. That was a bit embarrassing, but I think it didn't detract too much. The one I was expecting came in the middle of this second section in two forms: One guy asked "is this relevant in people?" And I was ready with that 16-hour-old slide, which was quite convincing. Then the question "how well does your reductionistic system apply in animals?" By now I had my full teacher confidence and answered, "Good question HerName, because there are several instances when that is a particular concern (and named one that tied in). But my work, especially the first part was intended to be reductionistic to confirm what had been found in a less-reductionistic manner (something I had pointed out in a intro slide). Ah, yes, she nods. Every one seemed satisfied.

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