Presenting your research: a guide for PhD students

Published by Emma - Clinical Pharmacology PhD June 13, 2016 9:04 am

Research is important only when it is practically applied for the benefit of the community. Therefore, what’s more essential for a researcher than being able to communicate research effectively?

Conferences are organized for this particular reason. Attending is the simplest option. However, you might be asked to present your research in front of both a scientific and a lay audience. This is where panic attacks start, but let’s calm down for a while and take it positively.

What to expect

Conferences are the best opportunity to meet other people. In fact, not just “other people”, but people with very similar interests, daily routine and background to yours. It is all about scientific development and socializing at the same time.

When attending a conference also consider exchanging ideas, being exposed to a multicultural environment and receiving too much information (some of which can be very supportive, helpful and informative). You can expect nothing less than great interaction between different researchers, usually working at a multinational level.

In addition, your colleagues are always ready to chat about their research, but also about other interests you have in common during a conference break. Therefore, this is definitely the easiest way to create connections and meet your fellow students (who used to be just strangers in corridors).

Finally, if you decide to participate in any practical workshops and/or discussion panels organized, you will never regret it for two reasons. The first is the incredible experience which will enable you to deliver a workshop yourself in the future. The second is that researchers are then ready to answer any (silly or not) question you might have about a field you had never heard a word about. You have the chance. Use it!


Workshops can be really fun sometimes. They are designed to represent a scientific game.

And before I forget, be ready to have the worst cup of coffee ever (out of my experience so far tea is a much better option).

What to prepare

Don’t you ever miss the chance to submit an abstract to an interesting and relevant to your research conference! A presentation and/or a poster are the most popular ways to do so. Round tables can be a second though if available.

If the organizing committee gives you the chance to present your work, then that means you deserved it. No favors are allowed anyway. So, just celebrate it and be confident. Practice is the key to a relaxed and convenient presentation, as well as to attract attention (no one goes to conferences to sleep).

Mr Bean holding his eyes open

Respect your audience. They will in return show you their respect.

Even if you are not presenting, you should be prepared to give a short description of your research interests, without too much detail, but with attention to the impact it has. Be prepared also for any possible questions (people like to ask!).

What to achieve

By the end of your time, you should have already convinced people for the importance of your research and your enthusiasm about it. It might lead to possible collaborations, new friendships or even offer for work later (you never know who attended your talk).

For the duration of the conference, attend many presentations, listen to keynote speakers and make sure you get inspired by other researchers’ work and interests. Good projects often combine a number of disciplines! Grab your chance to build your relationship with colleagues you already know, but to whom you never actually talked.

What is more, it feels great to hear positive comments after your presentation. Some days ago I was honestly flattered by a young researcher commenting one year later on my talk at the previous NEPG conference. We met at a University meeting and she actually remembered me!

The webpage advertising Emma's talk at the NE Postgraduate Conference

Last year’s MRes project presentation at the NEPG conference.

What to avoid

I am sure that a long boring presentation full of text is never a key to success. “Don’t do unto others what you don’t want others to do unto you.” Moreover, time limits exist for some reason. Keep it short to make it work.

Try not to confuse the audience with no clear conclusions at the end. The use of three key messages at the end is a golden rule for oral and poster presentations. Also, avoid posing too many questions to a stressed presenter. Individual discussions are allowed and can actually work much better in case there is a real scientific interest (a stronger relationship can also be built this way).

Group saying 'You're not supposed to ask hard questions!'

Leave the difficult part for an individual discussion instead.

And I left the big don’ts at the end. Avoid being alone or with old friends all the time. You are there to get the most of it. Finally, avoid leaving early; prizes are at the end, you don’t want to miss that part!

Good luck with the presentation of your work and yourself as a researcher. Take this unique experience and share it with your friends to inspire more people to attend good and well organized meetings of scientists. We are not that weird anyway. We can be professionals and fun at the same time.

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