FIU Mini-Symposium: The New World of Presenting

Desiree Pico, Co-Editor in Chief

Researching and presenting research are the major cornerstones of academics in college, particularly when pursuing something in the sciences or medicine. Colleges and universities invest a lot of resources to provide students with opportunities to conduct this research, which they later have to present, usually at school-organized symposiums, like the one I recently attended.

This past summer, I got my first taste of what presenting at the college level is like, and it was truly one of the most eye-opening and rewarding experiences I have ever had. I had spent eight fast-paced weeks conducting research on Parkinson’s disease with a professor at Florida International University over the summer through a program called Summer Research Internship (SRI). At the end of those eight weeks, on August 11, 2017, I had to give a presentation at the SRI Mini-Symposium of my research. Because I earned second place, I was invited back to present at another FIU symposium in the fall.

The day finally came on Friday, October 13, 2017. The name of the symposium itself was intimidating: 2017 MARC U*STAR and NIGMS RISE Student Biomedical Mini-symposium. So many highly-educated individuals would be in the audience listening to everything I said, and they would be speaking in front of me too about very advanced topics. As soon as the grad students began to present, I realized just how different presenting at the college level is from anything I’ve done before. Their eloquence, enunciation, and cool demeanor while speaking were both awe-inspiring and frightening; I would have to be that good in the future. Titles like “20-hydroxyecdysone (20E) and its role in the reactivation of the CA of the mosquito Aedes aegypti post blood feeding” were said with ease. The most complex titles I had presented before the symposium were ones like “COPD in the U.S.” or “Depression.” I went from saying simple titles like these to saying “Mitofusin 2 Expression in the Ventral Midbrain of Mice with Mitochondrial Dysfunction,” one of the most obvious differences between high school presentations and college level ones.  

However, one of the most comforting revelations I had was in observing the presenters in the moments before and after standing up in front of everyone. Some breathed slowly and heavily out of their mouths, others fought with wringing hands and jittery legs. During the presentation, though, none of these things could be seen; they managed to find complete composure over their nerves, so much so that had I not observed them before and after, I would never have guessed they were nervous at all. This greatly reassured me, seeing how even at the college and graduate levels, nerves are still there, but they can be managed.  

The thought of having all eyes on me, all ears on my voice scares me to no end. When the announcer called me up to present, the sudden surge of anxiety followed by a cool, lightheaded feeling took over my whole body. I began to sweat, and wonder what would happen; would I mispronounce the scientific terminology? Would I blank out? What would the panel of three judges before me write down? I dreaded having to stand in front of others and speak, but I tried my best to appear confident, to appear like the grad students did.

Despite having hyperactive nerves, I was slightly comforted by the fact that much of the audience consisted of my peers. Led by Mrs. Melissa Fernandez, forty biomedical students who wanted to experience first-hand what college presentations are like came on a field trip to witness the event. This experience proved to be a test of my control– or perhaps lack thereof– over my nerves.

Things went along smoothly, until midway through my presentation when the projector froze. I stood there, an awkward silence drifting through the room as I struggled to maintain my composure, repeatedly pressing the slide clicker to give commands to an unresponsive computer. In that moment, I had two options: panic and give up, stopping the presentation, or take control of my emotions and continue. After watching the impressive presentations by the grad students and taking a look at the judges before me and all of the important faces in the audience, I decided that giving up was not an option.

If I ever hoped to speak publicly in the professional manner the other grad students did when I enter the real world, I would need to be resilient, adapting to the difficulties of a situation and using it to my advantage. By continuing to present after the screen froze, I was able to convince the audience that I was comfortable presenting to them and in control of the situation, even if I really wasn’t. Sometimes, the key to a great presentation is not so much in the reality of the speaker’s emotions, but in what the audience perceives their emotions to be, in the individual’s presentation itself.