New year’s resolutions…and how to actually stick to them!

A new year, a fresh start!

After a well-deserved break and with enough time to think about last year’s achievements, you start off the new year with a clean slate.

That paper really needs to be published as soon as possible, you finally have to start networking, you want to learn how to use R, be less distracted by other things in your home-office, and you definitely want to impress everyone with a great talk at an important conference.

Sounds great! However, the thing about New Year’s resolutions is: most people can’t stick to them. By the time February comes around, chances are that you have already given up. Here are some tips to help you stick to your New Year’s resolutions:

List of New Year's resolutions

One goal at a time

Don’t make a list of goals that you try to achieve all at the same time. You may be an intelligent soul, however, we humans are just simple creatures. People are most productive when they focus on 1 or 2 priorities, instead of a whole list. So, focus on one thing, finish it, and then go on to the next. That way, you are more likely to succeed.

A (wo)man with a plan

It’s called a goal, not a dream. Your goal should be reachable and realistic. Define the goal and steps needed to reach the goal. Make it SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Example

Goal: you want to learn more about data visualisation so you can use it in your articles.

SMART goal: I will attend at least 1 course in 2021, to learn more about data visualisation.  I will make a list of possible courses by February 1st, in order to meet my goal in time.

See how your goal comes to life by making it SMART? I bet you are more dedicated to achieving your goal now that you have these specifics parameters.

Make it a habit

It’s all about creating good habits – and that takes time. If you want to finish the paper you have been working on for ages but keep getting distracted, make it a habit not to check your email in the morning. That way, you can stay focused on your long-term goal. Try this for at least 2 months and it will feel like you have never done it any differently before.

Reward yourself

Yes, you are an adult and it might seem silly dangling a carrot in front of your own nose, but it works. So reward yourself with something nice. Just a note: if your goal is to stay more focused, don’t reward yourself with indulging in an hour-long Reddit rabbit hole, but rather with something completely unrelated to the resolution. Perhaps pick up a nice meal at your favorite restaurant instead.

Support network

Tell your colleagues, friends, and family about your intentions so they can support you. They might be able to give you a pep talk when you are down, some tough love when you are slacking, or maybe they will even join your efforts.

Tips & Tricks

Don’t invent the wheel yourself. Not knowing how to do something might leave you postponing it endlessly. Luckily for you, there are always tips & tricks that can help you out. Looking for tips on how to create a virtual poster? Or to record a short talk no one will forget? Or how to avoid awkward silences during networking? We’ve got you covered!

Possible New Year’s Resolutions

If the pandemic has worn you out and you are feeling pretty apathetic about your research, your job or your life, these possible New Year’s Resolutions might help get you off the couch.

Become more focused at work

Home-office life is hard on everyone, but there are things you can do to become more focused. First, you need to examine why you are distracted easily. That way you can define your SMART goal.

If you check your email all the time, set a goal not to check your mail until 1 pm every day. Or if your workspace is a mess, try to create a more peaceful environment. Or maybe you aren’t focuse, because you don’t have an overview of what needs to be done. Try making a structured plan with a timeline. If stress is the underlying problem, try meditating or sign up for mindfulness. 

Make yourself more visible

Showing off your skills and potential doesn’t come naturally to everyone. For most people, it is hard work making themselves and their research visible.

Networking: A goal for this year can be to have at least 5 network conversations with people in your research field. Update your LinkedIn profile, join networking activities and schedule meetings with relevant people. Don’t know how to start? Take a look at these tips from EMBLs career advisor. 

Presenting at a conference: Making yourself visible by giving a short talk or a poster presentation would also be a great goal.  If you are going to present a virtual poster, these tips might help you out. Have you been selected for a flash talk? Don’t take this lightly and prepare yourself using these tips. 

Gaining skills or knowledge

A good researcher always tries to keep up with the newest insights. Read the latest articles, get relevant newsletters, and follow relevant accounts on Twitter. But sometimes you need to step up your game a little – apply for a course, join a conference, or take training in personal effectiveness or leadership.

Subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to know about new conferences and courses.

Do you have New Year’s Resolutions? We are curious to know about them. Drop us a message or a Tweet. 

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8 tips for preparing a digital poster that stands out from the crowd

Virtual meetings are rapidly gaining popularity, due largely to the necessity of continuing knowledge exchange during the social isolation brought on by the Corona pandemic.

Even before the pandemic, EMBL´s Course and Conference Office was already exploring options to improve our services and the event experience on-site, including the option of digital poster presentations.

Our software provider iPosterSessions comes with easy to use WYSIWYG templates. Users can display high-resolution images, videos & animations, and the content can be updated at any time right throughout the conference – allowing poster presenters to present their research digitally and dynamically.

If you are presenting a digital poster at an upcoming (virtual!) meeting, here are eight tips to help you on your way:

  1. Download the official template from the software provider

Most digital software providers have an official template that you can download – use it! This will reduce the risk of glitches, resolution problems and sizing issues in the final product, and you know from the outset what you have to work with.

  1. Check out the tutorials

No two digital poster tools are the same, so take the time to browse through the online tips and tutorials to make sure you are comfortable with the software before starting. It will save you a lot of frustration in the long run!

  1. Make your design eye-catching – it should stand out from the crowd

This is the same principle as creating a printed scientific poster – there are so many of them, so make sure yours stands out! It should be eye-catching and visually appealing. Include clear data representations, and make sure the text is to the point. It should grab attention but not explain every little thing about your results – that’s your job during the discussion.

  1. Use media – images, sounds, video. Check that they work and display properly

Graphics and media can express details more quickly and memorably than paragraphs of text, so have a think about how you can present your work in this way and put some time into it. Be sure to check that the media files work with the software, and test every file to make sure they display or play properly.

  1. Link to external resources

Digital posters differ from printed posters in that you can generally link to other pages online – so if there is a great external paper or online source you want to link to in order to explain your point in more detail, do it! Your audience will be grateful to have further reading handed to them on a plate if they want to find out more after the poster session.

  1. Check your work

This should really be a no-brainer. Check your work is complete, correct and final before publishing your poster! Silly mistakes only show that you haven’t put as much time and effort into the work as you probably should have, so get someone else to go over your poster before you release it to the conference community.

  1. Practice your presentation

Yes, it’s a digital poster presentation, and no, you won’t be talking face-to-face with your audience as you normally would, but you still need to practice your presentation beforehand and know exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it. It may feel strange online, so try presenting the poster online with a colleague or your boss (e.g. with Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts) and get them to give you feedback and pointers.

  1. Stick to the publishing deadline

There are deadlines for a reason, so please stick to them! You don’t want to risk your poster being excluded from the poster presentation because of tardiness. Give yourself plenty of time in case of any issues that may arise with uploading or compatibility (this shouldn’t be an issue if you followed the template and guidelines, but sometimes computers have a mind of their own!).

So why not check out our list of upcoming virtual events to see where you can try out your digital poster presentation skills!

For general pointers about creating posters, see 10 tips to create a scientific poster people want to stop at.

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10 tips for presenting at virtual events

By guest bloggers and EMBL AV experts Christopher Höhmann and Jan Abda

Virtual events are on the rise, largely due to the necessity to adapt to the physical distancing enforcements and travel restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

EMBL is continuing to offer advanced training for the scientific community as safely as we can, with many events pivoting to virtual. With speakers spread all over the world with different internet connection speeds, technical support and varying levels of experience with virtual presenting, the EMBL Audiovisual team have put together a guide on how to make sure your presentation is smooth and you come across as professionally as possible for your digital lecture.

  1. Choose your location wisely

Make sure you choose a location without a window in the background, as this will result in a high contrast, causing you to appear dark and hard to see. Make sure the background isn’t too busy, or has anything that might draw the attention away from your talk.

Be sure to have a neutral background with nothing that might distract your audience
  1. Pick a quiet room

When selecting the location for your presentation, make sure there is no loud background noise and that you won’t be disturbed. Who can forget Prof. Robert Kelly’s live BBC broadcast starring his adorable children as unexpected guests!

Make sure the room is quiet and you can sit comfortably
  1. Use a headset

Ideally, use a headset in order to ensure the best possible sound. It may feel a bit strange at first, but your audience will thank you for it!

Check out a review of some of the best options here.

  1. Use a wired connection if possible

If you have the option, connect your device directly rather than relying on a wireless internet connection. This will help avoid any possibly wireless instability or network breaks.

  1. Avoid using the web browser

There are many different streaming software options out there. If there is a video conferencing app available for the event you are presenting at, for best results download this in advance to use for the live stream rather than relying on the less reliable web browser version.

  1. Close other programmes

In order to save bandwidth and processing power, close all unnecessary applications on your device before your presentation starts. This will result in a smoother streaming of your talk.

  1. Share your entire screen – carefully!

It always comes across better if you share your entire screen rather than just your keynote or PowerPoint presentation. Just be sure to keep in mind that as soon as you share your screen, everything that you can see can be seen by your audience, so be aware of what you have visible!

Troubleshooting on Macs

If you have a Mac (running Mac OS Catalina 10.15), you may have some initial problems with sharing your screen. If this is the case, try the following:

Go to System Preference → choose Security & Privacy  → select the relevant app under Screen Recording and tick the box.

The (VC) app will have to be restarted in order for the changes to take effect.

  1. Unshare before question time

When you have finished your presentation, end your screen sharing before the Q&A session starts. Your audience wants to see YOU when they are asking questions about your presentation, not the final slide of your talk.

  1. Make it readable

Remember, people will be watching your presentation on different devices with different-sized screens. Make sure your digital presentation is clear and that the font is readable – if you can’t read it easily, neither can your audience.

  1. Test, test, test!

At EMBL, our AV team will test the setup and conditions with you before the live event. Make sure that you carry out the test with exactly the same set-up as you plan to use on the day to eliminate the risk of any nasty surprises.

 

So now there’s nothing stopping you from giving a smooth and polished presentation at your next virtual conference. Take the time to get familiar with your streaming applications, practice and test the software in advance, and you shouldn’t have anything to worry about!


Check out our tips on how to give a good scientific talk and how to become a better scientific presenter!


Jan Abda and Christopher Hoehmann are dedicated Audiovisual Technicians in the EMBL Photolab, and are responsible for ensuring the technical aspects of our onsite and virtual conferences and courses run as smoothly as possible. We would be lost without them!

 

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How to become a better scientific presenter

Presenting your work to your colleagues and peers is an integral part of being a scientist. However, sometimes presentation nerves can get the better of you. Never fear – you are not alone! 9 out of 10 people suffer from presentation nerves. If you’re in this majority, read on for some tips to help you become a better scientific presenter.

  1. Breathe

To overcome nerves, the best thing you can do is breathe. Breathe in to a slow count of 5, and then out to the same slow count of 6, and you will feel your pulse gentling, you’ll feel yourself getting calmer and the world will seem a better place.

  1. Pay attention to your audience

Don’t worry about yourself. If things go wrong – which they may do – just make it okay for the audience. As long as they’re sitting there thinking, ‘well that happened to me last Thursday’, you haven’t got a problem. If they’re sitting there worrying about you, then you do have a problem.

  1. Don’t be predictable

At the beginning of a presentation it’s best not to give your audience a boring and predictable introduction. If, for example, you get a set of results and you try and hit them with a whole bunch of data, they won’t remember it. If you tell them about the moment you got those results and how they thrilled or frustrated you, let them share your excitement or frustration. Then they’ll remember.

  1. Give them the shiny bits

Audiences are like magpies – they like shiny things. Any kind of bling is good. Those are the bits that get taken back to their nests. It doesn’t matter how good you are, if you bombard your audience with mountains of data and expect them to remember it, they won’t. Give them little shiny polished messages, stories, analogies, anecdotes, case histories, specific examples, powerful pictures – those are the shiny bits that will go back to their nests.

  1. Look forward

There are so many presenters who seem to think the audience wants to see the back of their head, or possibly their right ear because they’re pointing or talking to the screen behind them. Big mistake. You want to be talking to your audience. Look forward, make eye contact (or at least appear to do so) with all your audience (not the one smiling, nodding person in the front row)!

  1. You have a face – use it

If you smile, the audience can hear it. If you are surprised, your eyebrows go up and your voice goes up with it. If you’re in despair, everything sags and your voice goes down with it. Facial expressions and voice work as one, so use them to your advantage.

  1. Don’t over-practice

One of the biggest mistakes is over-practicing. If you’re writing a script and trying to stick to it slavishly, you put yourself in a kind of straightjacket. If you do use notes that’s fine – but be obvious about it – don’t pretend you’re not using them!

  1. Keep it simple

With an academic paper people can read it as many times as they like over as many cups of coffee as they need.  Over time they’ll get it. With a presentation you have to get them on the first pass – they have to understand it straight away. So keep it really, really simple, even to the point it might mildly offend you – it won’t offend them!

  1. Three bullets

If you must use bullet points, three is the magic number. Never use more than three per slide – we’re pre-programmed to remember things in threes. If you are doing bullet points keep them tight and really short. Better still give them bullets (see shiny bits above).

  1. Avoid using a pointer

If you need to use a pointer there’s something wrong with the slide – it’s too busy. You can pre-select what you want the audience to see – circle things, draw boxes around them, highlight them. If you’re waving your pointer around manically – which happens a lot of the time – the audience may or may not bother to look at where you’re pointing. If you tell them where to look, they’ll look there.

  1. Finish with a bang

If you can leave the audience with a big idea – something to take home – that’s a good thing, but please don’t tell them “this is your take-home message”. It makes your audience very grumpy and makes them determined to take home any message except the one you’ve told them to.

  1. Have fun

Above all, enjoy yourself. If you enjoy yourself, the audience will have enjoyed your talk.

Original video with Media and Presentation Trainer Ali Sargent, UK

 

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Storytelling in science: How to (remotely) wow an audience

By Adam Gristwood, EMBL and EMBO alumnus, now freelance science writer and communications trainer

When I was 10 years old, I landed the role of Romeo in my school’s play. We had a fantastic cast, rehearsals ran smoothly, and the auditorium was a complete sellout. In my mind, we were not kids in an assembly hall, but an all-star cast at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. An amazing rush of adrenalin pulsed through my body as I walked out on stage.

Romeo and Juliet is a gripping story, full of battles, romance, deception, persistence, and tragedy. After being banished from Verona, Romeo sneaks to Juliet’s apartment in the middle of the night to declare his love. Onstage, as I waited impatiently beneath Juliet’s balcony, I caught a glimpse of my proud parents in the crowd. I felt ecstatic.

In our version of the play, however, Romeo never got to reveal his true feelings for Juliet. Suddenly, the lights in the auditorium went out. I panicked and searched for my mum and dad, but their faces were ablur. I looked across to my classmates, but they too had faded away. As the room was enveloped by darkness, I heard an intense ringing. I tried to call out for help, but my words were silent, as if I were shouting them in deep space.

Before I could get my head around what was happening, the light came flooding back. As objects slowly came back into focus, I saw blue sky and billowing clouds. Oak trees swayed gently in the breeze. I could feel the warmth of the sun on the palms of my hands. Someone was standing over me clutching a wet towel. Blood was trickling down my face. My sense of panic came roaring back. I had fainted. There were no understudies. The show had not carried on.

Maybe I would forever be remembered as ‘that kid who ruined the play’. Our teachers destroyed the recording that the children were meant to take home as a keepsake. I felt a deep sense of guilt and shame. I no longer wanted to become a West End superstar. Instead, I pursued a role that would keep me as far from public view as possible – a writer tucked away in a garden shed, perhaps. Or a scientist hidden behind a lab bench. Why not combine them somehow for maximum effect?

Serendipitously, the cowardice of my younger self paved a way back into the spotlight. Science communication is, in reality, an immensely interactive and rewarding field. My work involves writing about issues that lie on the intersect of science and society. I have also been thrust back on stage as a science communication trainer. I help researchers to communicate with audiences though storytelling.

The aim is to improve connections with public, media, policymakers, managers, colleagues, editors, funders, and many others. And the way you tell stories really matters.

In-person training is very rightly on hold as the world deals with the coronavirus crisis. But the downtime got me thinking about how my storytelling workshop activities could be taken on remotely, without direct supervision. So here is a little experiment of my own. Below are five exercises that I hope will boost your storytelling skills. Feel free to pick and choose depending on their relevance. And please let me know how you get on!

Personal stories

Activity length: 45 minutes 

Personal stories matter because you are invested in them. Therefore, when you tell them, your audience is more likely to feel they matter as well. Write a personal story (around 300 words) related to your life as a scientist for a non-specialist public audience.

You might reflect on adversities, adversaries, inspirations, friendships, hardships, or simply share what is on your mind. The story might be a commentary (like mine above), blog, script, comic, poem, or piece of creative writing.

The piece should be informative and entertaining. Send your story to friends or family for feedback. Integrate constructive criticism and publish on social media, a blog, or just keep in mind for future use.

Tips

  • Find three articles that you particularly enjoyed reading. Take a close look at how paragraphs are linked, characters introduced, and situations described.
  • Use a narrative arc: start high and end low, or vice versa.
  • If you are short of ideas, take a conceptual theme and use it to develop a story. I was reminded of my experience, above, when reflection on failure. Other examples of themes: failure, love, curiosity, systems, deep, the unknown, black and white, codes.
  • Avoid jargon but maintain detail. Provide enough description for the audience to follow, but do not overwhelm. Be clear, accurate, and succinct.
  • Edit your work at least three times. If a sentence is not part of the story cut it. Listen to feedback, but also trust your gut. Trim at least 10% in the final draft.

Interviews

Time: 1 hour

Telling someone else’s story can also bring new perspective to how you tell your own. Arrange a 15-minute video call with a colleague, friend, or family member. Conduct a friendly interview (you could ask them to interview you as well, in return). Briefly report five unique facts you learned about your interviewee.

Examples:

Kath is one of the world’s leading data scientists, despite growing up in an era where girls were discouraged from becoming researchers.   

Kath plays card games to relax and has won a national bridge championship.  

Kath wants to cycle from Lisbon to Istanbul to raise money for research into a rare disease her sister suffers from. 

Now choose one of the facts you have written and expand it into a 200-word story. Write it in the first person from the interviewee’s perspective – like an extended quote. You may need to do a follow up interview. For inspiration, see here. With your interviewee’s permission, share your story on social media.

Tips

  • Do some background research and write out your questions. If you’re stuck, some good generic questions are: what’s on your mind? What are your hobbies? Can you recall a time that you’ve failed? Where do you do your most creative thinking? What’s your greatest achievement? If you could go to dinner with anyone who would it be? What do you feel most grateful for? What’s your most treasured memory?
  • Put your interviewee at ease. Tell them what you want from the interview. Suggest they make themselves a brew before you start. Make yourself one, too.
  • If recording the interview, check the person is OK with it before pressing the button. Recording can help you to be fully engaged in the interview. Do a test as recorders and computer speakers don’t always mix well.
  • Try to allow the interview to flow but be prepared to guide the interviewee back to the point if they go off track. If it gets technical, try to repeat back to them what you heard in your own words to ensure that you understood what they said.
  • Edit your write up carefully – aim to be concise without losing meaning. Send the piece to your interviewee and ask them for feedback.

Analogies

Time: 30 minutes

Analogies and metaphors play a crucial role in aspects such as memory, perception, argumentation, emotion, creativity, and communication – as detailed in this wonderful book. When talking about research, they can also act as a bridge for people to better understand complex ideas and concepts. Develop an analogy that could be used to describe your work or an aspect of your work.

An Example:

“Think of gravity like a magnet, and everything in space has it. The bigger the object, the stronger the magnet. The sun is really big – big enough to attract the Earth, and the Earth attracts the moon, and because of gravity, they’re all attracted to each other. It’s like they all want to hug and be close. But they can’t, so they send out little waves instead.” – Fulvio Melia, University of Arizona

Create a social media group and invite some colleagues. Share analogies and give critical feedback. Ask: Does it improve my understanding? Is it accurate? Do I want to know more? Vote on your favourite analogue – the winner should then explain the thinking behind their analogy.

Tips

  • For more inspiration check our Carl Sagan’s cosmic calendar, a great analogy that gives context to the history of life on our planet.
  • Take a couple of long-form science features and highlight every sentence where you spot an analogy or metaphor being used.
  • Scribe your favourite analogies in a notebook.
  • If it is outside your field of expertise, send the analogy to an expert. If they reply with more than one exclamation mark, then ask them politely how it could be improved.
  • Heed the warning of journalist Jacob Aron: “Analogies in science writing are like forklift trucks – when used correctly they do a lot of heavy lifting, but if you don’t know what you’re doing you’ll quickly drive them into a wall of laboured metaphors and cause some major damage.”

Speaking to school kids  

Time: 45 minutes

Write a 3-minute presentation about your life as a scientist. Your target audience is a 15-year old student who is debating whether to take up science in her ‘A’ levels. You might consider: your research; the bigger picture; a typical day/week; why you became a scientist; and advice for becoming a researcher. Build in as many analogies as possible. The more colourful, the better.

Get feedback from friends or family. When you are satisfied with your presentation, offer to chat science over a video chat with children of friends. Share your offer on social media. Join an initiative such as Skype-a-scientist. Or film your presentation and share wherever you can.

Tips

  • Ditch jargon, but do not shy away from complicated topics. Break them down to their components. Look at how others do it.
  • Use analogies wherever possible.
  • Use props, share slides, provide links to relevant articles, draw diagrams, write out summaries of your work.
  • Make a point of getting feedback: ask your audience what they learned, thought interesting, or found difficult to understand.
  • Be engaging and enthusiastic!

Write an entertaining presentation

Time: 45 minutes

Write, rehearse, and record an entertaining 3-minute presentation for an online competition. Your target audience is a general public, who are interested in science. There are just two rules: stick to time and make it enjoyable! You could tell a story, recite a poem, sing, rap, dance, act, mime, run an experiment, or anything else you can think of. Balance your phone on a window ledge. Press record. Send your video to friends. Get feedback. Re-record if need be. If you get a good response share it on social media. Don’t forget to keep a look out for online competitions, where your hidden talents might finally be discovered!

Tips

  • Shows such as science slams or initiatives such as the Story Collider provide platforms to talk about your work in an inventive and memorable way. Study use of words, eye contact, humour, and body language. Be as creative as you can when writing your presentation.
  • Remove jargon, excavate the important details.
  • Write it out. Recite it in the shower, on the balcony, and in the kitchen. When you think you have it nailed, practice it thrice more.
  • When in front of the camera: smile, never turn your back, speak loudly and clearly.
  • Finally, have fun – and don`t faint whilst the camera’s on.

Requests, questions, suggestions: adamgristwood@gmail.com, @gristwood

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