How to win a William P. Lowry Graduate Student Award

Last year, Stephanie Jacobs won a graduate student award for best presentation at the International Conference on Urban Climate. Here she describes the experience and offers some tips to make a winning presentation.

In July I attended the International Conference on Urban Climate (ICUC) in Toulouse, France. I was presenting the research from the first year of my PhD, a validation study into the Weather Research Forecasting models ability to simulate the January 28-30 2009 heatwave over Melbourne.

I was a little concerned with how I would present my study because model validations are usually just the first step towards a much more interesting research question, and they are often not shown in presentations. However, I decided to embrace it and when I spoke, I made sure to emphasise that this was just the early phase of a larger urban heat island mitigation project.

It was exciting going to France and I was ready to mingle and network with the 400 other delegates. For my presentation, I noticed that my session chair was the prominent scientist Jason Ching and that the first talk in my session was by a very famous urban researcher Iain Stewart. This was quite a scary prospect as I realised that I would be speaking to a full room! However, it was also empowering, as I knew that it was a good opportunity to advertise my research to a large international audience.

When I watch scientific talks I really appreciate it when the presenter brings the results back to the main research questions. I also find that a clear summary statement and segue for each slide really helps tell the story of the research. I tried to employ these techniques in my presentation and I practiced my talk countless times so that I knew exactly what the main point for each slide was.

When it was time for my talk I was nervous but managed to calm myself. I had a familiar face in Melissa Hart sitting next to me, and (this sounds quite lame) a sense of purpose. I was here to show off my research and tell the audience how awesome I was. The room was packed.

Luckily for me the presenter before had apologised (completely unnecessarily) for her French accent so I was able to begin with a nice comment and a joke to her that broke the tension between the audience and me. I remained nervous throughout the whole presentation but I also gained confidence from looking at the crowd, “All these people are listening to me talk, maybe they can give me a job?”

Figure: The tricky to explain skew-T log-P diagram in Stephanie's presentation


My talk went well, and I managed to successfully navigate  slides that I had previously stumbled over, including describing a skew-T log-P diagram to an unfamiliar audience. When I finished I knew that I had done well, people wanted to talk to me afterwards about my research and I got some really good feedback on my presentation style.

In September I found out that I won the William P. Lowry Graduate Student Award for the best talk in urban biometeorology/bioclimatology. It was definitely a pleasant surprise.

This was the second presentation award I have received in my PhD (I won a best student poster prize in November 2014) and if I have any tips, it is to have bright and colourful presentations to capture people’s attention. Often students are afraid that academics won’t take them seriously if they have a colourful poster or slideshow with lots of pictures, but if you think about memorable presentations (including many plenary talks) they are often filled with images rather than dot points.

Try and get people’s attention any way you can (within reason!) and then prove to them that you’re a good scientist. I would always rather risk looking silly than not being noticed at all! Another tip is to get excited about your work. It’s ok to smile and say “this finding is really cool!” Just be honest about the work and advertise yourself. You know that you have novel findings, now you just need to tell us!

You can see the full presentation here.


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