Thesis complete! Now SVPCA ahhh

Today, I submitted my MSc thesis. What a huge weight off my shoulders! Of course, shortly after I printed it, I discovered a mistake. Don’t worry, it was minor. I had to resist the urge to re-print it. But now it is handed in and complete. No more work until… next week. Dammit.

On Monday, I’m off to the SVPCA annual meeting in Oxford, where I will do my first ever conference presentation titled “A novel approach to measuring pterosaur bone mass using CT scans”. I will be presenting the results of my MSc research, co-authored by my supervisor Colin Palmer. I’m also hoping to get the first publication submitted shortly, but we’ll see. Sadly, there are only 3 pterosaur oral presentations, and mine is first (how’d that happen?!). I’m really looking forward to the other pterosaur talks, which involve one on the really awesome Darwinopterus by David Unwin et al, and a small azhdarchoid from the Isle of Wight by Darren Naish et al. There are also a few posters on pterosaurs: a re-appraisal of Istiodactylus latidens from Calum Davies, a re-appraisal of British Jurassic pterosaurs by Michael O’Sullivan, pterosaur tooth anatomy by Steven Vidovic, and azhdarchid relationships by Mark Witton. Apparently no one from outside of the University of Portsmouth decided to submit a poster on pterosaurs since 3 are by UoP PhD students, and one is a staff member. What the heck? Share the love, guys! Speaking of guys, they are also all male… Interesting. Where are the females? I just noticed I’m also the only female pterosaur presenter.

I have to admit, I’m terrified to present next week. I have talked in front of a large number of people once in my life, and that was at my Mom’s funeral. This is a little bit different. In that case, I was talking about my Mom. Who could tell me I’m wrong? Now, I have to get up in front of a room full of experts, where lots of people could tell me I’m wrong. AND it’s right before lunch, when I’m sure most people would rather be eating. On the plus side, that may mean that no one will ask me questions. This isn’t helped by the fact that there are a number of experts in my particular field in the room, including ones that I contradict in my talk. Mark Witton already gave me a heart attack by telling me I couldn’t use his results in my presentation because I disagreed with him. He had me convinced that he was serious. (I’ll get you back for that, Mark… you have been warned). Wednesday can stay away for now I think… But seriously, does anyone have any suggestions of what to do/not do at a scientific conference? Specifically while giving a talk? Have I mentioned that I’ve never even been to a real conference? Geez, whose idea was it to give a talk at a conference before going to one. Clearly that was a bad idea.

I’ve practiced my talk in front of a group of people once, and had some positive response. Plus, Colin took a look at it and gave me some suggestions. I’m hoping it goes well. But lets just say that I will be extremely happy once Wednesday is over.

Now that I’m done my thesis, you might ask what I am going to do with myself? Well immediately, I will start applying for scholarships. I have a PhD position at Bristol starting in January, but it’s unfunded, so I’m in need of some way of paying for this. Most of the deadlines are from October-December, so that’s what I’ll be doing. At the end of October, I go home for a few months to spend with my family. My Mom passed away in January, so I’d like to go home and spend time with my family through that tough time (like her birthday, Christmas, and 1 year from her death). It won’t be a happy few months, but at least I’ll be with family. Then in January, I’ll come back to Bristol and start my PhD. That’s the plan anyways. If there’s something I’ve learned this year, it’s that nothing goes according to plan…

I’ll post my thoughts on the conference when I get back next week!

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5 thoughts on “Thesis complete! Now SVPCA ahhh

  1. If I may offer a suggestion, I think it will help. Do not eat poppy seed buns prior to your talk. No I am not speaking from experience, but I can imagine the horror on the audiences face as you go to talk with a set of teeth full of little black poppy seeds… haha

    You will do great, and after you present, you will realize just how unfrightening these things are!

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  2. Hm. That is a good suggestion. Since my talk is before lunch, I likely won't eat anything before I get up and speak. That will be saved for afterwards. I hope that I feel better after. I guess we just wait and see!

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  3. Another suggestion: bring a bottle of water up there with you. If someone asks a particularly difficult question, take a big sip of water while you contemplate the anwser and take a breather. It'll give you time to think!

    Best of luck Liz! You're doing amazing things!! Stay positive and take good care 🙂

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  4. There are a lot of good resources out there for preparing yourself for conference presentations – I would recommend the series by the folks over at SV-POW. Here's the last one with links to the previous entries: http://svpow.com/2011/12/17/tutorial-16-giving-good-talks-part-4-delivery/.

    A few tips from me: First, make your powerpoint presentation almost entirely images, and make the images fill up the whole slide. I rarely have any text on my slides, except to label figures or indicate which specimen/species I am talking about, and very rarely I will include a question or concluding sentence to drive home a point. No slides full of bullet-points. They are boring and people can read faster than you can talk. Much better to tell a story over a picture that people can absorb and think about. The downside to this sort of talk is that you really need to know your stuff, because there won't be written-down cues for you.

    In terms of mental preparation: once your presentation is all put together, take a few minutes and write down a 'script' for yourself for each slide, even if it's just in point-note form. Bring this up to the podium with you, even if you never look at it. It's there if you completely lose your thoughts and will help you get back on track. If the slide projector bulb burns out, you can still finish your talk from your notes.

    Practice your talk with a small group of friends beforehand. If something doesn't flow right, rearrange your talk until it does – don't try to force something that isn't working. Be ruthless in your information- and slide-cutting, and don't try to cram too much information into a short talk.

    I'm sure you will do great!

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  5. Marco – always a good suggestion. I definitely need to remember a bottle of water because I also get a dry throat. Also, I talk to fast when I get up in front of people and am nervous, so that helps me slow down. Thanks for the encouragement 🙂

    Victoria – your suggestions are much appreciated. It's nice to get some suggestions from someone who has done it lots before! I'm super nervous, but I tend to over prepare for things like this so it should be fine. Can't wait until it's done!

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