It’s today: your first lab meeting. You’ve got your slides together, tested the animations and so long as that one video loads, everything should be smooth sailing. But you’re probably still worrying, “What about Professor Knowsitall and the inevitable question? What if someone interrupts me? What if I forget what I’m talking about? What if they realise I’m an imposter?!!”. 

It’s okay. 

Breathe. 

It really is okay. It’s just a talk. But we’ve been there and yeah, it can be scary. Thankfully, we’ve also done it loads and so we’re armed with tried and tested words of wisdom. 

So sit back because it’s time for your (almost) complete guide on how to not only survive but crush your first lab meeting.

1. No one expects you to present a breakthrough

It might be daunting up there in front of your lab members, but no one’s waiting for you to deliver groundbreaking studies (not yet, anyway). This isn’t your Nobel speech, this is you giving your first-ever lab meeting so you’ll mainly just be explaining what you’ve got planned (and what’s gone wrong so far). You build your research up bit-by-bit and right now you’re laying the foundations and everyone knows that. Relax. You’ve got this.

2. Interruptions are a chance to clarify things

Rather than panicking when you see the dreaded hand go up mid-way through your talk, see it as a chance to explain something you already know. Most interruptions are just to clarify minor points. It’s because the listener is interested, and they want to hear from you  –  it’s your lab meeting. This a good thing. You also don’t need to know all the answers to those questions: just be honest, “Sorry, I’m not sure about that but I’d love to look into it.” Don’t rush to answer, either. Pause. Think. Give a measured response. 

3. Slow and steady wins the race

Nerves are going to make you want to race through your slides. Don’t give in to them: talk through each slide at a leisurely pace  –  even at a pace you feel is too slow. It’ll come across much clearer and more thoughtful. It’s also a chance for you to be very clear on what you’re saying rather than possibly stumbling over concepts. Maybe even take a casual stroll over to the whiteboard to sketch out an idea you’re trying to explain. Better to go too slow than too fast. 

4. Less is more

Don’t pack your lab meeting slides with text as you’ll only end up reading them off word-for-word – no one wants to read a dissertation up there. Have a title, a sentence or two, and then some interesting data that you can discuss. You don’t need to outline every step of every assy you’ve done or intend to do. Take it easy. Keep it simple. 

5. Even negative results are results

Don’t feel the need to only include successful experimental data. You’re going to have your fair share of failed experiments and lab meetings are often a great place to show that data and come up with a solution as a group. And right now you might now have much at all. But your lab members want to help you. Honestly. This might be the only time a ‘brainstorm’ is any use at all! Embrace it.

6. Everyone hates PowerPoint

It’s going to happen so just accept it now: PowerPoint will freeze, fail to load a slide or just plain old crash. That’s okay ,  we all expect it to happen at some point. No one will blame you. Just apologize, lament about Microsoft, and pick up where you left off. It’s almost over by now anyway.

7. “Any questions?”

Try not to wince when you say this as there will be questions. No one’s trying to trip you up. Instead, they’re trying to understand your methodology to ultimately make you better. If you don’t know a term, some reference in an obscure paper, or even what the bloody question question was in general, just say so. There’s no shame in not knowing something – that’s how we learn stuff, after all. However, if you try to pretend you know something – you try to blag it, then you’re going to fall short at some point and then you’ll look like a right plonker. They’re the experts at this point so don’t pretend you know things. You can also ask questions here: ask them for input. I’ve yet to meet an academic who didn’t have something to suggest about my work. 

8. BONUS: bring snacks to placate the room

You know it makes sense. 

Even though lab meetings  –  and especially your first one  –  can seem scare-you-out-your-pants terrifying, no one’s out to get you. It’s a chance to troubleshoot, discuss ideas, and hopefully, focus the direction of your work. Think of your lab meetings as brainstorming sessions rather than interrogations!

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1 Comment

Lisa Kueltzo · 6 October 2023 at 06:05

Love this! Can’t wait to share with the young scientists I am mentoring!

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