Princeton Research Day (PRD) is an annual celebration of the research and creative endeavors by Princeton undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. The campus-wide event serves as an opportunity for researchers to share their work with the community and includes research from the natural sciences, social sciences, engineering, the arts and humanities. In this post series, PCUR correspondents cover a range of topics relating to PRD and highlight the valuable lessons this event has to offer.
This year, PRD will be taking place on Thursday, May 11, 2017. You can learn more about participating in or attending Princeton Research Day by visiting the official PRD website here.
This May will mark the second Princeton Research Day (PRD), a campus-wide celebration of undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral research. PRD allows researchers and artists to hone their presentation skills and share their work with the campus community, with the chance of winning awards for excellent presentations.
In anticipation of this year’s application cycle, I asked three students who participated in the inaugural PRD last year about their experiences. I interviewed Allison Simi, a graduate student in CBE who won the Gold Research Talk Award last year, PCUR alumni Stacey Huang ’16 who presented an electrical engineering project, and Jared Lockwood ’19, the only freshman to present.
Allison explored how the stiffening of tissues around tumors affects the progression of cancer, given that treatment currently focuses on cell behavior alone. Stacey explained her thesis, an automated imaging system for use with a remote laser-based methane sensor. And Jared presented research on actual and perceived differences between men and women in participation, scoring, and acceptance among players in Quiz Bowl, an academic competition that suffers from a deficiency of female participants.
Here’s what they had to say.
What were your most important take-aways from the presentation process?
Allison Simi: I’m used to presenting to scientists in the same field as me. It was a useful exercise to translate my research into a more approachable presentation because soon, I will have to communicate what I’ve done to potential employers when I go on interviews.
Stacey Huang: I’d signed up for the 90-second pitch, so I learned how to compress my research work into a tiny summary for a layperson. This was really useful and not something I would have had to do within the lab environment.
Jared Lockwood: Presentation is key to a successful research project: who is your audience, and how are you engaging them? If you are presenting to a general audience, you need to spice up your presentation to maintain their interest–otherwise your research will soon be forgotten, regardless of how surprising or interesting your findings may have been.
What was it like seeing other presentations at PRD?
AS: I enjoyed learning about research being done in other departments, and I especially loved how the sessions were organized into common themes rather than by department. It elucidated connections between disciplines that I would not have made alone. For example, in the same session as me, there was a talk from the history department asking how we can better predict the spread of disease by using historical references to infer how the Plague of Marseille spread. It was fun to learn about, and being from the chemical and biological engineering department, I never would have stumbled into that presentation by myself!
SH: It was a lot of fun since I was placed in a group that had a vast background – there was a sociology major, a history major, a group of two physics majors. Just getting to see what other people have been pouring their lifeblood into is pretty cool. The sociologist presented on how perceptions of education from generation to generation affected grandchildren’s enrollment, and the history major presented on a controversial leader in World War II. I ended up talking with the physics majors who had invented a sensor to detect flow changes using temperature– I was really curious about how they had made the sensor since I was familiar with the physical process behind it!
JL: Watching the presentations at PRD is immensely educational–and not simply because you get to learn about some of the coolest ongoing research projects on campus. Observing how other researchers deliver their presentations, and taking note of what worked well and what didn’t, allows you to hone your own presentation technique. One of the most striking presentations that I saw was by two researchers discussing their work on the production of synthetic proteins. It wasn’t necessarily the results of their work that impressed me, but rather the manner by which they broke down such a complex topic into ideas that were easily digested by a lay audience.
Why do you think students should apply to present at PRD?
AS: First, it is a fun day. We work so hard to produce research that is new and meaningful, and this is the perfect forum to show some pride in what we have accomplished. Second, from a professional perspective, the sooner one can practice presenting their research to a general audience, the better. It is more likely than not that our future employers will have no idea about our specific area of research, but it would benefit us if we can explain how amazing, challenging, and rewarding it is.
SH: It helps you step back from the work you’re so used to being nose-to-nose with and put it into context by explaining it to other people and hearing their thoughts about it. It gives you a low-pressure audience to practice presenting too – always useful to get in more public speaking practice. And you can get your friends to come by and make the question “What’s your thesis about?” an actual conversation.
JL: PRD is a great way for students to develop their presentation skills, show off their research to the community, and even prove to future employers (or funders) that they have the grit to produce great work–not to mention that the top presenters can even win cash prizes!
—Vidushi Sharma, Humanities Correspondent