Monday, April 15, 2013

Why Did You Say That? (in your talk introduction)

A colleague recently commented to me on the tendency for graduate students to introduce their talks at conference by telling the audience that they are students. I had noticed this some (though certainly not all) grad student do this but hadn't really thought anything of it. My colleague didn't like these "I am a student" introductions because he thought the students were saying it to lower expectations or to try to make it more difficult for people to ask challenging questions.

In most cases, it was obvious from various clues (such as the list of coauthors) or prior knowledge that the speaker was a student, so why mention it?

Perhaps my colleague is right about the motivation of some student speakers, but I think there could also be more positive reasons for why a student would mention their studentness in the introduction of their talk. For example, they could be saying "I'm still a student but I was selected to give a talk to present my excellent results and I am or will soon be looking for a job so please pay attention because I am really good."

A possible argument against that hypothesis is that we couldn't think of any postdocs who mentioned their postdoctoralness in a talk introduction. Presumably this motivation would also be relevant to postdocs, if not even more relevant?

I have no idea what the motivation is because I don't think I ever introduced a talk this way when I was a student. I could be wrong because this was a while ago, but I am reasonably certain it wouldn't have occurred to me to introduce a conference talk this way. Therefore, to find out the answer (or, more likely, the answers), I am asking you, the readers who have done this very thing as students, what your motivation was.

And, to the extent that you can determine this, if you had a specific aim in mentioning your student status, did you achieve this aim?



36 comments:

John Vidale said...

Could be to frame the talk in their home power structure - "I've got this prof and these researchers on my team, remember that if you're skeptical or some detail isn't right or well said."

Much like when we mention our collaborators at the start of a talk. I still do that if the subject of the talk exceed my personal expertise.

N. Holzschuch said...

When I mentioned my student status at the beginning of my talks, and when my students do it, it's to express the obvious: "I am currently (or will be soon) looking for jobs and post-docs". Shameless self-advertising, if you wish.

Phillip Helbig said...

If a postdoc has to mention that he is looking for a job, then it is too late. In other words, if he is giving a talk, and people don't know who he is, he doesn't have a chance anyway.

Maybe some students mention the fact to politely correct being called Dr. so-and-so by the chairman.

Whoosh... said...

I'd like to introduce myself as somebody who never introduced herself as a student at her conference talks, but who still wants to comment here. I did my PhD in a system where someone doing a PhD is not a student anymore but usually an employee. So the step from being a student to being a young professional has been taken already and the next step to the postdoctoral level is not as unreachable as it seems to be from a students perspective. And being a researcher giving a talk at a science conference made sense to - even in this "fresh" state. For conferences in the US I found that this hierarchical difference between students and professionals is sometimes even underpinned by the existence of special student sessions, where the students can do their first conference talk steps in a more protected environment. But at the same time they are kept away from the "real stuff" going on in the neighboring sessions.
Basically, I think it all comes down to how a PhD student is perceived at his/her institution - as a student or as a professional researcher - if he/she feels to be at the right spot as a researcher or maybe still a bit misplaced as a student.

AfterMath said...

I remember when I was in school, my title slide always said something like "PhD Candidate". I always did this because there are several classes of people at these conferences and I was always proud to be on the path towards my PhD. I also wanted to be able to note the times when I could add the ", PhD" after my name.

Anonymous said...

I haven't done this, but before reading this I would have without too much thought! As a student your lab can be a fairly large chunk of your identity as a researcher--and gives useful information about the traditions in which you're being trained. And you may think of your work as "coming out of the lab," rather than as your own independent research program (which is developing, but under your advisor's umbrella).

Then again--I always phrase it as "I work with [advisor]" rather than "I'm a student of [advisor]" and hadn't given that much thought, either.

Aisling said...

I don't remember if I ever did this, but I think I may very well have. If so, the reason would be the work context (being perceived as a student) and some kind of misplaced funding acknowledgement.

I have recently noticed that many researchers in Europe tend to present their work as something that was done "in the framework of the CuteAcronym project" where CuteAcronym is basically a grant they obtained from the European FP7 or a local grant agency. I have never seen a US researcher introduce their work as done "in the framework of R01-123456". CuteAcronym sure sounds better than R01-123456, but there seems to be more to it. In Europe, there is this weird crazyness for project acronyms, project logos, project websites and so on, which make it easy to blur the lines between the funding and the underlying science. People are getting caught in a vision of things where, instead of getting a cool research direction funded, perhaps from more than one source (the funds come because of the research idea), they end up doing the cool research because they obtained the funding (the research happens because of the funds). While both sides of the coin are true, I believe funding information belongs to the acknowledgement portion of a talk/paper and should be an introduction or justification of research directions.
I would attribute the student presentation to the issue of properly emphasizing research vs. funding/training. I feel it's easier to be confused about these things earlier in a career.

Bob Smith said...

I always instruct my students when giving their talks: not to say they're students, and to call me by my first name when they mention they work with me. Don't say "I work with Prof. Smith", say "I work in Bob Smith's lab" if necessary, or just say "my collaborators are John Doe, Jan Toe, Jane Xoe, and Bob Smith". "I work in Bob's lab" is also fine.

This includes undergraduate students presenting in regular sessions at physics conference. I don't have anybody in my group presenting in special student sessions, if there's a way they can present in the regular sessions.

James Annan said...

Isn't it just a matter of self-introduction? Obviously Big Important Professor doesn't need to say who they are, as everyone will already know - at least, anyone who matters will know. But for a relative newcomer, it's only polite to provide just a smidgin of background - it helps the audience know where they are coming from figuratively as well as literally. IMO of course.

Anonymous said...

I'm in the humanities, and it's pretty common at our conferences. I think part of it is advertising that the student will soon be on the market--my field doesn't really do postdocs--and part is to signal that the research underpinning the presentation might not be complete. I think it does sort of get used as a "please don't be too mean" or "my advisor is fancy" shield, though.

Anonymous said...

Maybe because it's awkward to correct people?

I don't mention my student status generally, and people sometimes assume I'm a post-doc (or once a professor). Sometimes it matters and I need to correct people -- it's always a bit awkward to do so.

"So where did you do your PhD?"
"Oh, um, I'm still working on it... at University X."

Colleen said...

I only gave two oral presentations at national meetings in graduate school. For one, I was representing my advisor who had been the invited speaker, so I said who I was and probably said I was a graduate student. For the other, I don't think I said my name at the start (it was on the slide and you are introduced), but I probably said I was a student on the acknowledgement slide when mentioning my PI as my graduate advisor. Definitely if it was a presentation in my university I would have introduced myself as a student in my PI's lab, since it was a way for people to know who I was and which lab I was in. I think part of saying "I'm a student" is saying "I'm a student in this person's lab." It is a way to give credit to the lab up front. I could be wrong, but I would assume that the reason for saying "I'm a student" would be either to acknowledge your mentor or as a form of pride (in some forums student presenters are rare). Maybe rarely it would be to get easier questions or be used as a reason for having less data, but I doubt that identifying yourself as a student would really change the type of feedback you get from the talk in that way. However, it might result in more positive feedback and PI's trying to recruit you for a postdoc if they know you aren't already a postdoc.

Anonymous said...

As an undergraduate, I introduced my presentation as "part of my honors thesis at X College." I was beginning to apply to graduate schools at that time, and many of my prospective advisors were attending that session. I still was asked rigorous questions, and in my field I don't think there is much bias in the "toughness" of questions asked of students vs. professors or more experienced researchers.

In my (relatively small) field, I don't think graduate students need to say that they are a "student," as that is generally recognized by their age, collaborators, or widespread knowledge of who they are. Undergraduates very rarely give talks at our meetings, and I like to know that context when I hear their presentations -- they are often the students to keep an eye on in the future.

Anonymous said...

Agree with James. Assuming nobody knows who you are, I think it's useful to provide a mini introduction. Why should you remain that mysterious person who gave a talk? This way you can be Prof. X's awesome student, which will look good for yourself and your advisor. Keeping them guessing as to your identity could hurt you: if your talk is great, they'll think "wow, great talk, especially for student," if it's great, but a bit amateurish, they'll think "wow, great talk for a student," if it's not so great, they'll think "well, I'll cut them some slack since it's probably their first talk." If you didn't introduce yourself, the biggest benefit I could see is that you wouldn't risk causing the audience to discredit you right off the bat. But I would hope that if someone in the audience were still sitting in the audience when you started, they would at least give you a chance before tuning out (vs bailing because they didn't recognize your name in the first place). Also, John's suggestion is good as well - it helps put into context your role in the project (i.e., you probably didn't come up with the project from scratch, you may or may not have as much expertise on the subject as your advisor, but you probably did a lot of the work, etc.).

The fact that people are questioning why students would introduce themselves this way is a bit worrisome to hear. It makes me feel like I'm living in this big academic conspiracy where I need to be watching everything I do for fear of being judged negatively vs. just doing great work and being genuine and not overthinking things like this (and I do overthink a lot of things - this one just seems kind of ridiculous).

Anonymous said...

I was just at a conference and was wondering the same thing. I don't think students should do it (and I never have)

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion!

I'd first state that I do not like formal "title slides"--they tend to be used by young folks and seem like a formal announcement that " I am new to this business. " Instead start with a slide that frames your big picture question.

In contrast however, a brief verbal self-introduction, particularly in biomedical science where most work is now team based, seems like a good way to put your work in context and put your collaborators names on the table at the start. In our Department seminars, no one thinks its odd that the host introduces the speaker--this seems similar.

I was quite surprised by Phillip Hiebig's comment "If a postdoc has to mention that he is looking for a job, then it is too late. In other words, if he is giving a talk, and people don't know who he is, he doesn't have a chance anyway.". He must be in a field much smaller than mine--I certainly do not know all the postdocs in my area, even the best ones. Sometimes the work is unpublished and I would not have had a chance to see it--alternately if its published I admit i most often remember the lab it came from, not the person who did it. So once again a brief self-introduction seems wise.

Mark P

Anonymous said...

At most conferences I attend, it would be the normal case for a PhD student or maybe a postdoc to present.

It's generally unusual enough, that a professor who was presenting would probably make some explaining comment e.g. "so-and-so had problems getting a visa" or "is too busy at their AwesomeNewStartup" or whatever.

Anonymous said...

I recently discouraged one of my students from stating their status on the title slide. However, I don't mind if they verbally mention it at the start of the talk. So I guess I'm ok with letting it be known, but not overemphasizing it.

I think this issue depends on what is the norm in your field. If half of all students do it, then it is not a big deal and people are used to it. Similarly, in my field, everyone uses title slides, even Nobel Prize winners.

Ninotschka said...

I'm also in a system where PhD candidates are employees, and so I have a hard time identifying as a student. Faculty here refer to us as junior colleagues, our peers are junior professionals in their chosen field, and it would never cross my mind to say "I study at School X" instead of "I work at school X". With that in mind, I don't introduce myself as a student. Then again, I am in relatively small field, and so if you say "I am at GradU and work with Dr. So-and-So", everyone will figure that you're So-and-So's student (we don't really do postdocs anyway.)

Anonymous said...

I don't think I have ever introduced myself as a student (and I know I have been told this is unnecessary), but I have said that the work I am presenting is part of my dissertation research. I have done this in part because I am associated with two universities for my dissertation, and also because I have given talks on various projects throughout my career.

The conferences I go to always note in the schedule when a presenter is a student, so people know anyway.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

I've been instructing students to start their elevator talks with "I'm ____ and I work in ____'s lab at ____". This establishes where they are from, which can be very important for locating them later. If they want to add that they are undergrads, grads, postdocs, or technicians, that is up to them. I see no harm in the extra information, and sometimes some benefit.

Alex said...

I'm at a conference right now, and most/all of the professors simply said "Hello, I'm talking about..." As far as I recall, same for the postdocs. However, now that you've brought it up I did realize that one or two students said "Hello, my name is [], and I'm a PhD student in the laboratory of..." The way they said it, they sounded completely natural and conversational, so it wasn't jarring or interrupting the flow or anything. But since you mentioned it, I noticed it.

EliRabett said...

As several have said, it is useful enough and graceful enough to say something like, I need to thank my advisor XX for her support, and also my colleages, y, z, and w for their help with this hideously difficult technique, and oh yes, NSF for their financial support.

Cherish said...

I've been to some conferences where people will tear you apart for the slightest error, so I can imagine doing this as a pre-emptive 'please don't kill me' plea. Of course, there are a lot of other good reasons listed above, specifically letting people know that they may be job hunting soon.

Funny Researcher said...

I almost always use to introduce my self as "I am a PhD candidate working in KK Lab at University of awesomeness"

It was my way to letting people know who I am, what I work on and that I am a serious researcher working in a lab of a serious researcher. I never intended it so to get less complex questions or anything similar. I do not see how a grad student must introduce hir self other than this to show people who hir is what they do

agradstudent said...

The time I went to a conference it was with the primary purpose of networking to find a postdoc. It was a big conference; if the primary goal was science I would've gone to a small conference instead.

My advisor was the coauthor of my abstract, so he had to be on title slide anyway. This is normal in my field. He is sort of famous.

I announced that I am a PhD student and that I'm finishing soon. This was entirely to serve my purpose of postdoc networking. I still got some hard questions... I think they were probably nicer than they would have been if I wasn't a student, though.

My advertisement worked. People came up to me after offering to talk more about postdocing with them. I even got invited to fly out and give a talk somewhere.

I did not end up getting a postdoc with any of those folks, though. I ended up applying for and getting a prestigious fellowship and will be working with a fairly senior scientist who I approached (also at the conference).

zandperl said...

I like to know the context of who someone is and what they're doing in this field (their motivation in general, rather than for the specific paper), so if I know I have enough time for a talk (or at a poster) I will give that sort of information about myself.

For one science education talk I gave, the topic was about the NSF GK-12 program I was involved which (in which grad students serve as scientists-in-residence-plus-student-teachers in K-12 classrooms), in which case mentioning my own role in the project (as a grad student) was essential to the audience understanding the big picture.

Anonymous said...

My talks with a title slide always include the name of my collaborators; when I was a student, my advisor was often (but not always) one of them. When this happened, I would typically say something like "This is in collaboration with X, Y, and my advisor, Z."

As for why I did it, it wasn't to signal "go easy on me"; people don't really do that in our field unless it's very obvious the student is out of his/her depth. Towards the end of my PhD, it was a way of signaling that I'd be on the job market soon. When I was a beginning grad student, it was probably to provide context more than anything else, and the audience probably understood that my advisor was the one who had come up with some of the main ideas underlying the paper.

Anonymous said...

I never did it and don't know anyone who has. I think its always pretty obvious at conferences which speakers are grad students anyway. Usually the manner in which they give their talks (less swagger and more down to earth than talks given by their advisors) coupled with the fact they are usually younger (in their mid to late 20s) is the giveaway that the person is a student. This doesn't apply to everyone of course, but academic science still seems pretty homogeneous as far as the career paths expected and promoted so I haven't known many older people who are PhD students. I do have a friend who went back to school for a second career and got his PhD in his mid 40s. At conference talks people often assumed he was the advisor because of his age and confident manner of speaking (gained from years in industry as a manager).

Anonymous said...

Oh for crying out loud. Why is this even an issue? What's the big deal with introducing yourself as a grad student (or a postdoc for that matter) if that is what you are?? If you're a professor and you give a talk somewhere are you not introduced as a professor (because that is what you are)?

Maybe there really are no hidden agendas behind this and people are simply being honest and following professional etiquette that they see around them which often includes giving some professional related information about yourself when you introduce yourself in a professional setting.

I don't remember if I ever did it when I was a student. I am sure I did but it just is of so little significance, IMO.

Anonymous said...

anonymous 4:05, At some conferences, speakers are not introduced other than author names and talk title so no one is introduced as professor, postdocs, student unless they mention this on their own. So that is what the discussion is about, why some students do this but postdocs and others don't.

Anonymous said...

I was at a conference last week and thought of this post when a speaker introduced himself as, "An undergrad in the lab of Prof. X" In my field, it is rare that an undergrad would be selected to give a talk at a meeting. This person had very nice data and gave a polished talk...for an undergrad. Which is exactly the point.
I felt that they likely led off with this statement to alter expectations, and in my case I was very impressed with their presentation...although if the same presentation were given by a senior postdoc (most of the other speakers in the session were senior postdocs) I would still think the data was sound, but I probably would have been unimpressed by the breadth of the work. I felt like it was pretty warranted to lead off with this statement, given the huge difference between an undergrad and a postdoc not only in knowledge, but in the amount of time that has gone into the project.

Anonymous said...

Like the minority of commenters here, I think it doesn't matter if a grad student mentions in their talk intro that they are a student. I don't think it matters one way or the other and is over in, like, 2 seconds so I don't see what all this huffing and puffing is about...

Anonymous said...

I once gave an ACS talk as a graduate student in front of an audience of ~150+ people. As I looked out at the audience, I only recognized a few people, and the crowd was filled older men. It felt only natural that I introduce myself as a graduate student in so and so's lab, especially since I was following a series of talks by professors and was in the morning session (a really good time slot!). I gave a very good talk and many people came up to my advisor and told him so. I never worried that I would be judged negatively as a result of revealing that I was a graduate student.

Anonymous said...

I don't think I ever introduced myself as a student, but I don't consider it a faux pas either. Usually I was introduced by the session chair as a student at institution X, and certainly didn't mind.

Anonymous said...

This is really interesting, as I would always introduce myself as a student. It wouldn't occur to me to do otherwise. As far as I am aware, this is standard for my field.

To me it's a combination of factors. Usually I would say "I am a student of X at Y University", so it is a matter of giving credit to my supervisor. It's also simply that nobody in the audience will have any idea who I am - to me it's no different to someone saying "I am Dr X from Y University". What else am I supposed to say as an introduction? It provides context, and feels completely natural.

There is also an element of "please don't kill me if my talk isn't amazing". I haven't given very many talks, and would likely be very nervous, so it has a subtext of "please be nice to me". I feel like to miss out my student status would be to claim an authority that I don't have. It would be rude (and immodest, almost arrogant) to imply through omission that I have got my PhD when actually I haven't.