How to get your abstract selected for a short talk

by Nicola Vegiopoulos, EMBL Alumna, marketing expert and pianist

So, you’ve registered for a conference – be it virtual or onsite – and you reeeeeally want to present your work? It’s got everything going for it – it’s a hot topic and you have some great results to show. There’s just one little problem – you haven’t made a name for yourself in the field yet, so of course you haven’t been invited as a speaker. Never fear! There are some short talk speaking slots available. But how are you going to make sure that the abstract you submit is selected for a short talk?

Follow these steps to give yourself an edge over the others, and increase the chances of your abstract being selected to present your work.

  1. Get to the point – quickly

Generally you will have a word limit for your abstract. Don’t waste valuable words making your abstract flowery – enter straight into the subject, your problem or research question. Scientific organisers have to read a lot of abstracts, so make sure you put the most important information at the beginning.

  1. Make sure you answer 4 important questions

– What problem are you addressing and why is it important?
– What methods are you using to research the problem?
– What data have you been able to produce or process?
– What (preliminary) findings will you be able to discuss?

  1. Make it clear why your work is important

Be sure to clearly emphasise the approach and importance of your findings and theorisation. Make a concise statement that outlines the purpose, context, approach and significance of your work.

  1. Clarity, clarity, clarity!

Make sure you give strong conclusions and clear outcomes. Don’t leave anything open to misinterpretation, and make it clear if the work is finished, or at least nearly finished.

  1. Make it relevant to the research field

Outline how your research has made steps forward in the field, and what impact it will have.

  1. Make it relevant to the conference topic

Take a look at the conference programme and relate your work to areas of interest covered at the conference, as well as session titles. Have an idea of which session your short talk could fit into.

  1. Avoid dull titles

Make sure the title is catchy and informative – it will be the first thing that anyone reading your abstract will see, and will also be the topic of your short talk should you be successful in your goal.

  1. Find the balance

It’s not the easiest thing to do, but try to bring across enthusiasm for the topic across whilst remaining professional. This is one of the hardest things to do, so take your time with it and don’t try to do it at the last minute.

  1. Get feedback before submitting

Ask others to read and review your abstract before submitting, for example your colleagues or PI. They can provide you with valuable feedback which you should take on board!

  1. Follow the guidelines

It sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how many people contact us to ask if they can submit their work after the deadline. Late submissions won’t get considered for a short talk, and there is a chance that they will not be accepted at all. In addition, stick to the word limit, and make sure you include all authors and co-authors in the correct format.

So, to sum it up, aim for precision, linearity of thought, and succinctness, and you‘re in with a good chance of getting selected for a short talk at your next conference.

Original video by EMBL Photolab and EMBL Events, EMBL Heidelberg

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Best short talk winners at New Approaches and Concepts in Microbiology

The popular symposium “New Approaches and Concepts in Microbiology” took place virtually this year. 598 people from across the globe joined from their own time zone. Two presenters impressed the crowd with their short talks, even though the local time for one of them was 4.50 am (that doesn’t count as morning yet, does it?).

Jordi van Gestel and Nitzan Tal were the well-deserved winners. Read about their research below.

Short-range quorum sensing controls horizontal gene transfer at micron scale in bacterial communities

Jordi van Gestel, University of California, San Francisco, USA

Presenter: Jordi van Gestel, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), USA

Introduction: I am a Postdoc in the laboratory of Carol Gross at UCSF. Being trained as an evolutionary biologist, I was introduced to the fascinating world of microbiology during my PhD and have been working at the interface of both fields ever since. My research focuses on the organisation and evolution of bacterial cell collectives.

Abstract
Inside bacterial communities, cells often communicate through the release and detection of small diffusible molecules, a process termed quorum-sensing.

In general, signal molecules are thought to broadly diffuse in space; yet, paradoxically, cells often employ quorum-sensing to regulate traits that strictly depend on the local community composition, such as conjugative transfer. This raises the question if and how nearby cells in the community can be detected.

Here, we employ a microfluidic platform to determine how diverse quorum-sensing systems, differing in their regulatory design, impact the range of communication. While some systems indeed support long-range communication, we show that other systems support a novel form of highly localized communication.

In these systems, signal molecules propagate no more than a few microns away from signalling cells, due to the irreversible uptake of these signal molecules from the environment. This enables cells to accurately detect micron scale changes in the community composition and engage in local cell-to-cell communication.

Intriguingly, several mobile genetic elements, including conjugative elements and phages, employ short-range communication to specifically assess the fraction of susceptible host cells in their vicinity and adaptively trigger horizontal gene transfer in response. Our results underscore the complex spatial biology of bacteria, where cells both communicate and interact at widely different spatial scales.

https://twitter.com/EvolvedBiofilm/status/1413103744649203719?s=20

Antiviral defense via nucleotide depletion in bacteria

Nitzan Tal, Department of Molecular Genetics, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel

Presenter: Nitzan Tal, Department of Molecular Genetics, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel

Introduction: I am a PhD student in the lab of Professor Rotem Sorek at the Weizmann Institute of Science. For the past few years I’ve been studying the interactions between bacteria and their viruses (bacteriophages), and how both adapt to ever changing conditions in order to survive. My research focuses on identifying novel anti-viral defense systems and on understanding the extremely diverse arsenal of microbial immunity.

Abstract

DNA viruses and retroviruses need to consume large quantities of deoxynucleotides (dNTPs) when replicating within infected cells. The human antiviral factor SAMHD1 takes advantage of this vulnerability in the viral life cycle, and inhibits viral replication by degrading dNTPs into their constituent deoxynucleosides and inorganic phosphate.

In this study, we report that bacteria employ a similar strategy to defend against phage infection. We found a family of defensive dCTP deaminase proteins that, in response to phage infection, convert dCTP into deoxy-uracil nucleotides. A second family of phage resistance genes encode dGTPase enzymes, which degrade dGTP into phosphate-free deoxy-guanosine (dG) and are distant homologs of the human SAMHD1.

Our results show that the defensive proteins completely eliminate the specific deoxynucleotide (either dCTP or dGTP) from the nucleotide pool during phage infection, thus starving the phage of an essential DNA building block and halting its replication. Our study demonstrates that manipulation of the deoxynucleotide pool is a potent antiviral strategy shared by both prokaryotes and eukaryotes.

For tips and tricks on how to give a good scientific talk, watch this video

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How to present a memorable flash talk in 12 easy steps

Flash talks are a great way to give an introduction to your work, and whet people’s appetite for your research.

Generally flash talks last for 1 to 2 minutes, and presenters are normally allowed one simple PowerPoint slide or, in the case of virtual events, a 1 – 2 minute pre-recorded video. But is it really possible to present something really memorable within such limitations?

Here are some things to take into account when preparing your flash talk to make sure the audience remembers you, and contacts you after the session to find out more. Because that’s the goal, right?

1. Keep it brief

You should definitely start by giving a very brief introduction that makes people understand why your work is interesting, and ends by saying how people can contact you afterwards. Of course you can say where you’re from and your affiliation, but the critical thing is to attract to people’s attention.

2. Cover the basics

Answer the following questions:

  • Why is it interesting?
  • What is it about?
  • How did you do it?
  • With whom did you carry out the work?

3. Connect with the audience

For live events be sure to always look at the audience – don’t lose eye contact. Keep scanning the room for the duration of your talk, and definitely do not turn your back to them. In the case of a pre-recorded video, treat your camera like an audience and talk directly to it.

 4. Leave the audience asking for more

Try to build up the anticipation and attention of the people who are listening and watching– put out something you’ve investigated but don’t tell them the whole story. You want to leave them hanging and intrigued enough to want to find out more.

5. Be dynamic

Your flash talk is going to be short so your audience will generally be paying attention to you. Build up to something where you clearly emphasise one or two points. These are the sort of things that are going to bring their attention to the most important parts. Be enthusiastic – if you show that you’re really into your science people will come along and want to know more.

6. Don’t be afraid to use visual tools

If it’s relevant, there is no problem with using props in your flash talk. Alternatively, make your talk visually memorable by using dynamic diagrams, graphics and images. Videos will normally not be possible for live flash talks, so don’t rely on these.

7. Avoid special effects

It is possible to make something visually memorable without going overboard on big special effects such as PowerPoint animations. If your science is good it doesn’t need any fireworks.

8. Do the unexpected

If it fits with your character, you can try to make people laugh. Doing something that the audience is not expecting can be very effective. We’ve seen everything from interpretive dance to a guitar-accompanied talk – anything is possible! Just make sure it matches to who you are so that it appears natural.

9. Include your poster number

Definitely, definitely, definitely include your poster number during your flash talk! It will make it much easier for people to come and find you later on at the poster session.

10. Be a slide minimalist

As already mentioned, diagrams, graphs and images are great when you have only 1 or 2 slides at your disposal. Make sure though that there is a minimum of information on your slides to try to bring people into the main message – focus on the thing that you want them to remember.

11. Practise!

Like all talks, you need to practise beforehand! Even if you want to bring across that you’re relaxed and everything is quite informal there is no way around it – you’ve got to practise to be prepared.

12. Stick to the time limit

With a flash talk this is so important – the time limitations are extremely strict, and you will be moved off the stage when your time is up, or your video won’t be uploaded to a virtual event platform. So make sure you have condensed everything into the time provided, and don’t go over or you may be stopped mid-sentence!

Check out these examples of great flash talk slides!
Single-slide flash talk by Fariha Akter
Multi-slide flash talk by Pablo Gonzalez-Suarez

Original video with Dr. Cornelius Gross, EMBL Rome, and Dr. Francesca Peri, University of Zurich

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