How to introduce a scientist

Introductions are difficult. Even more so when you want to make a good first impression. We all have our standard few lines that we use to say our name, where we are from and what we do. For me it’s usually: ‘Hi my name is Dani. I’m from Poland and America but was brought up in Austria…’ at this point I’m usually interrupted and asked a million questions about where I’m really from. When you are studying in a different country (England in my case) it just adds another unnecessary complication to the story. I’d much rather discuss my masters than dissect the origin of my accent.

In a lecture this year I explained my masters’ project using a technique called the ‘elevator pitch’ – a scenario where you have around two minutes to make a lasting impression. Our lecturer asked us to convey our message in a concise, snappy and interesting way to random masters of science (MSci) students in the room. After about 12 introductions I was already exhausted! All the noise and pressure to remember people’s names and projects almost gave me a headache. I realized this technique is quite stressful and requires practice.

The experience was very useful because it gave us a chance to test the impact our elevator pitch can have. Here are some of the main pointers that I learned from this experience:

Grab their attention!

Making your talk memorable is key! Eliciting emotions, such as laughter in response to a joke and/or excitation about the potential of your work, is one way you can engage your audience.

In my case “I watch fly porn” grabbed people’s attention more than “I mate Drosophila melanogaster”. So I guess sex does sell!? It is important to tread carefully with humorous anecdotes, as these can sometimes be taken the wrong way.

Another student was creative and used her sweater as a prop to explain the shape of a snail’s shell. Thinking outside the box and making the talk tangible is a great way to ensure people remember you.

Why is this important?

Don’t forget to wow your audience with your contribution to science! Get the person to acknowledge and understand the (potential) use of your work so that you are worth listening to. For example, the potential health benefit my research may have for Alzheimer’s patients interested the people I spoke to.

Others seemed quite fascinated about the unique use of two animal models (drosophila and mouse cortical neuron cell culture) to confirm my results. Showing that you are doing something that has not been done before can highlight the importance of the project.

Keep it short and sweet.

Don’t bore the person with details they may not understand. Keeping your talk short but still informative is a great skill to have… but difficult to master. You should show them you’re an expert in your field and also capable of getting your ideas across simply and clearly.  

The experience I had involved talking to students in a variety of courses with interests from behavioural biology to proteomics. I quickly realized not everyone understood how the micro RNAs (miRNAs) could affect gene expression in my experiments, and needed to adapt my talk accordingly. Being able to suss out the detail into which you should/can go, can help you impress anyone, regardless of their expertise.

Practice, practice, practice…

Just like with most things, the best way to improve your introductions is to try them over and over again. Becoming comfortable with the pressure of the situation is definitely something I need to work on. Hopefully I’ll get the knack for it soon and will be able to apply what I’ve learned for scientific conferences in the future.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and try these techniques out! Let me know how it goes in the comment section.

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