October 18, 2006

On physics conferences

Chad Orzel of Uncertain Principles gives some thoughts/musings/advice on attending and presenting at physics conferences.

  • Preparing a talk
    One of the biggest misconceptions about science and engineering is that scientists and engineers don't need to be able to write well, or speak well. The popular image of a scientist is a sort of socially retarded obsessive, thoroughly enraptured by odd details of science, but shy and mumbling and inarticulate when talking to other people. There's a little bit of truth to this, mostly in the "obsessive" part, but the reality is that communication skills are at least as important in science as in other disciplines. You can have Nobel Prize-worthy data, but if you can't explain the results, in print and in person, well enough to convince other people of their worth, you'll never shake hands with the King of Sweden. There's a lot of writing involved in science, and a lot of public speaking, though not the same sort of public speaking done by people giving oral reports to their high-school English class.

  • Compared to non-science fields
    The other key difference between science meeting and humanities meetings is in the area of visual aids. Absolutely every talk at a scientific meeting will have some sort of visuals associated with it-- mostly PowerPoint these days, though overhead transparencies used to be the rule-- even if they're just pretty pictures put up on the screen while the speaker natters on about something else. Scientists expect pictures. If you're a humanist asked to give a presentation to scientists, bring some pictures. They don't even have to be all that relevant, but the audience will get very antsy if you don't put something on the screen or chalkboard.
    Good stuff to know. I like these kinds of stories as it helps me understand the people I see at work, the grad students and faculty, and get a glimpse into their work lives.

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