Sweet and simple wins the race

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Presentation and public speaking skills are challenging skills to learn. But, as a student, if you want to transform your good ideas into great ideas with practical applications for society, you need to know how to clearly communicate them.

Two La Trobe University students from the Faculty of Science, Technology and Engineering, Swapna Varghese and Jen Wiltshire, learned how to do this by challenging themselves in a competition where they had to present their complex PhD thesis in only three minutes. And in a final where they had to compete with students from other faculties, Swapna was crowned the winner and Jen the runner up.

Swapna will now travel to the University of Western Sydney with her supervisor, Dr Brian Smith, to compete in the Trans-Tasman final on 18 October. The Chemistry PhD student, whose presentation was entitled Don’t Move! said it was great to be able to communicate her ideas to an audience outside the science world.

‘It is a nice platform not only to sharpen public speaking skills but also to communicate to the general non-scientific community about the importance of my research,’ she said.

And Jen, who is currently undertaking a PhD in Environmental Biology, said it was a satisfying experience.

‘Unavoidable nerves aside, as a scientist representing my field, I felt an incredible amount of responsibility to communicate my research, which is also the research of many others, clearly and accurately. It was incredibly satisfying to instil in others some of the enthusiasm I have for my research,’ she said.

Do they have tips on how to present complex ideas in such a short time?

Swapna has a very short advice: ‘Sweet and simple is the rule.’

Jen underlined the importance of writing skills and encouraged others to try the challenge. 

‘Every sentence needs to build on ideas of the previous sentence, and analogies are gold that can quickly make complicated concepts easily digestible,’ Jen said.

‘Take up the challenge; when you have to think hard about why your work is important and what exactly you are trying to achieve, you will come away with a better understanding of yourself and a clearer sense of the direction you want your work to head toward,’ she said.

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