Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Module 1: The Journal Club Presentation

Alternatively titled: Conquering My Fear of Speaking on Something I Know Little About

It's no secret that I love to talk. My friends know it, my TA's know it, one of my brothers claims that I am never able to shut up. At parent teacher conferences through primary and secondary school, reviews of my academic performance were almost always followed by the phrase "and while I love Rachel's participation in class, sometimes she doesn't stop talking when she's supposed to." Public speaking isn't something that has me quaking in my boots.

No, for me, the cold sweat in the middle of the night comes from the idea of, quite frankly, looking like an idiot. One of my biggest fears is making a fool of myself in front of my peers, or worse, my professors. Naturally, the Journal Club assignment presented a bit of an anxiety-inducing predicament. Not only was I told to present a topic I initially knew nothing about, I had to learn about it from a scientific paper, which in some ways feels akin to deciphering an ancient manuscript written in a foreign language I'd only been taking for a single semester. What if people asked questions I didn't understand? What if people asked questions to which I didn't know the answer? What if I tried to answer a question and got the answer wrong?

I was terrified, to say the least.

After reading the paper a few times over and referring to my foreign language-to-English dictionary (thank you, biochemistry book and wikipedia), I found that I was actually understanding the material. Not only did I understand it, but I found it fascinating. Before this presentation, I hadn't even known that Simian Immunodeficiency Virus existed, let alone understanding the mechanisms involved in its infectivity. I buckled down and made my slides. I practiced, first in front of a mirror, then in front of an actual person.

The day of, I took a deep breath and dove in. It was still nerve-wracking at first, but I found that making eye contact with the people I know and mentally checking to make sure I was going slowly enough helped me through. In the end, people did ask questions, but I did my best to answer them, and the whole thing went much more smoothly than I expected. I now feel a lot more confident in my ability to interpret and present scientific material. And hey, I got to learn about something cool in the process!

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