Imperial College London

PECDT students in research showcase

by

Sam Hillman and Notia Kafourou

Sam Hillman and Notia Kafourou

Two PECDT Cohort 8 students have given talks at the Faculty of Natural Science’s Research Showcase.

The 2020 Showcase, like most events this year, had to be delivered online because of the pandemic, so Sam and Notia pre-recorded their talks. They also offered advice to other students on preparing for and giving academic talks.

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Notina Kafourou (PECDT, Cohort 8 student, Department of Chemistry): Towards Air-stable n-type organic field-effect transistors enabled by novel benzothiadiazole acceptor.

What was it like preparing for, and talking at, the annual FoNS Research Showcase?

Sam: Preparing for the FoNS Showcase was a very interesting and useful experience, because I’ve never previously presented to an audience which was so professionally diverse. I found that less is more: I ended up focusing almost completely on making sure that my take-home message was clear, rather than being tempted to over-explain tangential details. This was both enjoyable and challenging!

Notia: What was nice about preparing a presentation for, and actually presenting at, the FoNS Showcase was the opportunity to talk about our field of research for an audience with diverse research interests. We are so used to speaking in front of researchers who are already experts in the field, and the FoNS event helped me to think about how to prepare this presentation differently. At the same time, it was a stress free presentation because it didn't have a competitive feel, it just served a mutual and genuine interest for the natural sciences.

Why are opportunities like this important?

Sam: I think scientific research is only useful to society if you can communicate it to both policy makers and to society as a whole – just look at 2020 for evidence of that. Events like the FoNS Showcase encourage early career researchers to consider how they should be communicating their work, and to whom.

I also think the Showcase is a great celebration of the work of younger researchers – news articles and other communications often rightly focus on the principal investigator, but PhDs are the engine room of modern research and it’s nice to see that acknowledged in a public forum.

Notia: Talking about your research has different benefits for everyone. I think the more you talk about your subject the more you understand it. The more diverse your audience is, the more emphasis there is on different aspects of the field of research each time. The more presentations you make the more questions you get, and questions end up not being scary but a way to explain your presentation and subject better. Even if you do not have a proper answer at the time of the question, there is always time to think afterwards, and most importantly, to realise that no one knows everything, and the expectation of perfection simply doesn't exist.

I find the PhD a very personal journey which in a sense is the process of gaining fluid knowledge, which when you get to present and talk about it during events like FoNS, the more solid it becomes.

Got any helpful advice for fellow students about giving an academic talk?

Sam: Don’t try to explain too much – if you’ve spent 4 years trying to understand it, you can’t convey all of that in a few minutes!

Notia: Just to add that all these events and presentations cannot be compared with the actual thing! Although I understand there was no other way than to virtually present our work, there are always positives and negatives with the pre-recorded presentation.

You get to listen to yourself speaking which is most of the time uncomfortable, but in the end you have to make peace with it. You can change the presentation any time you want, but then you might end up in a loop where you realise that it's never going to be as perfect as you would like. Then there is the realisation that a good recording needs good equipment that I doubt any of us had, and at the same time there are parameters that can disturb a recording and are unavoidable, from parcel deliveries to London's loudest sirens. I think all virtual events make you appreciate how beautiful is to spontaneously present in front of people and how much you don't have to worry about technicalities. The best part during events like the FoNS Showcase is to communicate, discuss and meet new people, and let's not forget, the celebration after the showcase is over. I guess we missed our chance for 2020 but thank you for doing your best to organise this event despite the difficult circumstances.

 

 

Reporter

Lisa Bushby

Lisa Bushby
Department of Physics