Instructions for Senior Comprehensives Presentations

Neuroscience comprehensives are meant to be a learning experience for all concerned, not primarily a test. You may consult with Neuroscience faculty if you have specific questions as you prepare your presentation. (However, the faculty will not go over a draft of your presentation and give feedback or pre-approve it.)

How to prepare

Prepare a 20-minute presentation on the paper you chose. Your presentation will be followed by the comprehensive examination: 10 minutes of questions from two to three neuro faculty members. Most students use Powerpoint, because of the ease of preparing figures and graphs, which can be downloaded from the on-line version of the journal articles and inserted into the presentation.

Downloading the paper

Each paper listed includes a link to the abstract of the paper, and there's a link from the abstract web page to the HTML full-text version (best for screen viewing) and the .pdf version (best for printing out).  Also use the HTML full-text version to download images for use in your presentation.  (Important: be sure to download the full resolution image so that it will be clear when enlarged on the projection screen.) The links work from the Amherst network domain, or for Amherst students and faculty accessing from off-campus from a computer with the correct "proxy server" settings.

Timing your presentation

We must hold closely to the 20-minute time limit for the presentation, which makes it necessary to practice your presentation. It is common to underestimate how long it takes to discuss research that may have taken several scientists months or years of full-time work! It's neither necessary nor possible in the time available to present every detail of the paper. If you leave out something the faculty think is important, we may ask about it during the question period.  Do not read your presentation from a verbatim text.  It's more effective to talk directly to the audience; scientific presentations at meetings and guest speaker seminars are never read from a prepared text.  You can bring any outlines or extensive notes that you wish, but do not write out every word and read it back to the audience.

Your Presentation

Remember that your fellow Neuroscience majors won't have read the paper, and we want everyone attending to learn from the presentation. Therefore, include a real introduction lasting about 5 minutes in which you define important terms and background for the paper. Broadly, a typical allocation of time would be about 5 minutes each of introduction, methodology, results, and conclusions/discussion. Sometimes it works better to go from introduction to the results, and then after beginning to describe the results explain how the result was obtained (i.e., the methods used).

Questions to keep in mind: "Why did they do it? What did they do and how did they do it? What did they find? What does it mean?"

After your presentation

We will have 10 minutes for questions based on the paper, but possibly going beyond the actual content of the paper when appropriate (e.g., knowledge of relevant anatomical details or important previous work leading up to the paper you are presenting). Thus you should go beyond the text of your paper, looking up relevant background material in texts and class notes, and perhaps reading a few (but not all or even most) of the relevant articles in the paper's bibliography.

Possible outcomes

You will either complete the comps on the basis of your presentation and your answers to questions, or you may be asked to write one or more short essays to complete the comps. We have high standards, so it's no discredit to you if you're asked to write an essay.