Student Roadmap - Making Presentations

Pulling it Together for Feedback on Your Findings

Much of the learning among scientists occurs through sharing research in meetings and publications. Preparing oral presentations, posters, and papers helps scientists pull data together and make sense of the findings. Conversations with others help place a specific study in a broader context.

Science presentations are almost second nature to scientists. Formally and informally, scientists describe their studies, argue their ideas and get feedback from different audiences:

  • colleagues in their own research group
  • other scientists in their institution
  • collaborators and competitors from across the world.

Scientists and students in their research group usually meet weekly to talk about how everybody’s projects are going. When enough data have been collected to evaluate the evidence, a researcher usually begins to share the findings at their lab meetings. These informal presentations are friendly places to answer questions from peers and refine interpretations. They also serve as practice for later formal presentations to larger audiences of researchers. Scientists also share their findings with the public. They write blogs, make videos, take part in radio and TV interviews, and many other creative activities.

Science is presented around us every day. Science writers prepare news stories. Artists sometimes create plays about major scientific events. Organizations and government agencies produce public service announcements and other informational materials.

As a member of a PlantingScience research team, you have the chance to present your science and get feedback before and after your final presentation. Share and discuss your team’s findings in class. Bring your scientist mentors into this conversation as well.

Presentation Types

Oral Presentations are sessions with a live audience. Speakers have 10-60 minutes to describe the research and then take questions. Because time is limited, speakers choose carefully how to describe in enough detail what the research was about, how it was done, and what was learned from it.

See an example of a scientist’s oral presentation.

Research Papers or reports are written descriptions of all aspects of an investigation and how it relates to other research in the field. There are specific guidelines for what information should be included and in what order. After scientists submit a research paper to a journal, they receive written reviews of their paper and have the chance to revise their paper based on the questions and comments made by other experts.

See an example of a research paper co-authored by scientists and students.

Posters are hybrids between oral presentations and research papers. Like research papers, posters have guidelines for what information to include. And like oral presentations, poster presenters are expected to take questions on the spot about the research. There isn’t much space on a poster for text or figures. So scientists choose the most important information and pieces of evidence to display. But they are ready to describe all the details if asked.

See an example of some scientists' poster presentations.

Tips for Making Science Presentations

Presenting science is partly about knowing clearly what your research means and crafting the message in a way your audience can easily understand. It is where research skills and communication skills come together for maximum effect.

Things scientists look for when they review each other’s research

  • Does the research project address an important and interesting question?
  • Is the study based on solid background research and theory?
  • Is there clear thinking and creativity in how the problem is addressed?
  • Were appropriate variables investigated to answer the question?
  • Were enough data collected and measured accurately to answer the question?
  • Is the evidence compelling?
  • Are alternative explanations considered? Are limitations discussed?
  • Can the findings be broadly applied beyond the study?

Here are a few planning tips that will help no matter what type of presentation you do:

  • Use a story board or whiteboard to map out your general ideas.
  • As you plan your presentation, complete the figures and tables first. This can help you evaluate the evidence and see gaps.
  • Put your research in context. What is already known and in the published literature? What is your approach to answering the research question and why you are asking it?
  • Make your presentation understandable to a wide audience, experts and others not familiar to the research field.
  • Go beyond re-stating your results. Think through what the findings mean.
  • Consider how your results relate to others. How do your data compare to teams doing similar research? What could explain any similarities or differences in the results?
  • Justify your conclusion using evidence from your study. Are your conclusions are consistent with data from your study?
  • Are there alternative explanations that should be considered?
  • Suggest what next research would be worth doing based on your findings.
  • Put your research in a big-picture perspective. Scientists often call this the “So-What?” question. It can be a challenge to describe why someone other than you should care about your research. Who can use your findings and how?

When you give your presentation, be prepared for questions and comments from your fellow research teams, your teacher, and your scientist mentor.

  • Imagine what questions you might receive. What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of your project?
  • Take your time to think before answering.
  • If a question is confusing, ask for it to be stated in another way. It’s also okay to say that you don’t know the answer.