Thursday, August 16, 2012

Talks to student audiences

When talking to undergraduates and grad students at various departments, I've often heard them wish that speakers would give a talk pitched at a lower level so that they had an opportunity to understand what current research in the field looks like. If such a program was in place already, I've uniformly heard from grad students how much they appreciate the feature. In general, I think this is a great idea. Coming out of undergrad, other than some small summer "research" jobs coding, I had no idea what real research looked like.

I've seen various implementations of this idea. My graduate program had a seminar series given primarily by professors in the department pitching their research to first and second year students. This was mostly a way for professors to attract gradstudents. It also gave a way for older students to know what research was happening in the department outside their area of specialization. Sometimes grad students would use it as an opportunity to talk about their own research before a thesis defence or a conference talk. My first post doc institution had a series where a few outside speakers a year would come and give a colloquium talk aimed at the general public. Needless to say, these were generally big names with sexy topics to draw an audience from outside the department. I've seen one department have regular pre-talks aimed at grad students, given the same day as the regular talk. These had the goal of giving the grad students enough background material to be able to understand some of the main talk. And recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a seminar series with talks aimed primarily at undergrads and gradstudents.

The only other time I've given a talk aimed at this audience was in my graduate seminar series. At that point, my goal for the talk was to gain practise at giving talks. I think this recent talk went well, but I'm not sure how I should judge that. Nor am I sure what my goal for this talk should have been. Surely there is a "service" aspect of it; exposing other students to what modern research looks like. But are there other aspects I should be looking at when giving such talks? Is there a long term networking aspect to this? Am I overthinking the issue too much? I certainly enjoyed the experience, I'm just not sure what to make of it.

Have other people given such talks? What were your goals going into it, and what do you get out of it? 

1 comment:

  1. I find that in any talk or presentation I give it totally helps to bring everything into "how it affects you" otherwise it's just words you can daydream through... I first made this realization in my Chemistry 101 class (probably more like 150)

    Where I found that if I included the question "how can you make this blow up?" to every lecture, everyone got it, and cared SO MUCH MORE!