I couldn’t distract myself for too long however as I had to settle into “scientific presentation mode”. Each PhD student had been asked to prepare an 8 minute powerpoint presentation on their projects, to be followed by 4 minutes for questions. I was hoping that I would score some “novelty” points for working on parasitic plants but worried that I would be confronted with technical enquiries that were out of my depth (4 minutes is a long time to be interrogated!). I barely had time to drop my bag off in my room and grab a cup of tea before we launched into the talks.
I was disappointed with my talk, both with my delivery ( stumbling over the odd word) and how I handled the questions ( I realise that I could improve my knowledge on the more technical details of MALDI-MS). At least I managed to get the words out although I was extremely put off when I realised that we were being filmed! My strategy for giving presentations is to try and learn my words by rote but I do worry that this makes me sound too 'mechanical'. As though I am not even interested in what I am speaking about. ( and nothing could be further from the truth!). Certainly the most engaging speakers this afternoon had a natural style and gave the impression that they could talk about their work at any time, in any setting as they were so familiar and comfortable with it. A level to aspire to, in my case! As mine was the last talk, everyone's thoughts are probably already on dinner, a formal three course meal we enjoyed in the upper hall.
The after dinner speaker was Michael Akam, a developmental biologist whose papers on Hox genes I remember studying for my final year undergraduate exams. Through his own diverting career he was able to give some sage advice to the assembled PhD students. Mainly, to KEEP GOING and accept that there will be weeks at a time when nothing will seem to go right. It is all very well to get the interesting result you were hoping for but to replicate it is quite another thing again! He also encouraged us to make sure we chose an area we had a real attraction to : there is no point investigating an answer to a question that we are not personally interested in answering. Meanwhile, he also emphasised how important it is to capture the imagination if others with your science. He pointed out that palaeontology never ceases to attract funding, despite the fact that studying dinosaurs could have little 'useful' application in the modern age. I think Jurassic Park has a lot to answer for this!
Although the stream of questions showed no sign of abating, at half past none, it was decided to adjourn to the bar. As for me, I headed to my lovely college room to try and get some rest for tomorrow