By Ellie Yates |
A month before I began my PhD, I was invited to present my proposed research in Lebanon. This was an amazing but intimidating opportunity! I accepted graciously as I had previous experience in sessional teaching for the past two years, so presenting work to a large group of people I had not met was not a foreign experience to me (pardon the pun). Following on from the experience, I’ve put together a list of tips for someone who is in the early stages of their PhD who may have been asked to present their research in a foreign country, or who may be yet to present at all.
First and foremost – you will be nervous. I think this is a given for anyone presenting. For me, this was not only the first time presenting abroad (outside the comfort zone of university), but the first time presenting my proposed research altogether! Trust me, I understand nerves. However, nerves are healthy. Just ensure you know how to use them to your advantage. Remember that you would not have been given this opportunity if those around you did not have faith that you would do a good job. Before I go on a tangent discussing ‘imposter syndrome’, I’ve compiled a list of four important steps I think you should take into consideration when presenting your research abroad.
- Preparation is key
I think this goes without saying – but my first stumbling block was that I couldn’t locate my presentation on my USB. Panic. However, I knew I had also emailed it to myself (and luckily there was internet) a few days before and once I had logged in and opened it I could sit down, again faking confidence! In addition to this, ensure you have all your materials, and that if (like me) you are likely to blank, keep flashcards with you. Remember that you know your research better than anyone else, and you have lived and breathed this work for a long time, and probably have explained it to your friends and family on multiple occasions. If all else fails, remember your key research themes and questions and the rest should flow naturally once you begin your discussion.
- Speaking in a country where English isn’t the first language
This may not apply to everyone, but I presented in a tri-lingual country. Without stating the obvious, remember you need to speak clearly. Your PowerPoint presentation, if you have one, should also be clear to read and understand – not too busy or with too much text. However, after saying all of this, remember that you are speaking to academics and people within a similar field who are well-educated, so there is no need to dumb down your presentation or use simplistic terminology unnecessarily. Balance is key.
- Know your audience
Linking to my previous point, you need to remember who you are talking to. This is particularly important if you intend to cite or discuss the work of people in the room. Ensure you know your stuff! Also, remember to be sensitive to the nature of your topic and how it may relate to the country you are presenting in. It is important that if you are speaking on a sensitive topic nature (such as the country’s ill-managed handling of the refugee crisis brought about by civil war from a neighbouring country, in my case!) that you go about this with care. In addition to this, if you are early in your academic journey, make this clear – academics will be understanding of your circumstances and (hopefully) not ask questions that are beyond the breadth of your knowledge.
- See this as an opportunity
Remember, you are speaking to academics here – there may be some key people of interest in the audience so remember to utilise this as an opportunity, particularly as an early-career academic. Utilise this as a potential networking opportunity – even with people that you think, right now, may not be of use to you. In addition to this, remember to be open to suggestions to change your work. I didn’t have many questions but one academic (who was unrelated to my specific discipline but concerned with my topic area) suggested a different title for my work – and it made sense. It helped me see things in a different perspective and I really appreciated the advice.
Overall, the key points from this blog post are to prepare and to learn. Remember to see this as an excellent opportunity to network and share your ideas, particularly if you are early in the stages of your PhD study. In addition to this, ensure that you utilise this as an opportunity to help shape your research. Rest assured that the people in the room will want to see you succeed in your chosen field and will take an interest in your research. Take a deep breath, and good luck!
Ellie Yates is currently undertaking a PhD in Criminology at Keele University. Her research explores the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon and the role of the UNHCR. She is also employed as a casual research assistant and sessional tutor. You can find her on Twitter @EllieYatesPhD.