Short Guide To Presenting Scientific Material – Part 2 – Content

This is part 2 of a three part series.

Content is king. Nothing puts an audience off more quickly than if they think (rightly or wrongly) that they have been had. Content goes back to when you accepted the offer to speak, make sure that you have something important to say, and that you say it clearly, informatively, and with an eye to keeping your audience interested. Science is hard and it is harder to try to explain science, you are always on the edge of simplifying without watering down the complexities of what you are presenting. If you do this right, you start with a story that leads to larger concepts, which in turn, lead to some synthesis of those ideas. The coolest part of this is when this last step of synthesis happens in the minds of your audience.

Prepare yourself, be the expert, make it clear, know your material!

General Points

  • Stay on topic; remember it is a scientific presentation. This is true for any presentation that you do. Once you have assembled all of your material, ask yourself if each of the slides belongs. If the slide is not DIRECTLY related to what you are presenting move it to the end of the presentation. This way you have it if someone asks, but you don’t present it during the normal presentation.
  • Avoid “public service announcement” type language. We all know that some of these things are bad for us. This is a healthcare presentation. Stick to the facts that are relevant for that audience.
  • This point is really related to the larger concept of knowing your audience. Don’t waste time on material that your audience already knows. There is to little time in life to have to listen to material that you have heard before. You know what you and your peers have already heard. Tell them a complete story, but don’t spend to much time on review.


  • I think the video is always tough choice. It can go either way, and I am often interested to see what the class’ response to the video might be.
  • The rule of thumb for video use? Only if it is directly applicable to the topic.
  • If you decide to use one, have it queued-up and ready to go. Check before your presentation that everything works (audio and video).
  • Don’t use videos to take up presentation time. This is always painfully obvious.


  • Use standard capitalization and punctuation.
  • Instead of acronyms I would prefer that you use the full names of things with their acronyms in parentheses. Take the time to write acronyms out, that way we can all relearn them. When speaking, feel free to use the acronym.

You Are The Expert

  • When giving a presentation, you are the expert, Do not:
  • present a hypothesis as fact
  • present opinion as fact
  • You can present a hypothesis and you can state your opinion, but you MUST be very clear that you are now covering the hypothetical and opinion. People will believe what you say. You have the honor and the responsibility of being an expert.
  • Whenever you refer to s study, let us know:
  • Who did the study.
  • Where was it done.
  • Where was it published
  • Has it been repeated?

Study Types

Classification of different study types (Röhrig et al, 2009)

Classification of different study types (Röhrig et al, 2009)

•When describing complex names such as compounds, diseases, people, and places they should be practiced  known. You are teaching us, it is your responsibility to practice beforehand and teach us the most common pronunciation.

•If you are going to project a figure, you should check to make sure that the audience can read the material. Go to the room where you are presenting beforehand if possible and check. Use the best resolution figure possible.

Finally feel free to be a bit redundant (but only a bit) when closing your talk. COme back to your central thesis.

Prepare yourself, be the expert, make it clear, know your material!

Short Guide To Presenting Scientific Material – Part 1 – Organization

Presentations are hard work and in allot of ways you are out there alone in front of a group, opening up in ways that can be difficult for you and the audience. The challenges and mistakes that I see are pretty common and I have identified some of those. With a little preparation and review you can avoid most of these issues, and present difficult material in a way that engages your audience. Most of the items below really boil down to the trust between you and your audience. A presentation is an agreement between you and them. You promise that you understand and have researched what you are presenting and they give you their time and attention.

It is a great opportunity for you and them. Don’t waste it.


  • Use standard referencing. Each slide’s contents must have a small, but identifiable reference on it. At the end your last slide should be the list of all of the references used throughout the presentation. This way you only need author year, on the individual slides.
    • Use this site as a guide for how references should be formatted:
    • Break up complex items into smaller diagrams, tables or slides. You are asking the audience to digest lots of information at a time. Break complex ideas down into understandable parts.
    • Avoid spelling errors in slides. It just puts the viewer off; they immediately distrust you if there is sloppy unchecked work in the presentation.
    • Any visual, chart or graphic must have the reference directly on the slide. If you took the material from somewhere else, then be sure to give them credit. This way you do not get into trouble.

“And That Concludes Our Presentation”…


Graduates From j.o.h.n. walker’s Flickr photostream

When we ask students what drives them crazy, they sometimes respond that they wish we had given them a packet describing everything they would have to do to graduate.

There is, and we do tell them. The thing here is continuity of service. They start getting these packets from day 1, before they even sign on to the college. Some things are verbal, some things are written. All get repeated.

The problem with being a student is the continuity. Most students don’t realize that the program that they are in is fluid, so students admitted the year before and students admitted the year after may well have a different curriculum and requirements.

This shocks students. It is their education, it seems to the students that it is a giant monolithic event, one unchanged path towards a degree. Yet for faculty and administrators the curriculum and requirements are a fluid space, different for almost every year.

So back to continuity, how do we take the two perspectives and bring them into one place, where students are satisfied and faculty understand. Students should allows have access to a forward and backward look across their own curriculum and requirements, but currently that takes some work to figure out.

Yes, I can hear you thinking, as a school we already have allot of this functionality, but we don’t use it.

The Rx system we use here, or really, any portfolio system could be used this way, students get a pre-formatted space when they arrive. Pre-formatted in the sense that their handbook goes from a dead pdf online to a more interactive space that they (the student) fill with their grades and accomplishments, as it fills, they can check items off and see how close (or far) they are from reaching their goals, that year, that rotation, ultimately graduation.

Tough request, but there are places were we could do a better job. Since students get packaged by “year of entry” we could probably use the same system as is in place now, but we would improve the continuity for the student by moving it to a live space online where they could look at it when they are ready.

We tell them everything they will have to do in the beginning of their first year, but all they hear is “and that concludes our presentation”. Towards the end they ask us what is it that they have to do and are they almost done, but all we hear is our own perspective whispering, “they didn’t listen”.

That is the divide that we have to cross.

Network Backup From Time Machine

Now being one of those “jump first and realize what I did later” people, I jumped into a server upgrade confident of my ability to restore from a Time Machine Backup. Our setup here is a Drobo FS and a few headless Mac Pros. Now all of this seemed reasonable to me, and as might be expected the upgrade from the 10.7 server to 10.8 was a complete failure since I couldn’t for the life of me, drag across the wiki. So, after struggling for some time I acquiesced and decided to restore from my backup.


It turns out that restoring from a NAS like the Drobo FS is not as straight forward as hoped. I popped in the install usb that I carry around and dropped into the restore form Time Machine option and off the software went to search and search, and search.

Nothing. No networked backups appeared. So it was off to Google and this solution by Urban Toronto. Oddly or perhaps predictably, terminal saves the day… again.

So next time, just so I remember:

Create a mount point on the target disk:

 mkdir /Volumes/TimeMachine

Mount the network share to this newly created volume:

mount -t afp afp://YourDroboFSAdminUserName:YourDroboFSAdminPassword@IPAddressOfDrobo/YourDroboTimeMachineShareName /Volumes/TimeMachine

Finally mount the actual image of your Time Machine backup to make its contents readable:

hdid /Volumes/TimeMachine/yourMacsTimeMachineFile.sparsebundle

If you don’t know the name of your sparsebundle image, just cd into your /Volumes/TimeMachine directory and use ls to look it up.

Fighting Leukemia By Reprograming T Cells

Some really fascinating work is being done to save leukemia patients who have reached the end of conventional therapy without a cure. Detailed in a NEJM article here, the treatment takes the patients own T cells and reprograms them, targeting the cells to attack the patients own B cells. The reprogramming is done using an HIV derived vector that integrates its DNA payload into the genome of the hosts T cells.

The New York Times has a couple of good writes-ups on this. At the time of this post, this is the most recent.

Chemists Outrun Laws in War on Synthetic Drugs

What does similar mean?

This is where Brandon Keim starts in a post on a chemists ability to churn out legal analogues of illegal compounds.

The question is a good one for medicinal chemists, policy makers, and emergency room clinicians, but all for different reasons.

Chemists Outrun Laws in War on Synthetic Drugs | Wired Science |

I think this will make a good first lecture for the my toxicology students, framing the unusual mix of stakeholders when we discuss abused drugs.