Our lab meetings

We typically have two lab meetings each week during the semester (i.e. not during the summer or spring break or winter break). One of these is intended for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, who may present their ideas or manuscripts for feedback, or practice professional talks, or discuss journal articles or research methods. The other one is for undergraduate students who are doing research projects in the lab (for credit, pay, or as FWS project).

The meetings are pretty informal: we all use first names, we may have discussion before a 'talk' is finished, we give honest feedback which is intended to be constructive. However, noone wants to feel that they are wasting their time, and so whoever is the 'presenter' on a given meeting should try to make the meeting start and finish on time and run efficiently. Here are some tips:

If you are presenting on a given day

- if you are using PowerPoint, you are responsible for having the projector switched on, the computer with your presentation open and connected to it, by the time the meeting starts. If you have not done this before in this room, come early and/or try out everything a day before. If you do not know what a VGA plug is, find out if you need an adapter for your computer. If everyone has to wait for you to figure out how to make your computer talk to the projector, we will think that you are not being respectful with our time.

- make sure your presentation file is saved and downloaded on the computer you are using to present. Never just make a presentation and don't save it. Never expect that you can download the presentation file from your email or elsewhere after the meeting has started.

- if you want everyone to read something ahead of your meeting, like a supporting journal article, an article you want to discuss, or your own manuscript on which you want feedback, email it to everyone at least a week ahead of the meeting. Everyone has busy schedules; in particular, do not expect people can read things overnight or on a weekend. A week ahead of time is safest because then whatever weekly time people have will be available.

- for your presentation itself, a rule of thumb for any scientific presentation is to assume you are talking to smart people who can pick up new information quickly, but who do not have background in your specific system or question. Below is a sample outline of what a presentation should contain (much like a paper, but briefer).

- it is a good idea to tell people ahead of time what type of feedback is most useful. Do you want to hone the presentation itself to be able to give it at a conference? Do you want feedback on a specific aspect, like your statistical analysis or your experimental design or you want to solve a practical problem? Do you want any and all feedback people have on a paper you are writing for publication (including spelling corrections), or do you want to get overall impressions on whether the flow of the story makes sense?

- for the undergraduate meeting, aim to present no more than 10-15 minutes. For the graduate/postdoc meeting, aim to present no more than 20 min (except if you are practicing for a specific longer talk). We will have plenty of discussion, and we might also have a few issues of general relevance to discuss before your presentation even starts. Do not assume people can stay longer than the assigned meeting time (50 min for the undergrad meeting, 1.5 h for the grad/postdoc one), so if some part of the meeting runs long, even if it is not your fault, assume people will leave at the normal time.

 

Sample lab meeting presentation structure:

INTRODUCTION

- your overall research question at the broadest level

- explain why this is interesting or what this would be relevant for

- explain your study system, i.e. usually the animal you are studying (do not assume everyone works on the same). Include a picture of the animal, where it lives, what is special/interesting about it. If you don't know much about the animal, read up on it, even if this is not directly related to your research question. Do you know what the habitat looks like where it lives? What does it eat and who eats it? What other concerns does it have? What is the taxonomy, i.e. species name but also family, order, etc.?

- now state the specific version of your research question, i.e. what specifically are you finding out in your study?

- give the hypotheses, i.e. possible answers to the specific research question. Sometimes these are obvious and we don't state them explicitly, but the more junior you are, the more people will want you to state these explicitly; and this is for the good reason that you should always have these in your mind while planning experiments and analyzing data.

METHODS

- give the Methods, and connected to this the predictions of the hypotheses. The reason these are connected is that the predictions are essentially statements about what will happen if a hypothesis is true in your specific experiment, i.e. what will your specific measurements look like. In all non-obvious cases you therefore have to explain the Methods before you can describe the specific predictions. Again, the more junior you are, the more detailed you should make predictions. If you are an undergraduate student, I recommend actually showing a cartoon version of a results graph for each hypothesis, i.e. showing what specifically the results might look like for each hypothesis. Show these next to each other for alternative hypotheses so that it is really clear what you are looking to distinguish.

RESULTS

- Now give your results. If you did this right, just the overall look of your graphs compared to the predictions just given before will immediately suggest what the result was. But explain the axes (again) anyway; make sure you know how to define them, or how they were calculated. Then say what the statistical test says about the significance, or not, of a pattern seen on the graph(s).

CONCLUSIONS

- Now you conclude which hypothesis is true (i.e. supported) and which is not (i.e. was contradicted by the data). Note limitations of your data/study. Then, especially in a short talk, go direclty to broader implications, i.e. link back to the broader version of your research question you stated in the very beginning.