A couple weeks ago Kathryn and I went and visited our high school and talked to about half of the seniors in the math and science magnet program. I figured I should throw down some of what we talked about both for myself to look back on later and for current students to use. With respect to current students, remember this is all just my opinion, seek out the opinion of others as well. Feel free to comment at the bottom or reach out to me with any questions or comments.
Don’t use an agenda
For a short presentation, there is no reason to have an agenda (also called table of contents by some). The presentation is short enough that I don’t need to know at the beginning what you are going to be talking about.
It doesn’t matter how good of a presenter you are, you should practice. Your presentation should be polished (although not memorized). You should be totally comfortable and intuitively know how much time you have used (these things are timed). Remember when practicing to have some people who are very technical watch your presentation to critique the technical details. You should also have non-technical people give you feedback, since for this particular presentation some of your audience will be non-technical. Make sure the critique you get and give (when watching other people’s presentations) is honest and harsh, it will make the real thing better.
Tell me a story
In 20 minutes, you don’t have enough time to go into depth about the math and stats that you did. Mention it, show me the highlights. But on whole, tell me a story and keep me interested. Be careful however that you do not use hyperbole, which I consider to be unethical in this situation. Metaphors are good though. Note, there will be presentations you give later where you will go into technical depth and give a boring presentation (think technical reviews, design checkpoints, etc…), this isn’t one of those presentations.
I shouldn’t be distracted by your attire. This doesn’t mean you need to wear a suit (maybe you are stiff and uncomfortable in a suit, which would be bad). What you should do is make sure you look good (for the people that can’t dress well, find someone who can to tell you what to do). For example, don’t have half your shirt untucked, with no belt, poorly fitting pants, and scuffed dress shoes. I would rather see a nicely fitted pair of jeans and a good top that matches (alhtough I am sure there are rules against jeans).
Make sure you can project well and have a good cadence to your speech. If your speech is boring or I can’t hear you, I won’t be able to stay interested.
Make sure to show your passion for your research (hopefully you chose a good internship and you are passionated). When you are excited for what you did, I will be excited too.
Why do this Research
Remember the entire point of this is to develop your skills, one of the big skills is technical communication (both oral and written). You will continue to do this stuff for the rest of your life, use this opportunity to learn.
Some thoughts after judging
This is copy and pasted from feedback I wrote down last may after judging presentations. It gives some insights into how someone might feel right after watching them. For some I was really interested and impressed, for others, I wanted to walk out of the room.
- There is no need to have an outline for a 15 minute presentation, just get to it. If you have a 2 hour presentation, the outline makes sense, but not for something this short
- I would like to know your initial hypothesis, and why you hypothesized it.
- Do not use hyperbole. This is a technical presentation, it is inappropriate
- You don’t have to wear any particular clothes, but you do need to look good. So if you wear dark jeans with a dress shirt and nice shoes that can be fine. If you wear dress pants with an untucked shirt and scuffed up shoes that is not ok.
- When you do a study you must come up with a plan before the study, then you follow the plan. You cannot change the plan “to get significance”. If at the end you don’t find significance, no worries just learn from the study and propose a new one at the end.
- I do not want an explanation of how you did your stats but I do want to know the results. So at least give me a p-value or something. I don’t believe that you did anything when you just say “It was significant” or “it was safe” or “this did better than that”
- I can’t make sense of a slide full of numbers in a table, use graphs and charts and make sure you explain them well
- Don’t sound like a salesperson. If you come across as a salesperson, I do not trust you.
- Don’t spend more than a minute or so on the intro. I need to understand why the project is important and any relevant background so that I can understand your project, but nothing more. I want to hear about what you did.
- Back up your statements, whether it is from a literature review, analysis you did, or whatever else. So for example say: “according to research by Dr. Smith at the Mayo Institute…”
- Talk clearly and smoothly, that should be obvious. Some people can do this naturally, most cannot. You need to know your material very well and you need to practice.
- Have other people watch your presentation ahead of time, note what questions they ask, then answer those questions in your presentation so that I don’t have to wonder about them the whole time. Keep doing this until no one has any questions.
- Use pictures and video, and make them high quality without sound. Remember I have never seen any of your setup, so I will not understand what you did unless you show me.
- At the end, tell me how you are revising your hypothesis for future studies.
- Remember that in most cases it is silly to treat your study as a final study, you just don’t have enough time for that, so be honest and treat it as a preliminary study. Then act like you are now presenting to us asking for support, feedback, and interest for something much larger.
So a bit about me and college: I originally wanted to go to Georgia Tech, then after a bit of looking decided I wanted to go to Columbia; I didn’t get in either place. Way back when, I had also thought I wanted to go to West Point (where my grandfather went), perhaps that would have been good, but I was so unathletic during high school that I didn’t even apply (something which I consider a mistake). Because of my PSAT scores (take note juniors) I got a full ride to 80 some schools as part of the Hispanic National Merit Scholarship program. One of those schools was Auburn, and I ended up there as a ChemE.
After two semesters at Auburn I transferred to GT into BME. I did this for a few main reasons that all boil down to a cultural difference where GT seems to push more for innovative high risk high reward ventures while Auburn pushes for more traditional risk adverse ventures. I personally prefer pushing boundaries is a fast risky way, which lines up more so with GT. As a result, the companies which I was interested in recruited at GT and not at AU. It also means that the somewhat nerdy culture in which I thrive was more easily found at GT than AU. There is also way more diversity at GT and GT is in a city. That being said, the professors at Auburn seemed more interested in teaching than most at Tech and on whole the AU admin staff was way easier to work with (at GT the people in the major are great; the university as a whole, less so). I also found it easier to get out and relax at AU (I think people at GT work because they love it, people at AU work so they can do other things).
Both schools are great schools, and I am glad for my time at both, moral is to make sure that the school you go to is a good fit for you (might not have the highest ranking).
Transfer in from elsewhere
Some people choose to go to one school and transfer to another better school (I did this although less by choice). There are potential benefits from this, but also risks. When I transferred, I brought with me way more AP credits than I would have had I gone straight to GT. I also got a year of college for free thanks to Auburn’s more generous scholarships. For me transferring was easy and straight forward, however for some programs and some schools that is not the case (make sure to do your research ahead of time). I also lost my freshman year GPA (which was very high), this has led me to have a much harder time keeping my GPA up post transfer.
Internships and Co-ops
Industry experience is important, you develop a lot of skills that you don’t develop at school (many of them soft). You also get a better perspective on what is important educationally and what you want to do post graduation. When I started everyone told me all of these reasons to do a co-op, but nobody mentioned that I could get a co-op as a freshman or sophomore while I probably could not get an internship until being a junior. From a company’s prospective, you aren’t very useful your first couple of years, but as a co-op, you will stick around on and off until your third year so a lot of companies will take you summer after freshman year. I would say take whatever interesting opportunities present themselves, whether a co-op or an internship.
I didn’t start doing research until just now (final semester). That was a mistake, explore all of your options early on so that when you get to the end you can be confident in your next steps. I was close-minded and thought I would go straight into industry, now I want a PhD. I wish I had had a more open mind.
Remember that tuition is only a small portion of your costs. There are fees as well as living costs. At GT the fees are insane and living in Atlanta is very expensive. For me, the cost of living is the largest portion of my educational cost. There are of course other schools for which that will be different. Lots of people get blindsided by this, don’t be one of them.
You don’t need to go to the number 1 school, fit is more important. However, the unranked school will hold you back. You want to make sure people have heard of your school and think of it positively. You also need a school that will challenge and push you to grow.
I don’t know how people are able to function in today’s world without having great computer skills. It really doesn’t matter what you are doing, being able to think algorithmically, store data, and process data will make your life easier. Take a bunch of CS classes, they will teach you a different way to think and a very portable set of hard skills.
I am bad at stats and I would guess you are too. It is hard (although sometimes interesting). I don’t know why people think they can learn stats from one class, that is crazy. How many English classes have you taken? how about algebra classes? calc classes? history? foreign language? Point is you have to take more than one stats class to learn it, get going and take that AP stats class. You might feel like a bumbling fool with stats, but so do most kids when they are little and learning English.
4 year graduation
Don’t bother to try to graduate in four years. Take the time to lean as much as you can. That doesn’t mean take 12 hour semesters and go light on classes, push yourself. But when an internship or research opportunity comes along that you are really interested in, go ahead and take it.
A Plan vs Goals
A lot of us come into everything with a plan, which can be useful. However, one must be always flexible with their plans, ready to re-evaluate as necessary to meet their goals. Goals drive your plan, not the other way around.
Challenging assumptions and conclusions
This is something that I am not great about, but getting better. Whenever you have made assumptions and/or come to a conclusion, make sure to look back periodically and challenge it. See if what you thought is still accurate, if not don’t feel restricted, re-evaluate and pivot.