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In addition to your written thesis, you will typically give a thesis presentation (sometimes called an "oral defense") to the Neuroscience faculty and students. There is an understandable feeling of being finished when your thesis has been turned in, but be sure to plan time to consult with your advisor about your thesis presentation and to spend adequate time preparing.
- Presentations are 12 minutes long with an additional 3 minutes for questions. We strongly encourage you to practice your talk beforehand to ensure that your talk fits within the allotted time.
- Your final thesis grade and your Latin honors will NOT be affected by your presentation. Your grade and Latin honors are based exclusively on the written document you provide to your advisor and readers. The primary purpose of these presentations is to celebrate the wonderful work you have done over the last year and to share that work with your classmates and faculty!
- While you are not required to use slides, we encourage you to do so. Having visual aids often makes it easier for your audience to follow you (and will likely help you convey key ideas). Thus, we suggest you put together a slideshow using PowerPoint, Keynote, Google Slides, or a similar type of program.
- If you use slides, we recommend you have clear sections (i.e., Background, question, methods, results, conclusion, etc.). Having clear sections at the top of your slides will not only help your audience follow the logic of your project, it will also help you winnow a year’s worth of work down to a relatively short talk.
Here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind when preparing your talk:
Know your audience: Put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself questions like: How much does my audience know about my topic? What are the most important ideas I want them to walk away understanding about my thesis? What terms/methods are second-nature to me, but may be totally new to them? If you are using key terms that may be new to the audience, introduce them early in your presentation with a clear, simple definition. Once an audience gets lost, it’s very difficult to get them back on track. Make sure to remember that your audience does not know everything you do and so you want to simplify things so they can follow you.
You cannot talk about every single aspect of your thesis: Since the final thesis document is a fairly substantive piece of scholarship, it is not possible to talk about everything in it. Instead, focus on one main, high-level point you want your audience to learn from your talk. What is the main question? What is the primary result that answers that question? Do not feel pressure to talk about every analysis or control experiment you conducted. If the audience is curious about those things, they can ask!
Less is more, especially when it comes to slides: A few quick suggestions about making slides include: a) try and minimize the amount of text you put on a slide, b) do not put too many figures on one slide, and c) always make sure to walk your audience through whatever visual you show them (i.e., if you put up a figure or a schematic, take the time to describe it clearly).
Start your talk with a big picture question/hypothesis and then make sure to return to that question/hypothesis at the end: A common tip that goes back to Aristotle is “Tell them (your audience) what you are going to tell them, then tell it to them, and then tell them what you told them.” In other words, describe your question/hypothesis very clearly at the beginning, describe your experiments and results, and then explain how those experiments and results answered your question/hypothesis.
Practice!: Very few people are innately good at delivering scientific presentations. It takes time, effort, and practice. Say your talk out loud to yourself. Show your slides to your classmates or your thesis advisor. Take some time before your presentation so that you feel relaxed, confident, and prepared.
For more information on your presentation, please reach out to your advisor with any questions you may have.
In addition, here is a link to a pdf put together by the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) about designing effective science presentations.