Are Your Presentations Perfect?

September 3, 2012

As scientists, we are often called upon to give oral presentations about our work. ACS national and regional meetings, job interviews, and departmental seminars are great ways to let others know what you have been doing, and at the same time get instantaneous feedback from your peers. Whether you are presenting to other scientists or to a lay audience, careful planning and tailoring of your message are crucial for effective communication.

Know Your Audience

The most important question is “Who is my audience, and why are they here?” By keeping in mind the characteristics of your audience (educational level, amount of scientific background) and reason for attending (interest or job requirement) you can tailor your presentation to their needs.  Their level of familiarity with the subject matter will directly affect how much background information and detail you should include.

Start Strong

Your first few sentences set the tone for your entire presentation.  First, decide what information you need to include – an introduction of yourself?  The purpose of your presentation?  A broad outline of your talk? Background on your area of research?  Then, plan the wording carefully – It may be easiest to draft the introduction last, after you’ve figured out exactly what and in what order you are going to present your ideas.


You want to lead your audience through a compelling story. Present your data in the most logical order (which may or may not be chronological), with clear demarcations between sections.  Ensure that the transitions between slides, and between sections, are well-marked and smooth.  While you may not want to write out every word of your entire presentation, you do need to know how you are going to transition smoothly.  Use outline slides or other cues to remind the audience of where you are relative to the overall flow, or introduce them to the next section of the presentation.

You Are the Expert

You probably know more about the topic than anyone else in the room, so the audience will be looking to you for expertise.  Don’t undermine your own authority by mumbling, apologizing for the slides, or rolling your eyes.  If you have confidence and a command of the subject matter, your audience will sense and respect that.

Finish Strong

The end of your presentation is every bit as important as the beginning.  Summarize your key points, point out the next steps, and thank your host.

The shorter a talk is, the longer it will take to prepare.  Almost as soon as you know you’re going to be doing a presentation, start gathering information, drafting slides, and framing the content.  You may not be able to fill in everything right away, but the more time you spend thinking about the overarching framework and organization the better it will be.  You will be more confident, and your audience will have a better experience.

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An Express Lane to Careers in Proteomics And Genomics

December 10, 2007

The biotech industry hungers for talent. According to a 2004 report (the most recent available) from the U.S. Department of Labor Employment & Training Administration, because of the rapid growth in the industry, the demand for skilled workers exceeds their availability. Not only that, but the demand is projected to exceed even the number of workers that are currently in training programs.

This week’s employment story in C&EN looks at one way this demand is being met. Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences (KGI), a member of the Claremont Colleges consortium in California, educates students to pursue careers in the biosciences and to meet the needs of bioscience companies for skilled workers. The school offers a Master of Bioscience degree in one of five focus tracks: biomedical devices & diagnostics, pharmaceutical discovery & development, bioprocessing, business of bioscience, and clinical & regulatory affairs.

Sheldon Schuster, KGI’s president, was on the faculty at the University of Florida, Gainesville, and director of the biotechnology program there. Schuster told me the hybrid degree produces graduates who understand both the business and science aspects of industry. It’s also a very hands-on, team-based curriculum.

The first year of the program is the same for all students, technical courses, and lecture courses in business and bioethics. The students round out their first year working in a paid summer internship at a bioscience company. Students are offered an average of two to three internships and about 35% convert those internships into full-time jobs.

In the second year, students select their concentration and teams of four to five students work for an entire year on the Team Masters Project with sponsoring companies to solve real scientific and business problems at the companies. Companies like Amgen, Amylin, Gilead Sciences and Applied Biosystems return year after year to participate (and they pay $55,000 for the privilege).

The KGI faculty have extensive academic and industrial credentials. Deb N. Chakravarti, who is part of this week’s story, worked in the vaccines research division at Wyeth in Rochester, N.Y., where he was in charge of proteomics research in the biotechnology discovery research group. Prior to that, he was an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. He received his B.Sc. in chemistry, and an M.Sc. and Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Calcutta, India. He received a D.Phil. in biochemistry and immunochemistry from the University of Oxford, England, studying under Nobel Prize winning biochemist Rodney R. Porter.

Chakravarti immerses his students to learn how proteomics and genomics relate to drug discovery and development. They learn, for example, how to separate complex mixtures of proteins, such as bacterial extracts, by two-dimensional gel electrophoresis (2-DE), gel image analysis, and high-throughput identification of proteins by tandem mass spec. They are trained to operate a liquid chromatography-electrospray ionization ion trap MS (got that?) to carry out collision-induced dissociation. Students also learn about the scientific and regulatory processes that are part of vaccine discovery and development.

KGI’s corporate partners are equally enthusiastic about the program. They say the key difference between KGI and a traditional graduate program is that students have the opportunity to learn first-hand how biopharma operates and interact with company executives, managers, and scientists. At the same time, the companies have ready access to a source of talented individuals. Said one company executive, “They graduate head and shoulders above their colleagues coming out with a pure science B.S. or M.S. degree.”

The total cost to attend KGI full-time is not cheap: tuition for the 2007-08 academic year runs nearly $37,000 and add to that other costs such as housing, books, and a laptop computer, and you’re looking at a bottom line of nearly $60,000. However, the return on that investment is in the placement rate. KGI president Schuster says that within six months of graduation, 97% of graduates are employed in the life sciences industry in a diverse mix of positions from marketing to the lab. Starting salaries for last year’s graduates were in the mid-$60,000s. This is higher than the median starting salary of $60,000 for new Ph.D. graduates (but below the median starting salary of $75,000 for new Ph.D.s in industry).

Corinne Marasco is Senior Editor for ACS News & Special Features at Chemical & Engineering News.