Thursday, June 2, 2011

Taking students to conferences

This summer is the first time my students will be giving talks at conferences. Last year, they gave several poster presentations, and they give talks a few times a year in multi-professor group meetings for practice. As a student, I didn't have a lot of opportunities to attend conferences, so I feel strongly about giving the opportunity to my own students. I have discovered that the process is seriously stressful and not just on the students!

It is really hard to watch my students talk sometimes--I am sitting there thinking "don't say THAT!" and "remember to say this". I think I am more nervous for them sometimes than they are. It feels like watching my kids running off to do stuff independently! And just like kids, I have to let them go or they will never grow into independent scientists.

It is also hard to let my students (who of course, deserve this opportunity for their hard work) go and be the first to talk about the exciting new results from our lab. As a new PI coming from outside academia, the invited talks don't fall from the sky like rain, so we are all doing contributed talks. This year, we have some awesome results that are about to be submitted. I am just a little bummed that I won't get to talk about them this summer. Both because I find it exciting to be the first to present new results, and also because I feel (given that I have many, many more years of experience giving conference talks) that I would likely do a better job presenting the new data. This is just one more thing I am giving up in the transition from bench scientist to PI.

That's not to say that my students aren't doing a good job--they are! I was so proud to see the practice talks this week, since they have grown and matured so much since joining my group. The data is exciting, the slides look great and the presentation is clear. I just never appreciated before how hard it can be to watch.


GMP said...

Actually, you should be giving all the invited talks at this stage in your career (students can give contributed talks). I cannot stress how much exposure is important for tenure, and how important it is to have invited talk bullets on your CV. This is a major difference between a junior and a senior PI -- you need to work on exposure and hit all the right places yourself, maximizing the chances that your work will be heard and properly presented; a senior PI does not have to do this. I know you want to do right by your students, and I am sure you are doing a great job, just don't lose sight of your own current career goals. Your prominence and establishment are ultimately an asset to your students' careers too.

prodigal academic said...

Thanks for the comment, GMP. This is a hard balance, since we don't have so many new results that I can take all the good stuff and still leave my students with stuff to present.

I am doing all invited talks, but I also have to do contributed talks as well to get out there (since invited talks are not so common for me). This year, I picked up the stuff that has been published recently from a collaborative project for myself, and let my students present their own stuff. I edited the post to fix the confusing part.

Anonymous said...

I am exactly at this stage too. It's fun, but didn't expect just how nerve-wrecking!

Massimo said...

Just make sure you resist the temptation of chiming in when they get to field questions from the audience and you cannot stand the way they are answering ;-) (As in "well, actually the real reason we did that is...")

prodigal academic said...

Heh. Thanks for the reminder, Massimo--I'll sit on my hands and keep my mouth shut even if it kills me!