June 25, 2013
Today I am back in the lab at Cachan. This morning we had a group meeting so that one of the students could practice presenting her research. Tomorrow is her dissertation defense!
Her presentation and the critique of her presentation from the group were fascinating. It highlighted how much students need humanities in the lab. It came down to a problem of hermeneutics. How can she present her data so that the board evaluating her will understand her project? Bianca gave many suggestions about the design of her PowerPoint presentation. She told her to have less text, add pictures, and use color. The point of each slide must be obvious. The student will be presenting her work to non-biologists, and their comprehension of the experiment is crucial to her evaluation. It became clear that it was a problem that I could not understand her presentation. Her audience tomorrow will have about as much knowledge of microbiology as me. So, I made a few suggestions, and the team responded positively.
“Where is the narrative?” I asked. If this were my presentation I would lay out step by step my involvement with the experiment, and why I am conducting the experiment. When you present your results to a biologist (even one who focuses on a different niche of microbiology) you need him to grasp why your experiment is valuable either to science, or preferably, to society. The beginning of the presentation needs to go very slowly, because if your audience does not follow the most basic ideas then they will stop listening. In a thesis defense this would mean a failing evaluation. It is similar to how you write a paper. You have to hold your reader’s hand in the beginning to make sure that they grasp your thesis, and then you can develop the argument. Bianca agreed with everything I said, and I felt as though the team was beginning to understand how I could help them! A step in the right direction!
The rest of the day I was in the lab growing bacteria, and looking at bacteria under a microscope. The project is still confusing to me, but each day I understand more than the last. So progress is everywhere!